(JollofNews) – President Yahya Jammeh has drawn the battle line in his New Year’s address: new elections or military confrontation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Jammeh’s departure is no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ and ‘how’ as he has lost both domestic and international legitimacy. Will he leave peacefully or violently in the first or second half of 2017? Will he be removed by domestic or international forces?
Given the difficulties in resolving a political impasse of this nature, there are chances that Jammeh will still be in power to oversee not only another Gambia Independence Day celebration on 18 February but also another Ramadan in May and June. Let’s hope it does not take that long.
I anticipate three ways that Jammeh could be persuaded to leave power: through the Gambian Armed Forces, or negotiated settlement or Senegal-led ECOWAS military intervention.
The quickest way for Jammeh to leave power is if the Gambian Armed Forces turns against him after his mandate expires on 18 January. However, this course of action is the least likely. It is hard to imagine that Jammeh’s die-hard loyalists that foiled the December 2014 coup in his absence, would turn against him in his presence if he refuses to hand over power. If anything, the Gambian Armed Forces are very likely to back him to the hilt.
Jammeh’s coup-proofing strategy has enabled him stay in power for the past 22 years. He has a psychological strangle-hold over majority of the army. Part of his coup-proofing strategy over the years is to prioritise loyalty over meritocracy in the army, the government, the judiciary and the parliament. Also, he has established that no one is beyond retribution if they cross his path or pose a threat of any sort.
Jammeh has used the carrot and stick tactics very effectively to sow mistrust and fear of retribution within the army. The mistrust and fear make it daunting for any officers in the army to contemplate plotting against the Jammeh administration.
Furthermore, Jammeh has built a personality cult, projecting an aura of mysticism to convince a good number of soldiers as well as Gambians that he has supernatural powers. He claimed to be able to cure incurable diseases and can exorcise demons including identifying anyone with sinister plots against his administration.
The public display of jujus around the neck of the Chief of Defence Staff, Ousman Badgie, in December 2016 while renewing his pledge of loyalty to Jammeh after he contested the election results revealed the far-reaching psychological effect of Jammeh’s make-believe mystical powers on the army leadership.
If mediation and negotiation are used effectively amid domestic and international pressure including sanctions on Jammeh and his acolytes such as travel bans and assets freeze, he will likely buckle and depart peacefully probably in Ramadan.
President-elect Adama Barrow is holding the trump card. From 19 January, the Jammeh administration together with all the ambassadors and high commissioners around the world will no longer be recognised as the legitimate representatives of The Gambia.
Instead senior government officials and diplomats appointed by Barrow will be recognised. The Barrow administration will be the internationally recognised Government of The Gambia. It means that the Jammeh administration will cease to receive financial supports from international institutions including African Development Bank, World Bank and IMF. This will further isolate Jammeh and deal a significant blow to his grand standing.
At home, Jammeh will also face the torment of incessant pleas from religious leaders, online and on-ground protests by civil groups, and desertions by some senior government officials to force him to leave. Both domestic and international pressure will be overwhelming and unbearable for Jammeh and his acolytes.
Regarding a Senegal-led ECOWAS military intervention, this will likely be in the second half of 2017 for a couple of reasons. Some ECOWAS member states like Guinea have expressed reservation over the use of military force to resolve the impasse. Moreover, to legitimise the use of force, international actors have to demonstrate that all political options have been exhausted. So, chances are slim that ECOWAS will receive immediate approval from the African Union and the UN Security Council to take military actions to remove Jammeh.
In the event the negotiation prolongs until March, it is also very unlikely that military actions will receive a ringing endorsement in The Gambia and Senegal ahead of the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan from May to June 2017.
In the final analysis, let’s stay optimistic that Jammeh will spring another surprise (as he did when he conceded the election) by handing over to Barrow in a dramatic fashion or the army unexpectedly realise that their loyalty is to the state and the Gambian people, and not to the president as an individual.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the use of mediation and negotiation amid international and domestic pressure will deliver the result in a less costly way than military intervention.
Nonetheless, in the age of instant delivery, the slow and arduous process to reach a negotiated settlement will make it less appealing to many Gambians who voted for change on 1 December.
Murtala Touray, a Gambian in the UK advising government and corporate entities on commercially-relevant political and security risks. He is former Rotary World Peace Fellow and current Global Peace Index Ambassador.