(JollofNews)- The African continent and the larger international community have found themselves dealing with a serious political crisis that not only poses a dangerous threat but sets to create a tragic electoral precedent that would no doubt foster anarchy and undermine recent efforts at strengthening sustainable democracy in the region.
The ongoing election coup in the Gambia, launched by an egocentric dictator, is the most spectacular form of a 21st Century power grab, coming only after a failed one in Ivory Coast.
Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh has for far too long been scorning the international community with sheer disdain and contempt, most of the times getting away with it unstopped. After 22 long years of presiding over a regime that tortured, killed, brutally suppressed dissent and virtually rendered the nation’s civil society cadre ineffective, the longtime ruler was defeated at a crucial December 1st polls that Gambian voters described as “make” or “break.”
For many a Gambian, Jammeh’s excesses had reached an unbearable height of brutality as almost every household is directly or indirectly affected. To put it more bluntly, Jammeh’s outgoing terror regime is considered the most dangerous on continental Africa, coming only third to Uganda’s Amin and Libya’s Gaddafi. No one needs to belabor on the worst human rights records and undemocratic credentials of Mr. Jammeh, whose name is only associated with bad headlines and mysteries. The focus is the challenge Jammeh has now put before the international community.
After graciously making a surprise electoral concession for his defeat on December 2nd (2016), Jammeh seized the national airwaves a week later to reverse course by unilaterally rejecting and annulling the election “in totality.” Aware of this illegal declaration, he is now using his party to challenge the globally credited election results at a moribund Supreme Court that has no judges but one. The international community has been swift with its condemnation and united with a clear call and position that indeed, Jammeh’s dead end was December 1st.
The sub-regional grouping met over the crisis and came up with a strong eight-point resolution to uphold Gambia’s December 1st election by “all means necessary” including a military intervention, endorsed by the African Union and the United Nations Security Council. The peak of Jammeh’s arrogance was snubbing the world’s top diplomat, the immediate-past UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who said his efforts to reach Jammeh by phone proved futile. It is now apparent that Jammeh would likely not step down honorably and peacefully without a force as he has so far rejected all efforts aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis.
Test for the international community
The fundamental issue is that the task before hands means that the international community must implement its resolution on Jammeh if he fails to yield power at the end of his tenure. The international community cannot encourage another form of coups on the continent. It must be reminded of the fact that the Gambia has weak and partisan institutions including the judiciary that have been deliberately designed to suit the dictatorial propensities of Jammeh.
Dictator Jammeh’s claims of an electoral fraud are baseless, dishonest, fabricated, and a clear attempt to steal a democratic victory that the long-suffering Gambians courageously fought for and achieved. This is a leader who solely appoints all the commissioners and critical staff of the country’s Independent Electoral Commission. He picks and fires whosoever he feels will or not aid and abet him at polls. His control of the electoral body had until 2016 left Gambia’s oppositions at the mercy of easy defeats at the hands of Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction.
Even the current Chairman of the IEC that he is now defaming was closer to Jammeh than the opposition, having appointed him in 2008 as the interim mayor of the Kanifing Municipality. It was Jammeh who commissioned him as a member of the electoral body and made his ministers to praise Electoral Chief Njai as a man of integrity with a proven track record during a ceremony entrusting him with the responsibility.
Jammeh as the incumbent had the entire state machinery at his disposal. Certainly, the playing field was never leveled. It was deliberately designed to keep him in power by all means possible. He used military, the civil servants and the national broadcaster to campaign for him. Even members of Gambia’s judiciary were seen on his side. As a calculated move, Jammeh pre-planned his predicted victory and made to ignore the need to empanel the country’s Supreme Court that had not sat for more than a year. Suspecting that the opposition could likely file a petition at the Supreme Court after his victory, he ignored the empanelling of a Court he now desperately trying to constitute with corrupt judges unrecognized by both the Gambia Bar Association and the Pan-African Lawyers’ Union.
With all these realities, how then could Jammeh fabricate a fart just to try to subvert the democratic will of Gambians who voted him out? Apart from the unprecedented crowd that the opposition coalition pulled nationally on their campaign trail, Jammeh was also blinded by the fact that Gambia’s voting system is secret ballot. Apparently, many Gambians were done with him and voted for a candidate who was associated with Gambia’s long yearned change.
Fast-forward to the challenge before the international community, they must not only protect the Gambian vote, but protect democracy on the African continent. They must rise above compromise and do to The Gambia and Africa what they did for the Ivory Coast. Jammeh is clearly trying to test Laurent Gbagbo style election coup that not only disgraced the latter but landed him at The Hague for presiding over a post-election crisis that slaughtered nearly a thousand Ivorians as a result of his decision to subvert the election results that he lost through a partisan constitutional court.
It is no gain saying that such a bad precedent is a cancer on our civilization. It is dangerous for Africa given the weak national institutions that are designed in purpose to keep corrupt, treacherous, greedy and failed leaders in power for as long as they desire. Those institutions cannot be relied on as judges sitting are appointees of the losing leader. Its ugly head must be cut off for once to put a definite stop to this practice from being mushroomed. It is really heartening that the ECOWAS, AU and the UN are taking a strong unified position on The Gambia – disregarding Jammeh’s legal challenge, insisting he must steps aside and recognizing President-elect Adama Barrow as the legitimate choice of the Gambian people as clearly expressed in the December 1st polls.
Notwithstanding, the international community must maintain its clear position in this difficult test as allowing Jammeh to prevail will be a tragedy for the consolidation of democracy on the continent. Such will mean that election would now be meaningless as leaders would lose at polls and yet copy the Jammeh-Gbagbo Style to subvert the will of their people. Such will mean that countries that have made significant progress in embracing democracy would copy and paste this new form of coup, basing it on the legality of weak courts that are designed to dance their tune.
Africa cannot afford that kind of ridiculousness and retrogressive tendency in this 21st Century of ideas, knowledge, decency and civilization. How can democracy and growth be guaranteed with that new phase of coups? How can the continent metamorphose into permanent stability and socio-economic development with leaders resorting to this new wave of unconstitutional power grab? It is the responsibility of the international community; especially the African Union and sub-regional blocs such as ECOWAS to ensure that sanity prevails to give hope to citizens at polls and eliminate leaders like Jammeh whose actions continue to undermine democracy and sustainable development on the continent.
Today, Jammeh has not only been rejected at polls, but completely isolated by all strata of the Gambian society – Gambia Bar Association, Teachers Union, Press Union, Chamber of Commerce, Labor and Trade Unions, Student Unions of the highest higher education institutions, 12 of his ambassadors, the list is endless. These groups have not only issued strong condemnation of his position and public endorsement of the President-elect Barrow, but they went ahead to show solidarity with the latter at his Kairaba Beach Hotel, the same place where his eight-member opposition coalition was born.
If democracy and Africa’s socio-economic growth is to be guaranteed, this dangerous form of coup must be stopped with Jammeh’s attempt. The world needs to show a final red card to this. And as the U.S. Envoy to the UN said, “Everyone is singing the same sheet of music – that President Jammeh you lost the election and you must step down.”