Monday, 23 January 2017

GAMBIA: Yahya Jammeh's End

Yahya Jammeh, the Gambia's former president, has flown into exile in Equatorial Guinea after stepping down under pressure from West African nations to accept his election defeat, a stunning turn for a nation that has lived for more than two decades under what human rights groups have described as repressive regime.

Since taking power in a bloodless coup in 1994, Yahya Jammeh presided over the worst dictatorship in Africa. The eccentric Gambia's former president ruled the country through a mix of superstition  and fear, State-sanctioned torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary executions.

In previous elections, Gambia president Yahya Jammeh benefited from a strong media bias and greater financial resources than his rivals to secure elections victory. The gross imbalance in the financial and material capability of the candidates resulted in the lack of adequate visibility of the United Democratic Party(UDP) and the Independent candidates. 

In last December election, the Electoral Commission officially declared Adama Barrow the winners, in an upset victory that astonished observers. According to the Electoral Commission Mr Adama Barrow received 263, 517 votes while Jammeh 212, 098. Shortly after Jammeh congratulated Barrow for his clear victory. A week later Mr Jammeh, changed his mind and contested the results and filed a complaint at the Supreme Court. It is not clear why he did so.

After several weeks of intense negotiations with Yahya Jammeh, the Economic Cooperation of West African States ( ECOWAS) took the initiative to send 4,000 men to force him out. On the same day, Mr Adama Barrow sworn in as Gambia's new president in Gambia's Embassy in Senegal. 
Mr Jammeh weakened by the refusal of his security forces to fight against the ECOWAS forces, had no other alternative than to accept that his oppressive regime for decades has crumbled.

The Gambia's former president, Yahya Jammeh's end was long overdue, since he lost the support of many governments and Electoral Commission officials and African allies since an attempt coup. In December 2014, an unlikely band of diaspora members, including two US army veterans and a Minnesota businessman, staged an assault on the presidential palace while Jammeh was outside the country. The putsch failed and the regime responded with fury, sentencing eight alleged coup plotters to death and indiscriminately jailing scores of Gambians suspected of being associated with them. But the truth is, Jammeh was no longer in total control of his security apparatus. 

The crackdown drew harsh rebukes from rights activists, but it was later revealed that the United States may have indirectly tipped off the Gambian's government that a coup was in the works. The FBI had been monitoring some of the plotters communications and the State Department later informed another West African nation that one of them had left the Unites States in the hopes it would intercept him. Despite Jammeh's egregious rights records, the US government has largely refrained from speaking out against him over the years.

Further more, international isolation made Jammeh only more vulnerable at home. Since 2011 election, Yahya Jammeh lost the support of Economic Community of West African States, which refused to send observers. The European Union has suspended $186 million in aid while the Unites States made Gambia ineligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade preference program that provides duty free treatment to US imports from sub-Saharan Africa, making it the only nation besides Swaziland and South Sudan to lose eligibility because of its dismal human rights record.

The Economic Cooperation of West African States (ECOWAS), created in 1975, have a long history of sending their military forces to intervene in neighboring countries, under the umbrella of regional cooperation bloc, to resolve regional conflicts.

The organization has 15 members, of which eight are francophone( Benin, Burkina-Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo), five anglophone ( Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone) and two Portuguese speaking ( Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau) and has carried out several successful interventions since 1990:

In Mali: On January, 11, 2013, following a UN Security Council resolution, the bloc authorises the immediate deployment of an intervention force aimed at helping Mali retake its Islamist-controlled north. The same day, French military launches ''Operation Serval'' to back the Malian army and drive back the Islamists. The West African troops forced comprised 6, 300 men , including 2,000 from Chad, which is not ECOWAS member. The Chadian soldiers were on the front line alongside French soldiers in fighting the insurgents.

In Guinea Bissau: ECOWAS deployed more than 600 police officers and paramilitary gendarmes from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal and Togo, in May 2012, to help the political transition.  
Already in February 100, a lightly armed ECOWAS force was deployed to help resolve the crisis in the insurgency-hit-country, but withdrew several months later after failing to prevent a resumption of fighting and the overthrow of the head of state.

In Liberia: In August 1990, ECOWAS deployed a several hundred men to Liberia to intervene in a civil war.

The ECOWAS' initiative to force Jammeh out will likely be viewed as a triumph for African diplomacy and could set a precedent in a in a region where democracy advocates have spent decades pressing for fair elections, an end to authoritarian regimes and have lamented a plague of ''third termism'' as more and more leaders move to scrap constitutional limits in order to remain in power. 

Mr Jammeh's end is a rare turn for longtime leaders on the continent. Many leaders have amassed so much power, and often, wealth through decades of incumbency that they manage to stay in office until death. Other so called presidents for life have interfered with elections to cling to power.

Nevertheless, a new page of Gambia's history has started with Adama Barrow. It would be interesting to see how the new Gambia's president will deal with widespread corruption, chronic food shortage, and terribly mismanaged economy. Gambia ranks dead last in Africa in terms of GDP per capita, the only country to experience a decline since 1994.

By Guylain Gustave Moke

International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst

Photo Credit: AFP-photo of :Yahya Jammeh, former Gambia's president arrived in exile in Equatorial Guinea.