Tagged as the worst human rights violator, one of the most callous dictators Africa has ever known and the most autocratic African leader in the 21st Century, he dazed the world when he graciously conceded defeat to President -elect Adama Barrow on the 2nd of December.
It sounded, tasted and felt like a mature democracy. There was none or if any, few reports of violence, harassment or intimidation by the government/ security agents against the opposition during the entire official campaign period. Such a development is a very rare occurrence in autocratic regimes. A third Republic of The Gambia was in sight through a free, fair and peaceful election.
The Gambia, since gaining independence, has had only two Presidents – Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, the first president, who was overthrown in 1994 in a bloodless coup by his army chief Yahya Jammeh, who obviously became the second president and the country’s longest-serving President. The first coup attempt was in 1981 by Kukui Samba Sanya was foiled by Senegalese troops in the Gambia while Sir Jawara was away attending a Commonwealth heads of State meeting in Britain. After seizing power, Yya Jammeh appropriate to himself many pompous titles and accolades, including “His Excellency, Bridge Builder, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh. Until the recent December 2016 polls, he had won four widely criticised elections and had also faced down several coup attempts.
This then explains the significance of his defeat in the December election. Barrow, won with 45.5% of the vote over incumbent Yahya Jammeh’s 36.7%. It is not surprising that some Gambians have nicknamed the president- elect as “The Gambian Obama”.
The Akan have a saying that, “a naked man does not put his hands in his pocket”. President- elect Adama Barrow’s immediate interview with international media including the BBC gave peace and security analyst much concern, looking at Jammeh’s 22 years of dictatorship. They thought the transition might drag for long on suspicion that Jammeh might want to cling to power.
Here is a man who faces possible international criminal trial for crimes against humanity, and back home, possible investigations and accountability for his stewardship. Mr. Barrow could not keep his cards close to his chest; he let them out including his decision to stay with the International Criminal Court and possible prosecution of Jammeh. The outgoing president saw these pronouncements as a threat to his peaceful and quiet enjoyment of his wealth in his country as agreed to in The Gambian Constitution, as ex gratia for former presidents.
It is suggested that Jammeh’s U-turn is a revolt against his possible highly probable imprisonment, a fear for his future, sheer paranoia.
But, he long lost the battle when he threw in the towel. Constitutionally, he has no power; any attempt to stay in power will be illegal. He has served notice to challenge the election results in Court but stands a slim chance of success after accepting that he had lost the election earlier.
All these last- minute behaviour is an attempt by Jammeh to negotiate for a “protection against his possible imprisonment. It will therefore not be surprising if Jammeh asks the four English- speaking West African Heads of State to help mediate post-election issues for a sanctuary.
Arguably, the best person on the team is Ghana’s John Mahama. After an unflattering defeat at the polls for a second term, he reduced tension in his country significantly by conceding ahead of the official announcement of the results. President Mahama is the best person among the Ecowas mediating team to commiserate with Jammeh for he best knows how it feels to lose power.
Two possible scenarios are likely to play out in the course trying to get Jammeh to see reason with the good people of The Gambia who decided who should govern them this time around.
His Excellency Bridge Builder, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh can, on the one hand, secure a deal like that of Ex-Liberia President Charles Taylor, enjoy temporary shelter from other African leaders. On the other hand, Jammeh could suffer the same fate as former Ivorian President, Laurent Gbagbo against whom considerable force was applied to get out office. Having refused to stand down for four months after losing the presidential election, even as the country descended into civil war, Gbagbo was finally detained at his personal residence by Ivory Coast army assisted by French military in order to restore peace to the country.
The second scenario is likely to receive endorsement from Senegal which surrounds Gambia. Relations between the two countries have strained over the years. Dakar has accused Jammeh as a key financier of rebels mounting an insurgency in Senegal’s south Cassamance province. Senegal recently has been pacing on its borders with The Gambia for an opportunity to show Jammeh its military might. With an army of less than two thousand men, The Gambia’s army stands the least chance should they back Jammeh.
The use of force for now remains and has always remained the last option in peace negotiations. Yoruba proverb says “If a leaf stays long on soap, it becomes soap too”. What ECOWAS can do if Jammeh remains stubborn, which he will, will be to suspend The Gambia from the regional bloc and impose economic sanctions on the country with travel restrictions on Jammeh and his aides. Pressure from the African Union, the United Nations and United States is mounting. This means similar punitive action by these other bodies and states. The consequences will be extreme hardships. The less than two million ordinary citizens will be the hardest hit which could lead to a rebellion. The Gambia is noted for three main activities on which the economy depends –- farming, fishing, and especially tourism. That will be too much a pain for Gambians.
Sammy Darko is a former BBC correspondent for Ghana, Peace and security analyst, a Lecturer at UPSA and a final year student at the Ghana school of law, Makola.