The Gambia’s theatre of the absurd

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After he had initially conceded victory to Adama Barrow, who won more than 43% of the vote, in a typical African leader’s sit-tight fashion, The Gambian strongman, Yahya Jammeh made a 360 degree u-turn to announce that he was rejecting the result of the presidential election, a week after he had graciously admitted defeat. Part of his reasons for this sudden change of mind was what he termed “abnormalities” in the vote. He has, therefore, called for fresh polls.

Meanwhile, African leaders were a few days ago in Banjul, Gambia, to convince Jammeh to take the path of honour by respecting his country’s constitution, accept the wish of his people and allow the presidential election result to stay. Given his earlier rash treatment of President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson whose plane was blocked from landing in the country, it is cheering that Jammeh taught it decent to attend to his august guests. Actually, the fear among West African leaders is for the Gambian situation not to degenerate into another Liberian debacle that once threw the entire sub region into a theatre of unending warfare. Thus, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is not ruling out the possibility of deploying troops into landlocked Gambia if Jammeh sticks to his gun.

From all indications, The Gambia might be heading for a major catastrophe as reports suggest that Jammeh has ordered the nation’s electoral commission to be taken over by soldiers. Many believe that this might be a ploy by Jammeh and his cronies to tamper with electoral documents, there by paving the way for his judicial victory at the Supreme Court.

In a manner suggestive of his reluctance to willingly relinquish power, reports also indicate that Jammeh is currently nursing a power-sharing agreement with Adama Barrow, the winner of the nation’s presidential contest. Meanwhile, Barrow has consistently been informing the international media that he would stand by the mandate given to him by the Gambian electorate, even at the point of shedding his blood. He has claimed that his mandate doesn’t include any power sharing arrangement.

But then, what could have been responsible for Jammeh’s sudden about-turn on the election? How come a man who had originally congratulated his opponent abruptly made a u-turn to swallow his word? Well, political analysts have blamed the unfolding scenario in The Gambia on what they termed the ‘immaturity’ of the opposition in the country. They hinged this submission on the ‘hasty’ and ‘premature’ manner in which Barrow and his men have been hounding Jammeh since their historic victory at the poll.

They particularly singled out for mention Barrow’s recent tantrum concerning handing over the current president to the International Criminal Court, ICC, for prosecution. It is, therefore, the view of experts that the opposition in The Gambia contributed to the current messy state of affairs in the country. If only they had kept their game plan close to their chests, perhaps, Jammeh wouldn’t have changed his mind.

As plausible as this argument seems, it, however, does not really hold much water. One does not really see how Mr. Barrow’s supposed reference to the ICC could be sufficient justification for Jammeh to hold the nation to ransom.

Of course, like every African tyrant, the likelihood of an ICC prosecution should send shivers down Jammeh’s spine. His years of repressive rule have brutally dehumanised many Gambians, with some being brutally killed in gory circumstances.

Jammeh is actually merely exhibiting the classic sit-tight nature of African despots. For 22 years, he has ruled his country with an iron fist. The prospect of leaving office willingly without resorting to unconstitutional measures is never an attractive option for African despots. He once boasted that he would rule The Gambia for a billion years. Now that the people have voted against him he is taking to illegitimate means to perpetuate himself in office.

Jammeh should simply take the path of honour by respecting the wish of his country’s electorate. Ironically, his years in power have not done much good for his country. All he has mostly done is to lead the nation from one mess to the other. His hapless compatriots have continued to bear the burden of his economic failures and political high-handedness. Many have already fled the country. According to statistics, The Gambia provides seven per cent of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, a vastly lopsided figure considering the nation’s population of just two million. It is not only the economic and political situation in the country that Jammeh has messed up; he has also desecrated the judiciary. Just last year, he sacked all the judges of the nation’s Supreme Court and he is yet to appoint new ones.

This, of course, makes his resolution to challenge the presidential election result in the Supreme Court as a rather laughable and phony one!

If Mr. Jammeh refuses to heed noble calls to leave office honourably, he would certainly go the way of his ilks such as Charles Tailor and Laurent Gbagbo.

Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos

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