The tiny West African country of Gambia has been in the news since the December 1st 2016 presidential election that saw incumbent sit-tight President Yahya Jammeh lose to a former estate agent Adama Barrow. To the admiration of the democratic world, the incumbent called his closest rival in the polls and conceded defeat. The world thought a new dawn had come in Africa with Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria conceding as incumbent, then in Tanzania and now Gambia. But that excitement soon went into bubbles as Yahya Jammeh, faced with the reality of leaving power after many years, rescinded the decision and called for fresh polls, citing gross electoral irregularities.
His action was not new or strange on the African continent and hardly one African was surprised by it, for it had been a norm for African leaders to always want to remain in power even against the will of their citizenry until Dr. GoodLuck Ebele Jonathan, Nigeria’s ex President set a new standard for African democracy after calling his closest rival Muhammadu Buhari to concede defeat during the 2015 presidential elections, even when votes were still being counted.
The political brouhaha in The Gambia attracted interests from within and outside Africa with ECOWAS, a regional organization to which Gambia is a member, making frantic effort to persuade President Jammeh to relinquish power to Adama Barrow before the January 19th handover date to no avail. The climax of the showdown came when Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari led a high-powered ECOWAS delegation to meet with President Jammeh. Many political analysts across the continent were analysed the move, especially considering the fact that the leader of the delegation is known to be a man who had never accepted elections results in the past whenever the results didn’t go in his favour.
Three time he had contested in the presidential election in Nigeria before he finally won, and in all three previous occasions he ended in court and in fact incited violence in the 2011 elections across the country which resulted in humongous loss of lives and properties. Despite days of intense talks, President Jammeh refused to step down with some citing the composition of the members of the delegation as the major reason for his refusal to relinquish power. Whatever happened to the English proverb, he who must come to equity must come with clean hands.
The brouhaha persisted with Gambians fleeing the country in droves to neighbouring Senegal, when it became obvious that the delegation could not persuade Jammeh to step down.
President Muhammadu Buhari returned to Nigeria in shame and unilaterally decided to order a military operation in the Gambia without recourse to the National assembly of Nigeria. He deployed a thousand troops, the country’s newest warship and other military hardwares to The Gambia, alongside other West African nations.
On the 19th of January, the elected president Adama Barrow was sworn in, in the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal while talks continued between incumbent president Jammeh and two other west African leaders. On the 21st of January the presidents of Mauritania, Mohammed Abdel Aziz and Guinea’s Alpha Conde finally succeeded in brokering a deal with the 22 year Gambian leader accepting to resign and leave the country on exile. It is widely believed that president Jammeh finally agreed to cede power after days of meeting with the duo in company of the UN regional chord Mohammed Ibn Chambas.
The deal which saw Jammeh accept to relinquish power was a clear indication that not all political crises can be solved using guns and bombs as proposed and planned by Muhammadu Buhari and his co-travellers.
Calm has since returned to The Gambia and business activities are beginning to pick up with normal life returning.
It is our hope that leaders like President Buhari who see forceful resolution as the first resort would think again.
But the world must know that the military way he had sought to resolve the Gambian crisis is the exact same way he has been attempting to respond to dissent, leaving thousands of lives in its wake – from the crisis in the Niger Delta, to the IPOB demonstrations, to the Shi’ites massacre by the military, etc.