The Gambian crisis: Is forceful ejection a better option?
When the news filtered in that The Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh conceded defeat to Adama Barrow, his main challenger in the Presidential election of December 1, even before the final result of the last presidential election was announced; many saw it as a positive development for democracy in Africa.
His action stunned many political analysts and stakeholders in the democratic process, because the pre-election perception was that he would not lose and if he did, he would hold on to power.
But those who praised Jammeh’s gesture seemed to have acted too fast, because a week after he was applauded for his action, he changed his mind on the outcome of the election, saying it was not properly conducted. He, therefore, demanded a fresh election.
To make him leave office honourably, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent a delegation that included the Chairman of ECOWAS, and the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari. But he bluntly told the visiting emissaries he would not leave.
If Jammeh stood his ground and did not handover honourably, and the opposition party also decides to claim its mandate, the country could be thrown into crisis and possibly a civil war. Last week, ECOWAS sent troops to Senegal, Gambia’s neighbour suggesting it is ready to forcefully eject Jammeh from office. So, what are the implications of this to citizens of this small country and by extension the continent?
In countries, where disagreement over election outcome had not been well managed or the incumbent president was forcefully ejected, it has led to huge losses of both human and material resources. Many of these countries, still had to resort to dialogue later, to achieve peace. It should be noted that using force to oust a recalcitrant president is not new on the African continent.
There was a similar experience in Cote d’Ivoire some years back. The then president, Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave after losing to a former prime minister of the country, Alassane Quattara, who was declared the winner of the second round of the November 28, 2010 presidential election. It took the intervention of ECOWAS, which deployed troops to get Gbagbo out. Unfortunately, about 3, 000 people, including soldiers and civilians, paid the supreme price, as they died in the resulting conflict.
Also, in Sierra Leone, on May 25, 1997, the civilian President, Tedjan Kabbah was violently overthrown through a coup by Major Jonny Paul Koromah-led junta, with Kabbah escaping to Guinea. The then leaders of ECOWAS initiated several peace moves to allow Kabbah return to power as the democratically elected president, which resulted in the October 1997 peace agreement that allowed Koromah to stay still 1998. However, Koromah reneged on the agreement, and rather than leave, he started equipping the armed forces. So, ECOWAS had no other option than use force to remove Koromah through the deployment of ECOMOG troops. He was successfully removed on February 12 1998, though Kabbah was allowed to take over about a month after, in March 10, 1998.
Commenting on the development in The Gambia, a professor of Political Science with specialisation in International Relations, Solomon Oladele Akinboye, said there are two ways to resolving conflicts— through negotiations or force. According to him, ECOWAS leaders had deployed the first method, the peaceful means, when they went to The Gambia to negotiate with Jammeh.
“And from all indications, he was not ready. So, he turned down the request and those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable. That is why the troops were deployed. And I support the decision taken by ECOWAS leaders,” Akinboye said.
Speaking also on the crisis, a lecturer in the Department of International Relations at Covenant University, Ogun State, Oyinlola Popoola, said ECOWAS’ action could be described as mediatory. And though using force in effecting change may have immediate positive result, but the long-term negative consequences could result in deep-seated problems.
“Someone has said that using force to achieve anything in this age and stage of human evolution is like clubbing your enemy in the head, which may bring temporary gratification, but in the long run, the enemy will get back up again and the war continues, when healing could have been underway,” Popoola explained.
Enumerating the positive sides of using force to oust Jammeh, Popoola said it would strengthen The Gambia’s evolving democratic process, as the electorate, especially those that voted for Adamu Barrow, would be reassured that their votes counted, which would strengthen the people’s faith in the ballot, as well as make politicians realise that the people hold the power and not them, aside strengthening the electoral institution in that country. She said: “It will send a warning signal to incumbent leaders in Africa, who may want to annul election, when not in their favour, that they are under the watch of the international community. It will also give credibility and relevance to the regional body and show that it is committed to entrenching democracy in the region.”
She, however, said the intervention by ECOWAS is not all about positives. According to her, the regional body’s efforts could have far reaching negative implications, as parties in a war only know when it starts, but can never tell how it will finish.
“Evicting a leader is one thing, but how do you manage the post-eviction issues, especially when he/she still has loyalists? So, there is the tendency for instability and division in the country and that may affect a peaceful co-existence among citizens. How do you make Jammeh supporters live with the idea that their ‘hero’ has been dethroned or evicted? Or how would Adama Barrow supporters handle the ‘victory’ in such a way that it will not lead to chaos?
“Remember, there was a lot of uncertainty, tension and threat of violence before the election and now the situation looks same. The Head of the electoral commission has gone into hiding and there has been alleged threat on the life of the President-elect. A military intervention sends a negative message to the world about Africa and West Africa, in particular; that we cannot put our house in order without our neighbour’s support. It further shows that democracy is in a flux.
“How ready are West African countries willing to deal with post-Jammeh era, in the eventuality that it was not peaceful? Recall that Jammeh promoted 49 military men, which means the military is already divided. Is ECOWAS ready to deal with civil unrest, insurgence, guerilla warfare, humanitarian crisis and refugee problem?”
Popoola seems not optimistic about a peaceful Gambia, whether Jammeh was taken out peacefully or forcefully. “The future of The Gambian politics is uncertain, when you look at the conditions under which the coalition that supported barrow was struck.
“It was formed under the agreement that Barrow would spend only three years, as opposed to the constitutional five-year tenure, during which constitutional reforms would be held and Barrow would not be qualified to run afterwards. This has several implications. First, will Barrow stick to the agreement after tasting power? Will he agree to the constitutional reforms, when they are not in his favour or in the interest of his party? How will he ensure that all the coalition parties are represented in his government after assuming power? These are the issues,” Popoola said.
Speaking further, Akinboye said Jammeh’s thinking that the regional body was interfering in the internal affairs of his country was a ruse. According to him, in the past, he could talk about ECOWAS interfering in his country’s internal affairs, but not now. “In those days, you could talk about non-interference in the internal affairs of a country, but not now. That applied under Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but that clause has been removed under the Africa Union (AU) charter, because member states cannot fold their arms and watch their neighbours boiling.”
With the likely huge negative effect of thousands or millions of lives being lost, should ECOWAS not just focus solely on dialogue and negotiation to bring about desired result? Akinboye said the fact that the regional leaders decided to use peaceful means informed their visit to The Gambia. “But I do not think this man is ready to shift ground, even if they make further negotiations,” he said. “I agree that the initial peaceful efforts may not be sufficient yet, but I do not see him yielding ground, maybe if it were to be another person.” He believed that the issue of sit-tightism on the part of African rulers should be repelled.
On her part, Popoola said dialogue only buys time for the oppressors, who either perpetuate themselves in power, suppress or weaken the opposition, as well as, weaken the hope of the electorate, who voted. It also undermines the constitution, which is already clear in The Gambia case as to what must be done. The university teacher argued that dialogue might be useful, when dealing with a gentleman, which Jammeh is not.
“There is a report that he may be moving to Mauritania, but never underestimate Jammeh. What if he stays in The Gambia? The implication is that ECOWAS and the international community must thread with caution,” she said. Nonetheless, Popoola is of the view that one of the solutions to the crisis is for ECOWAS to employ both the constitutional and other diplomatic methods. She said: “One constitutional method is to engage stakeholders to convince Jammeh to handover power, while he seeks constitutional redress on the outcome of the election.
“Another option is to engage world leaders that have Jammeh’s ear to convince him to handover and possibly offer him asylum like Obasanjo did to Charles Taylor. West Africa cannot afford another bloody internal crisis and not even The Gambia, the poorest state on the west coast, with the lowest human development indices. Dialogue is a better option to violent disruption, especially if the time, energy and resources that will be expended in the post conflict rebuilding would be huge,” she explained.