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Jammeh must leave for the Gambia to thrive

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Incumbent Gambian President Yahya Jammeh listens to one of his aides in Banjul on November 29, 2016, during the closing rally of the electoral campaign of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). More than 880,000 voters are expected to cast their ballots when the west African country goes to the polls on December 1, 2016. Jammeh has won four elections with his ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, following a 2002 constitutional amendment lifting term limits. Rights bodies and media watchdogs including Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accuse Jammeh of cultivating a "pervasive climate of fear" and of crushing dissent against his regime, one cause of the mass exodus of Gambian youths to Europe. / AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI

Incumbent Gambian President Yahya Jammeh listens to one of his aides in Banjul on November 29, 2016, during the closing rally of the electoral campaign of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).<br />More than 880,000 voters are expected to cast their ballots when the west African country goes to the polls on December 1, 2016. Jammeh has won four elections with his ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, following a 2002 constitutional amendment lifting term limits. Rights bodies and media watchdogs including Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accuse Jammeh of cultivating a “pervasive climate of fear” and of crushing dissent against his regime, one cause of the mass exodus of Gambian youths to Europe. / AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI

Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia surprised his ardent critics the other day when in a rare moment of grace, he accepted electoral defeat after 22 years in power. Regrettably, he quickly proceeded to prove cynics right when he turned round to reject the same presidential election result, marking a new low for democracy in Africa and casting a pall of despondency over the continent.

Luckily, that particular fog would seem to have been lifted with the concession of victory to the opposition in Ghana by President John Mahama who has delivered a remarkable speech in which he accepted responsibility for his failure at the polls.

Now, Jahmmeh must be told in unmistakable terms that Africa has gone beyond his type of leadership and he should banish that thought of an abortion after the baby, a new leader for The Gambia, has been born.

The unexpected outcome of the presidential election in The Gambia had been widely hailed as a glimmer of great hope for democracy in Africa and for that West African country. The election was indeed regarded as the most important political development in the country since independence in 1965: The winner, Adama Barrow, is the product of a coalition of organised opposition parties that provided the platform for the actualization of the people’s quest for change. Adama has, therefore, become the symbol of the people’s hopes, and of freedom from Jammeh’s oppressive rule, witchcraft and incalculable human rights abuses. His mandate must stand.

Jammeh’s volte-face that he has decided to annul the results is a tragedy that ECOWAS leaders and indeed all the good people of Africa should not only condemn in strong terms but resist.

Jammeh resorted to this political absurdity, claiming an alleged missing of 365, 000 votes and the adjustment of the final results by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) which showed that Adama Barrow had won with about 20,000 votes. This alibi, to say the least, is too late and it is a gimmick to remain in power. He should simply stay with his earlier words of concession that, “the people had spoken.”

Indeed, if candidate Jammeh has any grouse about the election’s processes and result, the appropriate place to seek redress is in court, and the country’s Constitution provides for a 10-day window within which to file a petition. That 10-day period of grace unfortunately expired at the weekend. Jammeh and his supporters should, therefore, not take the sovereignty of the Gambian people for granted. Annulment of the people’s verdict is an assault on that sovereignty that should not be tolerated but treated by the judicial authorities as high treason. The stability of The Gambia should override personal ambition of any sitting president. So, the December 1 mandate freely given to Adama should be regarded as supreme and any alternative to that is an open invitation to anarchy. He should indeed be reminded of what happened to Laurent Gbagbo’s rejection of the people’s mandate in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010 and the dire consequences as well as scars are still too fresh to forget.

This is why the African Union, the ECOWAS and the UN Security Council as well as other members of the international community that have condemned Jahmeh’s rascality should not relent in their efforts. The current mission of ECOWAS leaders which went to Banjul to mediate in the political crisis at this incipient stage should not fail. ECOWAS leaders including the chairperson Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, and the Presidents of Nigeria (Muhammadu Buhari), Sierra Leone (Ernest BaiKoroma), Ghana (John Dramani Mahama) and Guinea (Alpha Conde) have met with Jammeh in Banjul and with opposition coalition leaders. The primary mission of that team should be to insist on the supremacy of the people’s will.

Known for walking around with his trademark prayer beads and a sword, the outgoing Gambian leader has been reputed to be one of the world’s most eccentric and ruthless leaders.

Born in May 1965, he came to power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army lieutenant and has ruled since with iron-fist.

Accordingly, he has become a portly president who portrays himself as a devout Muslim with miraculous powers, such as the power to cure people of AIDS and infertility. He also believes that homosexuality threatens human existence.

After his 2011 victory, in a show of his dwindling credibility among African leaders had dropped, the ECOWAS, refused to endorse his victory, saying voters and the opposition had been “cowed by repression and intimidation.”
His decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth in 2013, which had been pushing for reforms in the tiny West African state, re-inforced Jammeh’s growing isolation. In an interview in 2011, he demonstrated his unquenchable thirst for power when he said he was not afraid of the fate similar to Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi or Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

His government’s treatment of journalists and opposition parties has also caused huge concern among human rights groups.

The international media practitioners’ group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), once said there was “absolute intolerance of any form of criticism” in The Gambia, with death threats, surveillance and arbitrary night-time arrests of journalists “who do not sing the government’s praises.”

Indeed, Jammeh should not be allowed to further give Africa a bad name in leadership and governance. He should be prevented from spoiling the celebrations occasioned by the good news from Ghana where John Mahama has followed the noble steps of Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan who in 2015 conceded victory to the opposition even while the ballot counting was still on. As he once claimed, Jammeh may not mind the fate that befell his colleagues who refused to leave office in Egypt, Libya, Cote d’Ivoire and recently Burkina Faso. But Africa should not even let him have that dubious luxury which may destroy The Gambia.

He should simply respect the peoples’ verdict, vacate the office and allow peace to prevail.


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