On the Gambia, Africa is late
It is far from convincing that Yahya Jammeh changed his mind over the Gambian presidential poll in protest against a flawed electoral process with unresolved posers over some alleged missing votes. Even if some votes were really not accounted for, it is clear by now that Jammeh is only looking for an excuse not to hand over to the winner of the presidential election. Since the reason for Jammeh’s rejection of the poll’s result he earlier accepted cannot pass muster, he has given room to an exploration of the various possibilities that could have influenced his decision. How about considering the possibility that it was a single call from Robert Mugabe, that veteran of sit-tightism of African politics, that made Jammeh to change his mind ? For Jammeh’s easily giving up would make Mugabe to feel that he is losing members of his league of crass tyrants. Again, consider this: Mugabe might have strongly rebuked Jammeh for not coming to him to rejuvenate his strategies of remaining in power. For it is clear that Jammeh’s strategies are outdated and that was why he lost the election to opposition candidate Adama Barrow.
Clearly, as long as sit-tight despots like Mugabe still hold sway in Africa, they would remain as sources of inspiration to other leaders who are tempted to manipulate elections to remain in power. This is the overarching challenge that African leaders must resolve to stabilise democracy on the continent. This goes far beyond the fatuous approach being adopted by African leaders now to persuade Jammeh to step down. African states must ensure stable institutions that would make democracy to flourish. The notion that some leaders have done so well and therefore they need more time to solidify their achievements must be discouraged. It is when African leaders want to pervert their state constitutions and prolong their stay in power that they use their stooges to emote about the sovereignty of their countries and the unimpeachable need of the West not dictating to them how to run their own governments. Yet, it is the same countries with perverted democratic systems that are bogged down by sit-tight leaders that would run to the West to seek help for the development of their countries.
It was this notion of incumbent African leaders’ indispensability to the survival of their nations that once seduced former President Olusegun Obasanjo into seeking a third term in office. He deployed financial resources and people to amend the constitution to accommodate his whimsical ambition. He was distracted from real governance to improve the lot of the citizens. And he would have had his way but for a wary citizenry and patriotic lawmakers who rebuffed him despite allegedly taking his humongous bribes. It is this notion that has also made Paul Kagame to seek another term to remain in power in Rwanda after already spending two terms of 17 years in office. He claimed that the people have allowed him through a referendum to continue in power. With this so-called endorsement by the people, Kagame would now begin a third term of seven years from 2017. After this he is entitled to another two five-year terms to remain in power till 2034 or probably for life as he wishes.
If African nations are serious about stabilising democracy, the idea that the people have willingly given their leader more time to consolidate their achievements must be presented as it is – cant and humbug. For how can we be sure that the people have really spoken when the leaders easily intimidate and manipulate them? To what extent do voters in Africa really determine who govern them? Was it the electorate who determined Mugabe’s and Jammeh’s stay in office for decades? Have the so-called leaders not been emerging in African countries after the polls have been brutally manipulated?
The African leaders who are outraged at the volte-face of Jammeh are intervening too late. For decades before now, African leaders should have insisted on ensuring stable democratic practices through periodic elections. There should not be room for the prolongation of a two-term of office of a leader. African leaders should emulate countries of the world which do not allow their leaders beyond two terms no matter how popular and auspicious the regime of a leader has been. But here lies the big challenge: African leaders do not have the right democratic credentials to enforce such a policy. They are the ones who manipulate the electoral process to pervert the people’s will to get power. They also hanker after an extra term.
True, the Nigerian state has been a stabilising force on the continent. It has intervened to restore peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It played a major role in the collapse of apartheid in South Africa. But it is not only when there are stark consequences of an abuse of the electoral process that Nigeria should intervene. If it is really interested in ensuring democratic stability in Africa, it must mobilise the rest of the African countries to adopt a common constitutional template that would guarantee stable democratic systems on the continent.
It is because the Jammehs and Mugabes of Africa know that the continent’s leaders are only replicas of antediluvian despots who do not have the democratic credentials to ask their colleagues who have lost elections to quit office that they would snigger at the attempts by Buhari and others to broker peace in The Gambia. However, for the sake of peace and the innocent citizens of The Gambia, Jammeh must consider the need to quit now. He should not allow the rest of the world to force him to leave. The innocent lives he has wasted through his tyrannical regime of 22 years are enough. He should not add to the grim statistics of trepidation and death by insisting on remaining in power and precipitating a conflict that would consume innocent lives. Even if Jammeh takes the case to the courts and wins, he should not delude himself that anybody would accept that verdict. We know that the courts in The Gambia grovel before him and they would not disoblige him.
But if the United Nations (UN) Security Council, African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are serious about persuading Jammeh to hand over power, they need to do more. It is good that ECOWAS has included among the peace brokers Ghanaian leader John Dramani Mahama who has also been defeated by the opposition and has acknowledged his loss. But it is surprising that it failed to include former President Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan is in a better place to persuade Jammeh to hand over power. He has not only given up power voluntarily, he has been leaving outside power for almost two years now. Despite his being harassed with the accusations of running the most corrupt government in the history of Nigeria, Jonathan remains one of the most eligible persons to talk to Jammeh more than sitting presidents who are probably considering how they would manipulate their electoral processes to remain in power like Jammeh.