Since the political crisis in The Gambia stated last December with President Yahya Jammeh rejecting the result of the presidential election citing “irregularities,” there have been many suggestions as to how best to handle the issue. Some have called for more diplomatic solutions basing their arguments on the fact that the matter is purely an internal affair; while others insist that from Jammeh and some other African leaders’ antecedents; only a military solution can put an end to his 22-year stay in power at Banjul. The matter took another dimension with a Gambian army general in his New Year message saying the President has “full military backing”. How did we get here? Can it get worse? Are we progressing or retrogressing?
To understand the present situation in The Gambia, we will need to do a little bit of historicity. Things like these on African soil are not new.
In the 1960s and 1970s, post-colonial African states were beginning to take characters of their own. They have inherited state institutions from the colonial master which they do not understand. Some, like Congo and Nigeria, soon degenerated into bloody civil wars.
Others like Tangayinka and Zanzibar were merging to form modern-day Tanzania while at the same time East African Federation (EAF) and the Central African Federation (CAF) were been dissolved by their respective leaders. It was also at these period that the military in the post-colonial states became bold enough to take over political power from the erstwhile nationalist leaders who that turned violent in their bid to maintain themselves in power.
In Lesotho, in 1970, for instance, when early results indicated that the Prime Minister, Chief Leabua Jonathan, and his party, the Bathoso National Party (BNP) might lose to its rival, Bathosoland Congress Party (BCP), he voided the results citing “irregularities”. After nullifying the election he declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution, dissolved the parliament and assumed absolute power in the tiny nation surrounded by apartheid South Africa. To cut short the long story, things became so difficult as a result of political turbulence, from both internal and external sources till a military takeover in the country in 1986. That we can still have an experience like this after first happening over forty years ago shows the level of progress we are making. This appears to be the dilemma in The Gambia today!
In the Lesotho’s 1970 case, there were no external military actions taken partly because of threats from the apartheid regime in Pretoria who had earlier threatened to take direct control of the small nation due to its ties with Nelson Mandela-led African National Congress (ANC). But unlike Lesotho’s case, the sub-regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) through its military arm, ECOMOG, has indicated interest at a possible military action against Jammeh.
There are those who think this action will be counter-productive citing “unnecessary loss of innocent lives.” Those who hold this line of thinking forget the fact that Jammeh himself, by rejecting the outcome of an election, is an existential threat to democracy and democratization in Africa.
Let us even accept, without conceding, that there should be a new election as a way of ending the crisis. Let us ask the following questions: What guarantee do we have that Jammeh and his supporters will allow the people to express their will this time going by the fact that the country’s electoral commission boss had fled the country? Had Jammeh won the election in December, will he have admitted there were “irregularities” in the first instance? What are the assurances we will be having that the outgoing president will accept defeat the second time if he loses the election abysmally? Also, giving Jammeh’s lust for power, was anyone expecting him to step down after been defeated in an election especially with the understanding that he came into power through a military coup?
Olalekan Waheed ADIGUN, a political analyst and independent political strategist wrote through: firstname.lastname@example.org