The departure of Gambia’s Leader of twenty-two years, former president Yahya Jammeh on the 21st of January, 2017 into exile in Guinea is a good ending to a drama that while it lasted created fear, foreboding and uncertainty, not only in Gambia where the unfortunate drama began but also in West Africa and indeed the rest of Africa.
For West Africa, whose sub-regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) resolved not to condone impunity; it was a case of never again. In the late 1980’s and the 1990’s, West Africa was the center of wasting civil wars that led to the devastation of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Those struggling nations with limited but untapped resources are still battling to find their feet and get the gory experiences of the civil war that devastated their countries behind them.
Like in the case of the Gambia, which thankfully has been averted, it began like a joke, a struggle for power that at first appeared foolish and then took on a life of its own and before long, ethnic loyalties were mobilized and before one could say ECOWAS!, the citizens found themselves involved in murderous conflict.
When the history of the effort to contain the civil wars that engulfed Liberia and Sierra Leone are written, great tribute would be paid to Nigeria and its leadership then under retired military president, Ibrahim Babangida and subsequent Nigerian leaders who came after him for supervising the mopping up of hostilities. Tribute would also be paid to ECOWAS, the African Union and the UN which supported the Nigerian military intervention thus making it a legal venture in international law.
In the recent case of the Gambian impasse and unlike what obtained in the former cases we had in Liberia and Sierra Leone, one has to commend the singular determination of the leadership and member-states of ECOWAS who from the word go, frowned at the unfolding illegality and unconstitutionality brewing in the Gambia, and which left unattended would have presented the sub-regional body with a dilemma as well as a bad example in the attempt to enthrone democracy and orderly transfer of power in the sub-region after the commendable example of Nigeria in 2015, which brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power. It was therefore natural that in reaching the consensus to say no to sit-tightism and impunity, and ensure that the culture of democracy which has been lit in Ghana, Nigeria and to some considerable degree in other ECOWAS states was not extinguished, the sub-regional body took the unambiguous and courageous step of saddling Nigeria with the responsibility of ensuring that normalcy and the Constitution was restored in the Gambia.
It needs be noted that while Guinean President, Alpha Conde and the Mauritanian President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz held the final meeting that convinced former Gambian Leader, Yahya Jammeh that he has no other choice than to revert to his earlier acceptance of the result of the December 2016 presidential election in his country, the foundation had already been laid by the ECOWAS mediation team led by Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari.
The ECOWAS mediation team set up immediately the sign of trouble reared its head was made up of President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Liberian leader, Eileen Johnson-Sirleaf, former president John Mahama of Ghana, who lost a recent election and peacefully accepted the result, the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma and top international diplomats.
The Muhammadu Buhari-led mediation team took their task seriously. The presence of Liberia’s Eileen Johnson-Sirleaf, and her Sierra Leonean counterpart, Koroma, were instructive. The two countries suffered immensely because of politically- motivated civil war and today, these two leaders have the onerous responsibility to bring their countries back to reckoning.
The team travelled twice to Banjul and met the then recalcitrant Yahya Jammeh who has ruled the tiny country for upwards of twenty-two years after he led a successful coup d’état against former President Dauda Jawara. While it seemed that Jammeh was not moved by the mature counsel and entreaties of the distinguished team of leaders and ex- leaders of the sub-region, to the credit of the Buhari-led team, the bravado and coyness of the former Gambian leader, did not divide their ranks. They made it clear to the former Gambian leader that it behoves on him to respect the wishes of the people of his country as already expressed in the December 2016 election result which gave victory to his opponent in the election, Adama Barrow. Second, the Buhari team also let it be known that military force would be used to ensure Jammeh’s compliance in which case the drama would have an unpleasant end. Third, for emphasis and to leave Jammeh and his supporters in no doubt on the unity of the mediation team and the ECOWAS, after its last meeting which was like an ultimatum, President Buhari’s team took with them Adama Barrow to the France-Africa summit meeting in Bamako, Mali, few days to the deadline given to Jammeh and the swearing in of the new Gambian leader. In Mali, Barrow was presented and acknowledged to the leaders gathered as the legitimate president-elect of Gambia! This development helped to further isolate the former Gambian leader.
The master-stroke by the Buhari mediation team came when Yahya Jammeh was presented with a fait accompli, with the swearing-in of Adama Barrow as the legitimate President of the Gambia in Dakar, Senegal in the premises of the Gambian Embassy! The import of this was that such a ceremony took place without opposition from Gambian officials and citizens in Senegal meaning that Gambian diplomats in Senegal and other countries were one with the people in their election choice and supported the consensus resolve of ECOWAS and the international community that Jammeh’s time was up.
Therefore, going by all the deliberate and systematic efforts and foundation laid by the Buhari mediation committee as well as the mobilization of troops from Nigeria, Senegal and a few other countries positioned at the border between Gambia and Senegal, the road has been paved and made clear for the success of the last ditch and last minute intervention by the respected leaders of Guinea and Mauritania, to convince the former Gambian leader, that indeed the game was up. The choice left was for Jammeh to allow reason to prevail on his part or disaster to follow. Thus everyone, including his most ardent supporters expressed tearful relief when he chose the part of honour and patriotism to respect the wishes of the people of Gambia and ECOWAS and prevent an ugly encounter.
Thus as Jammeh begins his exile in Guinea, it behoves on the new Gambian leader, Adama Barrow to work hard and justify the hope, confidence and expectations of the people of the Gambia in his leadership. It is re-assuring to note that in his swearing-in speech in Dakar, President Barrow promised reforms to give the people of Gambia, a new lease of life. We urge him to go on and carry out these reforms as long as the Gambia would be better for it to correct the unpleasant aspects of the legacy of the former leader, Yahya Jammeh. That way, President Barrow would have justified the efforts and risks taken by the ECOWAS mediation team and indeed the international community, in calling the bluff of former President Yahya Jammeh.
Written by Louis Okoroma, a Political Analyst.