Photograph — Huffington Post

“The current mood in Gambia can be described as fear as opposed to fair, but the electorate seems ready to engage in the process as a means to express their hopes and aspirations, one can only hope the end justifies the means.”

Views expressed about the legacy of Yahya Jammeh as he ran for fifth term in 2016

It was fantastic news to hear that Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh had conceded defeat following elections on December 1, 2016; I was in a festive mood because it was a victory for the underdog (Adama Barrow) as well as the people of the small nation.

However, that decision to accept the results of the election has taken a nosedive, much like after agreeing to pay fifty naira on a bus, and five minutes into the trip, the conductor tells you it’s one hundred naira – claiming he didn’t hear you say fifty – if you’re conversant with the public transportation system in Lagos (I mean the yellow buses), you know it’s a lost battle; you angrily accept to pay the new fare and in some cases they overshoot the bus stop, just to show you who’s in charge.

Jammeh was finally leaving after spending 22 years out of his planned “one billion years of rule” following a military coup when he was age 29 and all was seemingly going right in The Gambia. But the political instability in a country of about 1.9 million as a result of Jammeh’s turnaround decision is about to set into motion a serious issue pitching the masses against the government in a winner-takes-all match.

Map of Gambia

Concerning the elections, there was no surprise as many observers, civil society, and the international community alike felt that the process would be rigged – the credibility of Jammeh’s past successes in 2001, 2006 and 2011 have neither been free nor fair. Aside from the African Union (AU), neither the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) nor the European Union (EU) covered the election to ensure an accountable process.

So the shocker was Jammeh accepting the “will of God” and calling the winner and eventual President-elect, Adama Barrow to congratulate him after the Independent Election Commission (IEC) headed by Alieu Momarr Njai announced the results.

In the absence of the perfect hyperbole to describe how Gambians were happy with the results, it was grand.

Excited Gambians celebrating Barrow’s victory
An excited citizen following Adama Barrow winning Gambia’s 2016 elections

But like a poor copy of an Enid Blyton storybook missing its happy-ever-after pages, the celebrations have come to an abrupt half and sanctions are flying everywhere – why? – Jammeh won’t go!

Maybe it’s a result of Adama Barrow being a tad too excited and spewing the first thoughts that come to his mind following his win. I mean, he had said that he plans to run for three years as opposed to completing his five-year term, reverse Jammeh’s decisions to pull out from the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court.

Barrow’s overexcitement and optimism makes him “the undoer” as his plan to re-instate Gambia with some international organisations would result in far-reaching consequences for Yahya Jammeh who was planning to return to his farm and lead a quiet life outside politics.

The outgoing president has been severally accused of leading a repressed administration, silencing his opposition and has been subject of several human rights abuse. Barrow said his government would examine abuses committed under Jammeh while remaining committed to due process and administering justice that would not be “personal”.

With the level of allegations placed against Jammeh, there’s no way it won’t seem personal.

Credit: Ventures Africa

Now, for such a tiny nation, the support to peacefully transition the government to a new president has created teams, some in support, and others against.

ECOWAS is not in support of Jammeh who said his annulling the elections – the regional body sent a contingent of some presidents including Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria. Senegal has taken a much harder stand on the issue threatening a military offensive if the situation deteriorates further; this comes on the heels of the sacking of the Gambian Ambassador to Senegal.

The United States, the European Union, and the UN Security Council have called for the will of the people to be respected. French President Francois Hollande insists on the installation of Barrow.

It is safe to say that Jammeh is just a big bad wolf who is ready to huff and puff the house of the piglets and damn the consequences.

Another no shocker move is that of the chief of staff who says he is ready to back the outgoing president’s move to stay. He is not fighting a one-man battle even as Gambia’s top court is set to look into his move to annul the elections on January 10.

There is some home-grown bought love for the dictator; political supporters of the APRC party and Gambia’s deputy adviser to the United Nations have pitched their tents with him and it’s not going to be hard for him to coerce such support especially from those who have benefitted from his continuous administration.

It’s still a fear-trumps-fair situation as the electoral chief has gone into hiding following death threats, security agencies are on the streets, there is an increasing shut down of media agencies and the tension is so real one can almost taste it. Things took an ugly turn and feared the worst had happened when the “fake news” broke and was popularly peddled by the Nigerian media that Adama Barrow had been assassinated.

It took efforts from some members of Barrow’s team and journalists to denounce the story but there are reports that members of the coalition party were evacuating to safe houses; a clear indication how the bad things have gotten.

We should not easily forget the words of Yahya Jammeh when it comes to the opposition: “Let me warm evil vermin called opposition, if they want to destabilise the country, I will bury you nine feet deep and no Westerner dare say anything.”

Those are the words of a man you should be afraid of and for a mighty list of reasons so – gunning down of Deyda Hydera, one of Gambia’s most distinguished journalists in December 2004; arrest of the UDP Leader Ousainou Darboe; violation of the right to peaceful assembly; prosecution of protesters and ridiculous sentences and the list goes on endless.

If you’re not for me, you’re against me, is an apt way to describe how the opposition is treated in Gambia. Jammeh says ECOWAS has no right to interfere in Gambia’s internal affairs, and that Gambians should await the outcome of a legal challenge that his APRC party has lodged at the Supreme Court.

Gambia signals something a turn of events on the horizon as the country has gotten distracted by mismanagement of its internal affairs, in an emerging political wave that sees populism lose its edge in governance.

The crisis is just another situation of the rising case of demagogues in the region who refuse to relinquish power as West Africa is at a critical intersection. Leaders such as Jammeh have too often been protected by weak and ineffectual political will by regional blocs to bring about any wind of change that is a common factor the masses seek.


Elsewhere on Ventures

Triangle arrow