International Intervention Likely in The Gambia as Jammeh Stalls
An electoral impasse is brewing in The Gambia, the resolution of which will be internationalised if the three earliest reactions to President Yahya Jammeh’s sudden about-turn in rejecting the results of an election he had publicly accepted are anything to go by. Jammeh announced the about-turn yesterday, an action he based on what he called thorough investigation and his discovery of “serious and unacceptable abnormalities” which he claims to have characterised the election. He is insisting on a “fresh and transparent elections which will be officiated by a God-fearing and independent electoral commission.”
Jammeh’s new position shatters what some observers note as an electoral wind of change whereby incumbents in West Africa are not only defeated, they readily accept defeat and congratulate the winner. It is seen to have begun in Nigeria in April 2015 then The Gambia and Ghana in the last one week. The first was Yahya Jammeh of Gambia who swept himself into power via a military coup in 1994. Next to him is President John Mahama of Ghana whose electoral ouster became a certainty last night when the Electoral Commission of Ghana announced his victory in favour of the country’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mister Nana Akufo-Addo, the presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) who is now Ghana’s president-elect. The gap between the incumbent and the opposition candidate is 9.45%, each having scored 44. 40% versus 53.85% of the votes cast respectively. This trend contrasts with Burundi and DRC where resistance to tenure limits has stalled elections, creating crisis situations.
Though an African country, Senegal which is the earliest voice on the issue is calling for an emergency session of the the U.N. Security Council. Mankeur Ndiaye, the country’s Foreign Minister is warning the out-voted president against harming Senegal’s interests in The Gambia, a reaction that conveys Senegal’s fear of refugee crisis in the event of explosion, possible mistreatment of Senegalese in The Gambia as well as frustration with Jammeh himsel.
Next to Senegal is Human Rights Watch whose Deputy Program Director, Babatunde Olugboji, told Reuters that “the international community, notably ECOWAS (the West African regional bloc) and the African Union, should loudly protest any unlawful attempt to subvert the will of the Gambian people”. Following Senegal and the Human Rights Watch is the United States which is holding up Jammeh’s about-turn as undermining the just concluded election and a design at prolongation of power illegitimately. Against this background, international action is likely to define the management of the impending impasse, given the fear of opposition that Jammeh could start a rebellion with ‘bunkers and treasure’ in his farm said to be situated near Senegal border.
It is not clear why Jammeh has made his about-turn. Some observers say it might not be unconnected with living the reality of no longer being the president, after 22 years on the ‘throne’. This is what appears to be what the US is alluding to in its reference to prolongation of power. Others say it is a product of his contemplation of the prospects of being brought to trial. With his frosty relations with the West and even many African leaders, he must be seeing himself as being completely vulnerable. His rejection of the results at this point might thus be a preference for the position of a guerrilla movement rather than standing in the dock at The Hague sometimes soon as threatened by opposition. All in all, he might be suffering from what the Nigerian political scientist, Jonah Isawa Elaigwu, has called messianic arrogance and residual militarism. Managing him would thrust ECOWAS back to the limelight of the diplomacy of conflict management again as was the case with ‘state collapse’ in Liberia, Sierra Leone in the early 1990s.