By Daniel Onjeh
The Gambia after Jammeh – not yet uhuru
Like most military dictators in the Old Order, Yahya Jammeh, a young army officer was enthusiastically hailed by the ordinary masses of The Gambia when he took over power from Sir Dauda Jawara who had gone to London to attend the ill-fated Charles and Diana wedding.
The masses felt he was one of them especially as he is from a clan of traditional healers.
But as lord Action famously observed “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. So it was with Yahya Jammeh. As with most dictators he started on a good footing-curbing corruption, modernizing the economy and recording remarkable success in gender equality and women empowerment. He appointed women into positions of power and influence and made the Gambia the top tourist destination in West Africa. But he became infatuated with power, that unruly mistress.
He consolidated so much power that he became synonymous with the state, and intolerant of all opposition, including critical voices like Journalists and human rights activists. Some opponents of the increasingly repressive and absolutist regime died mysteriously and the social contract with the people became untenable.
As the new International Liberal Order became the dominant political system, the clamour for mass participatory and representative government became strident all over the world especially in Africa and this was greatly encouraged by the West. Yahya Jammeh became a “Democrat” and manipulated the process to always win with incredible margins. But the people’s will can not be subverted for too long.
Having agreed to subject himself fully to the democratic process in which the peoples will freely expressed at the ballot, is sacrosanct, he reneged when the people rejected him at the polls.
By congratulating his opponent, now President Adama Barrow, he redeemed himself in the eyes of his compatriots and fellow Africans, but his obsession with power, and the fear of probe by his successor made him to withdraw his congratulation and use every trick in the Dictator’s Pandora Box to hold onto power as long as feasible.
The African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) especially neighbouring Senegal and the Anglophone trio of Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria made it clear to Marabout Jammeh that the era of the “Big Man” is over in Africa.
By matching rhetoric with action-actually assembling troops to invade and restore constitutional order – African institutions and leaders involved in resolving the Gambian crises have made a bold statement which cannot be ignored by any other power monger. Yahya Jammeh should be given the amnesty he requested for but not in murder cases.
The sit-tight syndrome is coming to an end in Africa. Obasanjo’s Third Term Bid was comprehensively rejected by Nigerians. Jonathan’s single-term proposition was equally rejected because it was self-serving. Blaise Compoare’s hold on power came to an end because the masses revolted. Laurent Gbagbo used religion and ethnicity to deny Alassane Outtara the presidency but is today in jail.
The time for sit tight rulers is over in Africa. President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola has just appointed a newly minted Vice president to take over from him next year.
Most dictators find it difficult to relinquish power, especially when they have committed crimes against their fellow citizens-whether murder, ethno-religious cleansing, treasury looting or economic plunder. It is the fear of the Day of Reckoning when they are stripped off power that makes them to act irrationally.
The ascension of President Adama Barrow should be the first step in a long process of national healing and restructuring. Dictators have always used the military and the entire Defence, Intelligence and Security apparatus or elements thereof, as a means to consolidate and hold on to power by all means. Yahya Jammeh is no exception. The ECOWAS Intervention Force should not return to base but remain in the Gambia for a period of six to eighteen months.
This will enable ECOWAS with the help of development partners to completely and comprehensively restructure the Defence, Intelligence and Security Establishment of The Gambia to become truly professional and completely apolitical.
Those who have been used to a life of unearned privileges and filthy lucre will do everything possible to undermine the Barrow administration. They should never be given the chance to succeed.
Has democracy come to stay in Africa? Hopefully. With the opposition making unprecedented wins in Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and The Gambia, the people now have alternatives to chose from, democracy in surely being consolidated in Africa.
The Gambian political crises may not be the last in Africa but it has put all political adventurers on notice. Africa will not tolerate the disruption of the constitutional order.
Democracy has indeed come to stay in Africa!
Courtesy of Daily Post Nigeria