Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf issued a statement on January 7, 2017 that “Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was closely monitoring proceedings in Gambia’s Supreme Court where Jammeh is challenging the poll result.” This statement may have well-intentioned, but is, in reality, not explicit. The Gambian Supreme Court should not be considered legitimate nor independent. It is largely considered unconstitutional and an instrument of Jammeh himself. As the Gambian Bar Association describes, the court is comprised of Justices handpicked by Jammeh to hear his legal challenge to the election – an election which Jammeh vows not to concede unless he is declared the winner. With statements like that of President Sirleaf, ECOWAS risks legitimizing the Gambian Supreme Court and trapping itself with difficult choices. Will ECOWAS recognize the proceedings of The Gambian Supreme Court and waiting to uphold whatever decision that may come out of such ruling on January 10? Or will ECOWAS wait to see the reaction from the Gambian people after the kangaroo court issues its verdict?
Immediately after the aforementioned statement, the APRC vanguards quickly went to the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) to publicly assert the misleading claim that ECOWAS had changed its position and recognized Jammeh as using the courts. ECOWAS is right to embrace diplomacy, but releasing such statements can have many fatalistic consequences. It might lend credibility to the Gambian Supreme Courts, especially among the ordinary Gambians, and arm Jammeh with tools to control the public narrative and perpetuate himself. More concerning, this statement might suggest that Jammeh is right when he claims that ‘he can rule The Gambia for 1 billion years and no election can remove him from power.’ Truly, knowing who Jammeh is and reading many political science theories about the manipulative nature of dictators that ranges from Pol Pot of Cambodian (politician and revolutionary who led the Khmer Rouge) and Nuon Chea (chief ideologist of the Khmer Rouge), Idi Amine of Uganda and Mobutu of Democratic Republic of Congo, I am disturbed by the same mechanism being explored by Jammeh.
This statement also suggests that ECOWAS may be less aware of President Jammeh’s strategies to undermine and deny any efforts that may force him to cede power to the coalition. The strategies and propaganda theories utilized by Jammeh include statements in the media that Casamance and Guinea Bissau rebels are not supporting Jammeh. I found this as a faulty argument that is not coherent and cogent because according to the little research I conducted on both Casamance and Bissau, there are doubts if there are rebel movement that constitute or compose itself as Bissau rebels. Historically, The Guinea-Bissau Civil War, which was fought from 7 June 1998 to 10 May 1999 and was ostensibly triggered by an attempted coup led by General Ansumane Mane against the government of President Vieira. It was during this period when the Casamance separatists turned to be rebels, felt the need to strategically amalgamate themselves and aligned with the disgruntle Bissau renegades to clash with government forces, backed by neighboring states, which include Senegal. Such amalgamation was more or less done with the ulterior motive that when they liberate Bissau, the next step will be Casamance. However, neither the rebels nor the renegades were able to succeed in Bissau or Casamance, but pose significant threats to the regional peace of Senegambia. During this Bissau and Casamance struggle, Jammeh evidently became the godfather of such rebels and traitors. Jammeh integrated some of these rebels in the army, and armed some of them as special thugs who take directives and are only answerable. The rebels are also given executive powers and can be more powerful than the Chief of the Defense Staff (CDS) of the Gambia National Army. Virtually, Jammeh incentivized the rebels, only to terrorize his opponents and also to pose a substantive threat to peace, specifically in Casamance and also in Bissau. He offers the rebels with provisions that includes, food, Gambian diplomatic passports, luxurious cars, land and houses. For example, Jammeh personally allocated a piece of land between Bundung Borehole and Nema (Sukuta Sabijie) to some of these casamance rebels. As of today, a part of these people even occupied various places in Talinding and Kanilai and some villages in the Foni’s. In return, Jammeh expects them to return personal protection for him, carry some clandestine activities and to persecute his perceive enemies. Therefore, the allegation that the rebels claimed that they will not fight for Jammeh was a mere slippery slope and a propaganda tool by Jammeh, just to placate the Senegalese and the ECOWAS. Jammeh unequivocally sponsored the Casamance rebels and enable them to have safe heavens in the porous borders between Senegal and The Gambia, notably in Bulock, Ndemban, Jalokuto, Somita, Kanilai, Bunubore, Kanilai only to name a few. Jammeh and his security team cannot also deny the relocation of some of his green boys and rebels in hamlets called Kiang Bantasu, Kiang Geseh and Kiang Santanba. These villages are close to foni Bwiam. How on earth will the Casamance rebels suddenly say they dissociate themselves with Jammeh? Veritably, it does not correlate to the facts underground, which Jammeh is hiding, specifically intended to thwart the Senegalese and ECOWAS intervention in The Gambia, and hang on to power.
Apart from the Bissau and Casamance issue, Jammeh has strategically employed and escalated fear by swearing to resist-or even crush any foreign invasion of the Gambia-efforts to remove him from power. I found this pronouncement as totally baffling. It does not have any substantiated bearing when considering the issue and viewing at the size of The Gambia, with its national army. From this point of view, it is realistic to agree with Maduka Onwukeme, a Lagos-based Legal Practitioner, who rendered a fitting description of Jammeh’s limits and bluffs: “Jammeh’s ‘confidence seems to have been bolstered by the pledge of allegiance made by the country’s military chief, but then hearing Jammeh’s rhetoric, one would mistake the Gambia for the African version of North Korea in military might.” The Gambia military has also not been recently tested with any battle other than its previous participation in ECOMOG interventions in the Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. More so, Onwukeme confirms that Jammeh is not only weak in military strength but even more vulnerable financially because Gambia is one of the poorest countries in the world without any significant natural resources and its institutions are micro managed through technical assistance from multilateral and bilateral donors (World BANK).
I found Onukeme’s analyses very convincing because Jammeh had overblown his military might to terrify The Gambia for 22 years; yet now, he is using the same threats against the international community, with the intention of deepening and entrenching his powers. What might admittedly be valid is that, Jammeh could have purchased arms. However, having arms is a totally different matter from that of having a competently trained army who will die at one’s command. Many Gambian ex-soldiers will attest that Jammeh killed, exiled, jailed, or fired nearly all militarily competent soldiers—especially those who had served in Liberia or Sierra Leone. In order to be free from any threats that could be posed by potential and competent soldiers, Jammeh executed this from a sense of paranoia, and above all, with the intended purpose of making himself invincible. This was why he allegedly targeted and killed competent soldiers—like Lieutenant Barrow and others—in November 11, 1994. Jammeh then killed Lieutenant Alimamou Manneh, jailed Landing Sanneh for years, jailed Bunja Darboe, dismissed or relieved very good soldiers like Lieutenant Sane Bajo, Lieutenant Keita, and the list continues. Jammeh understood well, the caliber of the military in The Gambia. It was the same reason why he engaged in propaganda for recruiting the so-called former rebels from Liberia and the Ivory Coast—for terrorism tactics. Jammeh’s threats to Gambians, and the international community, have no legitimate place within the 21st century World. He has engaged with employing political meandering to subvert the will of the Gambian people. If he is not checked, his actions will leave a bad precedent for The Gambia and the sub-region, as a whole.
Certainly, if Jammeh is given the chance to rule The Gambia again, the entire sub-region will propagate a burgeoning population of separatists, rebels, and illegal arms-dealers. It could easily become a haven for frequent ritual killings—even a possible location and hide out for recruiting radical extremist groups. Undoubtedly, executions of many Gambians will continue. In attestation to this fact is MA Bah—Jammeh’s interior minister—recent engagement and authorization of the regional governors to compile a list of the names of the opponents to be targeted and executed upon Jammeh’s inauguration—possibly this January. Therefore, in order to gauge Jammeh’s intentions and verbal threats, it is not necessary for one to be a political scientist, but only to perform a critical overview of his hidden agendas and propaganda mechanisms that speak volumes of his desire to remain in power at the detriment of The Gambia.
The International community, which include UN, ECOWAS and the AU must be commended for standing by Gambian electorates and insisting on Jammeh’s exit from power. Profoundly, the efforts and the declaration of ECOWAS intention to meet Jammeh again, on January 12, 2017, for renegotiation to hand over presidency to president elect Adama Barrow on January 19, must be commendable for standing with The Gambian people in this difficult times. However, they should also be quite cognizant to the above outlines that highlight the looming dangers of retaining Jammeh and his inconsistencies. Otherwise, leaders who might be enticed by Jammeh’s propaganda and inconsistencies, may and be also tempted to support him for material and financial gains—not realizing that they will be doing so to their own destruction. It is proven that The Gambia under Jammeh has been proved beyond reasonable doubts to have failed in executing its primary responsibility for protecting the populace from crimes-against-humanity as well as vocalization and incitement of ethnic tensions. I strongly believe that the International Community still retains the responsibility to encourage and assist The Gambia in fulfilling its responsibility to protect (R2P) civilian lives from Jammeh’s desire to kill virtually the entire population of his adversaries.
Ultimately, the use of acceptably appropriate, diplomatic, humanitarian, and other measures to protect majority of Gambians who have spoken at the pools from Jammeh’s crimes will be laudable. On the other hand, it is important note that Jammeh and APRC have manifestly failed to protect the populace, and this reinforces the international community in being prepared to implement collective action, in order, to protect the lives of The Gambian people, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. In effect, it might be reasonable to state that such roles and responsibilities to protect cannot be blocked by the invocation of sovereignty—as claimed by Jammeh and many other dictators in the not-so-distant past—therefore, ‘sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States [individuals] from foreign interference; it is a charge of implicit responsibility for the States to be accountable on behalf of the welfare of their people’. Consequently, endless negotiations with Jammeh will only bolster and embolden him to remain in power.
By Lamin Keita
The author is a student at Law and a Ph.D. candidate for Political Science at the University of Wisconsin).