Gambians went to the polls on December 1, seeking to democratically remove Yahya Jammeh, a despot who came to power 22 years ago via a military coup. It was no easy task. The dictator claimed to have spoken to Allah, who told him that he’d rule The Gambia for a billion years. If you think this is laughable, then you don’t know us Africans.
In a continent where we follow religion more zealously than the foreigners who brought it to them do, attaching God’s name to anything could scare people so badly that they’d vote for Satan.But the brave people of The Gambia didn’t believe Allah wants them to continue to be abused by the criminal government. They went to the polls and voted Jammeh out.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Jammeh called President-elect Adama Barrow and conceded defeat. The rejoicing that followed spread beyond The Gambia, and far beyond West Africa. Africans from all over the world celebrated because Jammeh’s concession was yet another step toward proving to those who doubt that democracy can work in our beloved continent. It would’ve been only the second time an incumbent had been defeated and agreed to respect the will of the people, after Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan left office without incident in 2015, when he lost to Muhammadu Buhari.
In the same region of Africa, Ghana was preparing to elect its president, and incumbent John Mahama had pledged to hand over power if he lost. Africa was feeling proud!
Then the unthinkable happened.
The Gambian president rescinded his concession, claiming that the election was marred by irregularities. He said he would stay in office beyond the January 19 deadline stipulated by the constitution. He promised to call for new elections.
You’ve gotta bow down to the people of The Gambia.
If this had happened in my birthplace of Kenya, the president-elect’s supporters would have taken it to the streets and tried to kill as many pro-incumbent civilian supporters as the machete can kill before it goes dull. But the people of The Gambia have remained calm.
(To be fair to my Kenyan compatriots, when violence broke out there after the 2007, election, their constitution did not allow a transition period. Power changed hands immediately after the elections, which robbed us of the time to come to our senses and resolve our issues peacefully).
By remaining peaceful, Gambians have given Jammeh a chance to come to his sense. Apparently, the man has not an ounce of sense. He has provoked the people more by sending soldiers to occupy the electoral commission’s offices, which has forced the head of the commission to flee the country.
Since the political impasse began, UN Special Envoy Ibn Chambas and four regional presidents have been to The Gambia. They include Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf, Liberia’s, Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, Buhari, and Ghana’s Mahama, who had already conceded defeat as promised. Jammeh has remained defiant.
The bloc of nations known as ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), chaired by Sirleaf, has promised to do everything possible to make sure Barrow is inaugurated on January 19.
ECOWAS leaders have been talking tough. Jammeh has dug in deeper and vowed to do everything to resist any attempt to force him out.
Across the frontline, Barrow had told the BBC that he is “a hundred percent” sure that he will be president come January 19.
In brief, The Gambia could get messy.
But if ECOWAS succeeds in forcing Jammeh out, it would prove to the world that, indeed, there can be African solutions for African problems, as the Africanist mantra goes. That — along with the fact that last year a court sanctioned by the African Union successfully tried and convicted Chadian dictator Hissène Habré — could signal to the world that Africa is capable of bringing tyrants to trial. That would justify (and speed up) Africa’s exit from the International Criminal Court, which countries like South Africa and Brundi have left because they say it disproportionately targets Africa.