The political impasse in The Gambia is over peacefully, thanks to the intervention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). By resolving the crisis without firing a single shot, the west African bloc of nations has taken a huge step towards lasting peace and democratic progress.
Back in early December, when then President Yahya Jammeh rescinded his concession and to opposition candidate Adama Barrow, ECOWAS promptly sent top leaders to the Gambia to persuade him to change his mind again and step down.
ECOWAS left the meeting vowing that Barrow would be inaugurated come Jan. 19, the date stipulated by the country’s constitution. I have to admit that I was among many Africans who doubted that ECOWAS would succeed in removing Jammeh. I expected Jammeh, who came to power via a coup 22 years ago, to go out fighting, especially because the head of the Gambian military had declared allegiance to the dictator. But in the end, ECOWAS leaders achieved what in the beginning seemed impossible. They used equal amounts of hard and soft diplomacy to negotiate a deal that convinced Jammeh accept the will of the people and step down. Barrow is now the legitimate president and has the backing of ECOWAS, the African Union, and the United Nations.
What is commendable about this deal is that a coalition made entirely of Africans negotiated it. In the past, other African have leaders ignored such matters and watched as countries imploded. And only after the implosion would they plead with the West to intervene. But this time Africa took charge right from the very beginning. They negotiated a peaceful exit for Jammeh but showed that, if necessary, they would use force. It was even more impressive that after President Barrow was inaugurated at the Gambian Embassy in Senegal, the military coalition that had been marching towards Banjul to oust Jammeh halted its advance to give him one last chance to avoid bloodshed. They extended Jammeh’s deadline. When it passed without him stepping down the advancing military stayed disciplined, as negotiations continued. In the end, Jammeh agreed to step down and left for Equatorial Guinea to begin a life in exile.
With Jammeh gone, 100 percent of ECOWAS member countries are governed by democratically elected presidents. ECOWAS’s resolve and Jammeh’s eventual exit will undoubtedly make any defeated incumbent in the future to think about the consequences of defying the people’s will. ECOWAS has shown that a crisis in one country is a crisis in all member countries, therefore requiring collective action.
That’s a good thing, for it signals to the world that Africans are capable of solving problems without the traditional practice of looking or guidance and intervention from Europe and the United States. And it’s even more significant now that Europeans and Americans are unwilling to intervene because they are too focused on their own economic and political turmoil .