The Gambia is mainland Africa’s smallest nation with a population of fewer than the two million, the majority of whom are minors. The country is known for peanuts and golden sandy beaches. Tourists arrive in the Western African nation each year because of its cheap holiday packages.
Last month, the country had a peaceful election that is now in dispute. It’s longtime ruler President Yahya Jammeh was defeated in the polls by a little-known political tenderfoot and real estate developer Adama Barrow. Barrow was backed by a coalition of seven opposition parties and an independent candidate.
President Yahya Jammeh came to power in The Gambia through a coup in 1994. He was a defiant 29-year-old Lieutenant that ousted the regime of Sir Dawda Jawara and ruled The Gambia with an iron-fist since.
Jammeh is eccentric, tyrannical and authoritarian.
Jammeh received praises from around the world when he played statesman by conceding defeat and calling on President-elect Adama Barrow to congratulate him on his victory. Gambians and the world were surprised that a dictator is conceding. Gambians, however, thought it was too good to be true but they suppressed that fear with the celebrations that followed.
A week later Jammeh detoured, rejected the results, called for him to be declared the winner or the results be annulled. International condemnation and local resistance sprang. It forced Jammeh to file a legal petition challenging the outcome of the results in the Supreme Court.
President Yahya Jammeh and his wife Zineb Jammeh are taking the route of Laurent and Simone Gbagbo, the president and first lady of Côte d’Ivoire by attempting to use the courts to legitimize his hold on power and hiring Liberian mercenaries. President Yahya Jammeh is hiring the same mercenaries that fought for his friend Gbagbo around the Côte d’Ivoire’s porous border towns with Liberia and just Simone Gbagbo, Zineb Jammeh is supporting her husband and says they are fighting for their rights and would not allow anyone to tell them what to do.
In the Gambia and Côte d’Ivoire, the judiciaries under the two leaders were not independent. When Gbagbo filed a petition in court after Alassane Ouattara’s win, the Ivorian Constitutional Court ruled in favor of Gbagbo and declared him the winner. The lesson that Jammeh, who supported Gbagbo throughout this period, did not learn is that the Ivorian Constitutional Court ruling did not stop a military putsch from being launched that led to the capture of Gbagbo and now his subsequent trial in The Hague and his wife’s in Abidjan.
After Gbagbo’s capture, the same Constitutional Court overturned their own ruling, upholding the original poll results and declaring Alasanne Ouattara the winner and duly elected President of Côte d’Ivoire.
ECOWAS forces will take the same actions as the UN and French forces took in Côte d’Ivoire, with the stated objective to protect their forces and civilians. It will lead to one of two things: Jammeh and his wife’s arrest or their deaths. But unlike the Ivorian situation, the international community must not wait for opposing sides to pick up arms. This must be done surgically and quickly.
In Côte d’Ivoire, at least 3,000 people were killed. Nearly all of them civilians. After the disputed election, sporadic outbreaks of violence took place, particularly in Abidjan, where supporters of Ouattara clashed repeatedly with government forces and militias.
There is no doubt, the same will be said of The Gambia if Jammeh refuses to go. Protests will start and Jammeh will use military force to suppress it. The military is deeply divided and so is the country and may pitch one side against the other.
Many will die and The Gambia will go into an Ivorian-type civil war. So a timely ECOWAS intervention to enforce the outcome of the elections is greatly important to avert an armed conflict, a refugee crisis and thousands of deaths.
Like Emmanuel Nkea puts it: the ECOWAS invasion would be a lawful response to tyranny and like Gbagbo, President Yahya Jammeh must be forcefully removed, and if the crisis is thereby resolved, the Gambia would be well-placed to recover politically and economically.