Are we watching Jammeh’s lion cubs in Gambia?

“When a handshake goes beyond the elbow,” our elders say, “it ceases to be a friendly gesture.” And so, when Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh— after all his atrocities in his tenure as the leader of the West African state— made a U-turn in not accepting the results of the 2016 general elections, almost everybody bared teeth at him.

Jammeh’s ‘handshake’ that he forced down our throats to believe was a friendly gesture had gone beyond our ‘elbows’. The world rallied behind his opponent, Adama Barrow, who had emerged winner in the polls.

In Abuja at the 50th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Governments of ECOWAS held on 17th December 2016, The Gambia was one prominent agenda on the table for discussion. Indeed, ECOWAS was that concerned about the political situation in that country.

At the said Abuja meeting, the ECOWAS Mission in The Gambia [ECOMIG] had agreed that Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria contribute troops to pressure Mr. Jammeh to step down.

“On Thursday, 19th January, 2017, the day President Adama Barrow was to take over, at least, a battalion each of ECOMIG Forces crossed the international boundary into Gambia from the North and South,” said Ghana’s Defence Minister, Dominic Nitiwul, to his Parliament.

He was briefing the House on Ghana’s participation in the ECOWAS Mission.

ECOMIG [troops] after entering Gambia had secured key and vulnerable points in Banjul and without resistance or whatsoever from the Gambian Armed Forces (GAMAF), Mr. Barrow was later sworn in as President of Gambia. As we witnessed, the ‘messiah’ hastily took the oath of office at Gambia’s embassy in Dakar; Senegalese capital.

It is only important we remind ourselves of this history. In that, almost three years now after Adama Barrow came into office, he seems to have so soon forgotten all this important historical narrative as he blatantly breaks promises he made himself. Nonetheless, some of us would painstakingly remind him of such.

Mr. President, when most Gambians marched through the streets of the capital, Banjul, and other cities amidst singing, drumming and dancing defying the ‘régime fort’ of Yahya Jammeh, they had an avalanche of hope in you to make things better. These Gambians believed that under your watch, democracy would be given its needed respect as you promised stepping down after three years in office for fresh elections to be organized.

“We have our country back,” shouted Modu Ceesay, a taxi driver who took his shirt off and waved it furiously over his head. This was captured by DW TV. “This is our country and now we have it,” he added. But really, do Gambians have their country back [now]?

Prior to Adama Barrow’s ascension to the highest office of the land, he promised his coalition of opposition parties and the people of Gambia that he will serve only three years in office as a transitional president.

He also promised to transform the economy, promote good governance and ensure freedom of expression. Though Mr. Barrow has made steady progress with regards to certain promises like the release of political prisoners and the setting up of The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, his critics continue to express disappointment and resentment.

The Gambian President’s apparent unwillingness to relinquish power after his three years agreement with the coalition of opposition parties and for that matter a promise to his people— at large— have raised suspicions. The formation of youth movements and his own political party, National People’s Party [NPP], for instance, are indications of his unpreparedness to hand over power as promised. The feeling among most Gambians is that Adama Barrow is adopting the same cling-onto-power antics Mr. Jammeh used in his 22 years rule.

Delivering his New Year message to the people of Gambia, Mr. Barrow made it explicitly clear that it is constitutionally unconstitutional to resign after the said three years agreement. He indicated that his promise to the people of Gambia elapses on 19th January, 2020 but he will not step down as promised.

That, he will complete his mandate as stipulated by the Gambian constitution and ensure that the needed electoral reforms and processes are comprehensively executed to ensure free and fair elections in the 2021 general elections.

Typical of African politicians, Mr. Barrow explained that the institutional failures in the country affect every fabric of Gambia’s society and, as such, needs an extensive examination which goes beyond a transitional government. Did he know of the existence of Gambia’s constitution and the country’s ‘institutional failures’ when he himself promised to relinquish power?

Clearly, the Gambian leader will contest the 2021 elections. So, really, is it wrong for Adama Barrow to complete his term of office? Constitutionally, Mr. Barrow has every right to complete such. However, morally, rationally and logically, it does not make sense for him to stay in power. He has a huge task capping his hand around the flickering hope of Gambians so no wind, ever again, quenches their quest for a taste of a true democracy where leaders abide by their own words.

If for any reason we are told that Gambians do not trust their President, then it will be the doing of Adama Barrow himself. There is nothing disgusting as spitting on the floor and picking it back with your own tongue and when this happens, people around tend to look at you with great suspicion.

President Adama Barrow has every opportunity to write his name in the history books of African politics as one of the few leaders who never compromised on his integrity. If Mr. Barrow will stop buying water cannons aimed at dispersing potential protesters and rather invest such monies in the human security of the very people he governs, Gambia will be a better place to live.

The danger here is that the scars of Mr. Jammeh’s long reign still have fresh imprint in the hearts and minds of Gambians. The little pricking of these scars could spark fire. Can we Africans, for once, realize that politics must not be reduced to a dishonest venture where electorates are promised heaven but in the end find themselves in hell?

The steps taken by the Three-Year Jotna, a pro-democracy movement, to demand Adama Barrow to resign through organizing demonstrations and sending of petitions to the presidency, are not out of place. To say it succinctly, more of these protests are needed for Gambians to register their displeasure of the president’s actions.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,” Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “but the silence of our friends.” If ECOWAS became friends with Gambians and through its ECOMIG helped chase Jammeh to exile, then it must equally show this friendship in calling Adama Barrow to order before things probably go worse in the near future. It will be but a useless venture to have ECOWAS going to Gambia again on a similar mission.

Here, no foreseeable justification by ECOWAS that it has no direct mandate or whatsoever to meddle in the political affairs of a member state would be tolerated. If the regional bloc is that interested in peacekeeping, then it must, in the first place, run checks on member states to help curb and prune the greenhorns of problems that could spark political upheavals.

As it stands, Africa can only be told to watch the lion cubs in Gambia that appear to have been left there by Yahya Jammeh.

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