The outgoing President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh Barry and Laurent Gbagbo, former President of Ivory Coast are two former West African leaders who found themselves in similar political circumstances but their reactions to them were different. While the Gambian wisely submitted to the will of reason; threw in the towel just at the nick of time and avoided a catastrophic end, his Ivorian counterpart never did. This has marked them out at two extreme poles in the annals of West African history.
Because of Yahya Jammmeh, the younger generation now has this singular privilege of sharing the unique experience of seeing a President-elect of a country being sworn into office in a foreign nation because his predecessor refused to vacate Government House, (Presidential Palace) and let the newly elected President in.
Thanks to International Diplomacy, the newly elected Gambian President Adama Barrow was sworn into office in the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, the Senegalese capital. By International Law, every Embassy in a foreign land and its surroundings is considered the territory of the nation that owns the Embassy. So swearing in Adama Barrow into office as the Gambian President in the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, is as good as swearing him into office in his home country.
But what are the circumstances that led to this absurd scenario one may ask?
Adama Barrow and Yahya Jammeh the outgoing contested the December 1, 2016 Gambian Presidential Election in opposing camps. The Gambian Electoral Commission after counting the votes, declared Adama Barrow the winner. Yahya Jammeh accepted defeat and even congratulated his rival for his success at the poll. This was unprecedented in the history of African sit tight leaders since Yahya Jammeh had ruled Gambia since 1994 when he over threw the then civilian government in a military coup.
The military ruler later transformed himself into a civilian, formed a political party under which platform he has ruled Gambia for 22 years cumulatively with the military era. Just when world leaders were congratulating him for conceding defeat, two days after that Yahya Jammeh turned round to say he had rejected the election results.
He catalogued many grievances to justify his about turn putting the West African nation on a path of uncertainty and fear. Yahya Jammeh accused the Electoral Commission of perpetrating various forms of electoral fraud to favour his opponent including mixing up figures during the compilation of vote results, misplacing figures of polling centers that voted for him, outright disenfranchising of voters from some of his acclaimed strong holds and so on.
Yahya Jammed, on these grounds declared null and void the elections that gave the verdict of winner of the Presidential election to his opponent. Meanwhile, Adama Barrow continued to claim his victory and eventually moved out of the Gambia into Senegal from where, in consultation with other member states of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS and the international community, continued to mount pressure on Yahya Jammeh to quit power.
But the latter refused to see reason. Yahya Jammeh instead resorted to finding constitutional ways of prolonging his stay in power. He started by convincing the Gambian National Assembly to extend his term of office which was supposed to expire on 17 January 2017 by another three months, (90 days). He equally mobilized the army keeping them combat ready for any external invasion. He had fired many top personalities in the country who opposed his sit tight posture especially high Court Judges. His clamp down on opponents and their incarceration was said to have led to many of them dying while in jail.
Meanwhile, ECOWAS also put up a liberation force for the Gambia whose troops were deployed all round Senegal on their frontier with the Gambia.
The tension that mounted over a period of barely three weeks saw not less than 45,000 Gambians fleeing their country to take refuge in neighbouring Senegal. For a country the size of Gambia, this number is unprecedented. Meanwhile many countries ordered their nationals to quit Gambia including Britain and Germany. Gambia’s beautiful beaches are said to be an attraction to Western tourists. The United Nations issued a warning telling Jammeh telling that he would be held responsible for any humanitarian disaster that erupts as a result of his intransigence.
The crescendo was reached when on the day Jammeh’s mandate was supposed to expire, ECOWAs coalition troops led by the Senegalese army crossed the border and took positions in the Gambian territory. The troops had firm instructions to ‘dislodge a repressive leader who has refused to step down after losing a Presidential election.’ But barely two hours to the expiration of his mandate, Jammeh appeared on Gambian television and announced that he will be stepping down.
On the other hand, Laurent Gbagbo ruled Ivory Coast from year 2,000 to 2011. In October of 2010, Ivory Coast held a Presidential election which Gbabgo stood as Presidential candidate to succeed himself. He did everything to stop Alassane Dramane Outtara from contesting by imposing new definitions of who is really an Ivorian national, dubbed: Ivoirite’. This policy of Ivoirite’ excluded Ivorians with dual nationality from standing elections in Ivory Coast. Like most Ivorians from the North of that country, Ouattara also holds Malian nationality.
So when the latter won the Presidential election, Gbagbo refused to hand over power to him insisting that Ouattara is a foreigner. For up to six months, the battle raged on as each of them claimed to be the legitimate President of Ivory Coast. The fighting that erupted between supporters of the two Personalities led to the death of over 3,000 Ivorians while many fled the country into neighbouring nations and beyond t seek refuge.
When the international community eventually stepped up pressure that eventually dislodged Gbagbo, the humanitarian catastrophe had assumed an alarming dimension. Gbagbo was issued and international arrest warrant and was eventually taken to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He was charged as an indirect co-perpetrator of crimes against humanity including murder, rape, sexual violence, persecution among other acts described by the United Nations as crimes against humanity.
Seven years after he was ferried to The Hague, Laurent Gbagbo is still there behind bars while Yahya Jammeh has been granted asylum in neighbouring Equatorial Guinea. Guinea, Liberia and Mauritania are neighbouring countries that led negotiations to persuade Jammeh to give up power for the interest of peace and security in the Gambia.
Many African nations are still a long way from putting in place democratic institutions that ensure peaceful and orderly transition of power; reason why every now and then these scenarios that expose our immaturity crop up.