Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 January 2017
In the next few hours the world will witness two very ugly faces of democracy, from across the Atlantic – one in Africa and the other in the USA.
In America preparations are being made for the inauguration of Donald Trump – the controversial winner of the presidential election, while Gambians have been counting the minutes as the 12pm deadline set by West African forces for Jammeh to leave office passed.
West African troops have entered Banjul the capital of The Gambia, waiting for the outcome of last minute talks that are taking place in the presidential palace between Jammeh and the presidents of Guinea – Alpha Conde, and Mauritania’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Presidents Conde and Abdel Aziz are in Banjul trying to offer Jammeh a peaceful and safe passage out of the country, so as to avoid a blood bath that could ensue, once African troops storm the palace in the next few hours.
Yesterday, Adama Barrow was inaugurated in neighbouring Senegal as the newly elected president of the Gambia, whilst Jammeh remained cooped up in the people’s presidential palace refusing to move out.
Jammeh’s stubbornness in the face of death is a cause for concern, though not unusual – according to psychologists. Such behaviour is typical of leaders that have lost all sense of connection with reality.
But is Jammeh on a suicide mission, or is he simply holding out for a last minute deal with Conde and Abdel Aziz that will guarantee his stay in the Gambia to run the several business enterprises and farms he has established, in return for giving up his claim on the presidency?
Whatever his bargaining objective, time is fast running out for Jammeh. And as the 12pm deadline imposed by the ECOWAS troops for Jammeh to leave office has expired, the next few hours will be crucial for the fate of not only Jammeh, but for the loyal supporters and soldiers willing to lay down their lives for Jammeh.
By the end of today, either the world will be welcoming a new era of peace in the Gambia, ushered in by genuine democratic change, or watch the unfolding of another war in West Africa.
A source in the Gambia told the Sierra Leone Telegraph last night that Jammeh is under no illusion about the resolve and determination of ECOWAS to remove him from office – by force if necessary. But he is looking for a face saving way out of the palace.
Conde (Photo) and Abdel Aziz may well broker a deal this afternoon that will allow both Jammeh and the newly inaugurated president Barrow to achieve their objectives; but more importantly, could see the peaceful return of the Gambia to its well earned global status of ‘the smiling face of Africa’.
The majority of the Gambia’s military are unwilling to take the fight to the ECOWAS trops who far outnumber Jammeh’s forces by a ratio of twenty to one, and with far more lethal fire power including air capability.
Jammeh knows very well that the odds are stacked against him. More than two-thirds of his cabinet ministers have deserted him.
As the mid-day deadline expired several minutes ago, the streets of the Gambia remain eerily quiet, except for ECOWAS commandos taking position at strategic locations with heavy armoury across the capital Banjul. They are waiting for orders to strike Jammeh’s hideout.
Should Jammeh choose to go into exile, there are several countries that will most likely provide him a new home, including Morocco, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia.
But Jammeh does not want to leave the Gambia, nor does he want to face the risk of being arrested by the new president for crimes committed during his term of office, including murder.
Conde and Abdil Aziz (Photo) are of a pedigree which makes them appropriate to lead last minute peace talks with Jammeh. They both have experienced similar political turmoil.
Like Jammeh, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania seized power in a coup in 2008, and was elected president the following year. He gained another five-year term in June 2014 with almost 82% of the vote in an election boycotted by most of the opposition. He is a key ally of the West and neighbouring states in countering Islamist extremist groups, which makes him a good candidate for the job in hand in the Gambia.
President Alpha Conde of Guinea became president in 2010 after a lifelong battle against a series of despotic and military regimes, which sent him into exile and prison. It was Guinea’s first democratic election since gaining independence from France in 1958. He took over from a military junta which seized power after the death of President Lansana Conte in 2008.
So in a few hours, president elect Trump will be inaugurated as the new president of America in a peaceful – though controversial ceremony in Washington, USA, while the people of the Gambia wait indoors for announcement as to whether it is safe to come out to celebrate the end of tyranny and the beginning of a new era of peace and prosperity for all. (Photo: Adama Barrow inaugurated in Senegal on Thursday, 19 January 2017).
The time is now 12.26pm in the Gambia. The 12pm deadline for Jammeh to leave office has expired. But so far the guns remain silent, giving cause for hope of a peaceful end to Jammeh’s political standoff.
Has Jammeh been granted a safe passage by ECOWAS, or has he quietly and unceremoniously made his way out of the palace? Only time will tell.
There are reports that Yahya Jammeh has asked for an extension of deadline for him to leave power from midday until 4pm today. Should Jammeh vacate office at 4pm today, this timing will coincide with the inauguration ceremony of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Jammeh must remember that he is still a young man with plenty of years ahead of him. Should he decide to go quietly, he could in a few years return to national politics to even contest for the presidency.
But he would need to reflect long and hard about the true meaning of public service, democracy and constitutionality, if he is to return to genuinely serve his people as well as accept their will.
The world of the Gambian people does not have to end today, simply because Jammeh is no longer in office. With some emotional intelligence, Jammeh could one day come back to serve.
President Barrow told AlJazeera News today that Jammeh must leave the Gambia so as to give his new government the space to govern without looking over their shoulders.
“We cannot allow Yahya Jammeh to remain in the Gambia, it will make our job difficult. That’s why all our negotiations is he leave Gambia, he can later come back. But as of now the political climate doesn’t allow that,” he said.
“I advise him in good faith to give peace a chance. It is about democracy.”
Speaking to SKY News from Senegal in the last hour, president Barrow said that he will be strengthening his country’s relationship with the UK and the USA. He spoke about having much in common with Donald Trump, who like him, is also a a businessman without previous political experience.