Two important issues relating to Gambian security and politics are my main subject of discussion in this paper: (a) Ecomig and the reported deployment of fresh Senegalese troops to Ecomig in the country, and(b) the IEC and its failure to respect a cardinal constitutional mandate.
I was yesterday alerted to a cynical publication on What’s On Gambia, reporting the deployment of 625 Senegalese soldiers to Ecomig in “preparation for the forthcoming December presidential election”. I viewed the publication as very cynical because whoever authored the story failed to explain his source and the evidence behind his story; he also doesn’t know anything about the terms and conditions surrounding the deployment of Ecomig in The Gambia, an ill-defined protocol to all Gambians only privy to perhaps a few in the corridors of power. I have since 2017 argued without success about the need for the government to adopt a more transparent approach towards what I view as an Ecowas-imposed military mission in The Gambia. No independent country will condone such a foreign military intervention and occupation for so long, prompted by our 2016 violence-free electoral dispute that was long ago peacefully resolved. Yet, they are here and continuing their operations with minimal or no input from The Gambia government. This presents a worrisome security dilemma requiring priority consideration by the government in the interest of our immediate and long-term national security. But who wants to take it up or even discuss the matter other than stubborn Samsudeen Sarr? The National Assembly our lawmakers who should have since tabled the matter and discuss it exhaustively in order to orientate the Gambians about the mission never showed much concern about its importance. I was hoping that the opposition political party leaders contesting for the State House in December will by now be echoing their concerns about what Ecomig is all about and if they shied away from the topic, journalists should press them on the matter. But like I always say anything about our domestic and foreign security themes especially on Senegal’s and Ecomig’s involvement is often treated as taboo for discussion and preferably ignored or rationalised with flimsy excuses. “Ecomig is an Ecowas mandated intervention force in The Gambia” is the usual refrain. This vaguest of excuses always triggers my migraine.
Senegal has been rotating its troops back and forth in The Gambia as part of its Ecomig contribution and as part of its Foni Battalion occupation force. So for an ignorant reporter who has no clue about the composition and constitution of Ecomig and those “Foni occupation forces” in The Gambia to tell us that Senegal’s deployment of 625 new soldiers is for the upcoming election is purely speculative and cynical. That is obviously tantamount to instilling fear in the minds of the electorate to brace for possible electoral violence with the expected intervention of Senegalese forces to quell it. Has Ecomig come up with a statement to that story? I don’t think so. Gambians don’t believe in election violence and anyone trying to make us believe so is merely wasting his time and energy. Only peace will prevail.
What about the IEC! This is a worrisome and very serious matter indeed. Do the Gambian electorate know that there is an entrenched constitutional clause mandating the IEC to register and include all the eligible 80,000 plus Gambians living abroad? Of Course, Section 39 of the Gambia Constitution mandates the registration of “every Gambian” aged “eighteen years and older and of sound mind…for the purpose of elections of a president, members of the National Assembly, referenda, local government authorities and traditional rulers”.
Evidently when the case was brought before the Gambia Supreme Court aimed at compelling the IEC to register the “diaspora” Gambians, the court made a declaration (in lieu of an order) that the terminology “every Gambian” at Section 39, includes “those residing outside its jurisdiction”. And therefore since the IEC never appealed against the declaration had indeed agreed to it but deliberately acted against it.
Lousy ineffective efforts were ventured for the high courts of a lower jurisdiction to enforce the Supreme Court order by the former PPP vice president, Bakary Dabo, currently the leader of the Gambia For All opposition party and Pa Samba Jaw a political activist residing in the USA. And its failure was all attributed to their lawyer who should have known better and filed the case at the Supreme Court instead of a lower one. The supreme court would have definitely ordered an injunction or what is known in legal terms as a writ of mandamus compelling the IEC to stop the election for the registration of the members of the diaspora and their inclusion as constitutionally mandated.
Notwithstanding, Mr Dabo and Jaw deserve tremendous commendation for trying and failing but only because of a lousy lawyer. I don’t know whether they have tried again since or have given up; although I think the baton should be picked by other stakeholders from where they dropped it and carry the case to the Supreme Court for urgent rectification.
But instead of opposition party leaders – major stakeholders – treating it as a serious cause for concern with all the probabilities for another electoral dispute or impasse after the declaration of a winner on 5th December 2021 by the IEC, I understand that most if not all of them in cognizant of the magnitude of the problem are just waiting and reserving their stratagem as a powerful contraption to challenge the legality of conducting the elections at the Supreme Court, if they should lose. And obviously I don’t think our Supreme Court will hesitate to nullify the results based on the violation of the statute and leaving the country with no choice but to settle for a future rescheduled election and a temporary unity government whose composition from the leadership to the entire cabinet will be determined by all the political parties.
In that scenario of gloom and doom, one can hypothetically see the appointment of Essa Faal as Justice or Foreign minister and President Adama Barrow lose his leadership position. Moreover, upon nullifying the election results by the Supreme Court, the country will at least need another two years or so to register all Gambians in the diaspora for a properly conducted election.
Discussing the problem with a Gambian barrister and scholar currently living and working in England, I asked for a possible alternative solution adoptable to preempt the quandary but in all the points I raised he saw no way out of it. Asked about the possibility of a National Assembly Act to mitigate or prevent the predicament, my friend referred me to an Ecowas statute forbidding the passing of any new electoral laws in any of its member countries six months before a national election is conducted. So, since we have only three months to go, the Gambian National Assembly cannot do anything about it anymore and are unfortunately pretending as if the problem doesn’t exist? Are they waiting for Halifa Sallah or Sedia Jatta to bell the cat? I believe it is way overdue for the Gambians to wake up to these critical realities of Ecomig and the IEC and seek immediate resolutions to them before being overwhelmed by undesirable consequences.
For our opposition party candidates saying nothing now but banking on this looming constitutional crisis to happen on December 5th to provide them with bargaining anchorage for executive positions is not only greed at its best but a reckless enterprise at its worst. The Gambia cannot afford that kind of chaotic-unity government with a cabinet composed of members of the NPP, APRC, GDC, CA, PPP, PDOIS (Halifa and Sedia might ghedda the whole thing) and that will only render the country ungovernable. It will be a government where nobody respects or listens to anybody but are forced to work together. May God forbid that!
However, as eerie as it may sound, I think the political consequence of a Supreme Court writ of mandamus for the IEC to stop the December presidential election with the option of postponing it until a mandatory registration and inclusion of the Diaspora is fulfilled, still appears safer and more manageable to me than waiting until after election for the Supreme Court to nullify the results and force us into a topsy-turvy unity government.
Samsudeen Sarr was a commander of the Gambia National Army, diplomat at the UN and author of several books.