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Monday, January 25, 2021

End the siege and stabilise The Gambia Part IV

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By Samsudeen Sarr

First and foremost among the ten-listed depositions below, submitted by the Senegalese emissary to the UN-15-Member Security Council on December 9, 2016 for the resolution ultimately authorizing the use of force to settle Gambia’s election dispute, was the allegation that President Jammeh’s nullification of the elections violated the core ethos of the Gambian constitution. Along with those highlighted below, this one came straight from the mouths of Gambia’s ambassadors.

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Although I judged that cogent proviso in our constitution validating the use of military force in our election dispute highly questionable, wondering whether it even exist in the book; but if it does, I cannot but interpret is as a dumb article for overlooking a provision elucidating the composition, level of involvement and duration of such meddling in our affairs. Given our unsatisfactory experience with foreign forces-Senegal from 1981 to 1989 and Nigeria from 1992 to 1994-ECOWAS by right should have exempted forces from both countries until a thorough investigation of what had broken down in the past was conducted and fixed before their deployment. Nothing like that happened which in my book bordered on sheer recklessness. President Sir Dawda Jawara kicked the Senegalese out in 1989 while President Yahya Jammeh did the same against the Nigerians in1994. I was a witness to both events and will be discussing those turbulent days exhaustively.
And please don’t get me wrong. In general, Senegalese and Nigerians are wonderful people. They are like all of us. But it’s their governments I have under my radar.
Admittedly, Gambia’s political problem hit the international platform on December 9, 2016 when President Jammeh nullified the election results, giving Senegal what they had always wanted in the Gambia since before our independence in 1965, i.e., to control us politically and economically.

It found me in the Gambia and like most people, I was caught completely by surprise because of what I had witnessed at the Statehouse in the early morning hours of December 2, 2016 where I first learnt about the election results compiled from the polling stations showing the APRC losing to the coalition party by a margin of about 19,000 votes. The vice president, some cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries, deputies, two ambassadors and the speaker of the house were all present. But like everybody around I was very shocked to say the least and just didn’t know what to make of the situation. So we all waited for Mr. Jammeh to come out and share his thoughts about the downfall. I expected him to initiate a discussion on how and why the party lost and to perhaps seek the opinion or advice of everybody on the way forward.

However when he emerged into the conference hall from an adjacent room where he had spent most of the time with his family that night, he appeared well composed, seemingly unconcerned and slowly sat on his high chair before addressing us. He was brief and straight to the point assuring us that he was not at all going to challenge the results but will definitely hand over the government to the winner, Mr. Adama Barrow. He emphatically explained the reliability of the voting process which he had said had had no room for any errors whatsoever. Like I said, it was a brief statement that ended without any questions asked or any comments made. He finally thanked us all and wished us a good night before trudging back to the same room.

The first lady Mrs. Zainab Jammeh soon came out as well to thank us and bid us farewell.
I left the statehouse by one of the ambassador’s vehicle at around 2:30 AM.
Later that night, I saw on television a footage of President Jammeh telephoning Mr. Barrow and doing exactly what he had pledged; he conceded defeat, congratulated Mr. Barrow, exchanged pleasantries with him and even offered some words of wisdom on pertinent state matters stressing the need for vigilance over national security imperatives.
Then on December 5, 2016, the IEC invited representatives of the only three contestants, APRC, the Coalition and GDC parties to inform them of errors detected in the final results compiled, showing figures totally different from those collected from the polling stations. Accordingly, the efficiency of the electoral system emphasized by Jammeh had no room for such suspicious errors.

The IEC however tried to play that down, blaming it on an inadvertent transposition of certain numbers from a particular region that they had since rectified but required the formal endorsement of the contestants.

It stands to be verifiable, but they said that the APRC and GDC representatives rejected the second set of results although the latter didn’t want to cooperate with the former’s request to challenge the discrepancy together. However, after four days of consultation with his party members, Jammeh, on December 9, 2016 nullified the entire election results.
But as I later learnt, that event of the 2016 general elections was never reported to the United Nations. The report by the Senegalese at the UN was that he first accepted the results and the suddenly changed his mind for no reason. Our ambassadors confirmed that as well.

As Gambia’s deputy ambassador at the UN, I returned to New York on December 13, and to my utter surprise found out that almost all Gambian ambassadors abroad had pledged their support to the Senegalese government to use their leverage as Non-Permanent Member to the UN Security Council and pass the resolution demanding that the APRC government respect the will of the Gambian electorate and hand over power immediately.

Upon noticing that the issue of the second results was never brought up to the attention of the UN member states which my fellow diplomats refused to give any credence, I took up the unilateral but futile initiative to enlighten every UN ambassador willing to meet me. I started with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon but he referred me to one of his assistants who was though honest to admit his unawareness of the second set of results, still insisted that the APRC should respect the final results and hand over to the winners, the Coalition Party, period.

As a matter of fact, I first made an attempt to meet the Senegalese ambassador, spearheading the offensive, not knowing that he was secretly working with all our ambassadors and some of their close staff members who initially concealed their activities from me. He declined my appointment through one of his staff who told me that he was unavailable.

But it soon became clear to me that although most envoys I met including that of Kenya’s Russia’s Egypt’s Burundi’s Liberia’s and even France’s all expressed their unawareness of the second results, the UN action was irreversible and the deplorable human rights violations associated with the APRC government and Jammeh too compelling to abort the operation.

Mr. Mohamed Ibn Chambers special representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) was the last important official I met. As a Ghanaian whose profile I read about extensively before going, I knew that he had for sometime worked for Ghana’s military-hardliner President Jerry Rawlings during a period considered one of the darkest days in the political history of that country. I thought I could persuade him on that premise to appreciate a peaceful reconciliatory approach on the stalemate instead of resorting to violence which Senegal had chosen as top priority. We held about an hour of sincere discussion in his office about the problem. Amazingly, he was aware of the second results but agued their irrelevance against the backdrop of the first one.

In the end I became aware of a personal issue he had had with President Jammeh, emotionally revealing how they were once very close friends, treating each other like brothers. That he used to privately visit Jammeh in the Gambia, until recently when his friend and brother started behaving differently. He had since visited Gambia few times, but Jammeh wouldn’t even honor his appointments to see him, always referring him to unimportant government officials, not even ministers or permanent secretaries. There was nothing I could do to change his mind.

Besides, I also later discovered that Mr. Chambers was among the team of ECOWAS heads of state that first came to the Gambia to mediate over the impasse between the APRC and Coalition party. That President Jammeh had embarrassed him by asking him to excuse them from the meeting room where “presidents are discussing presidential matters”. Jammeh as reported, literally threw him out of that meeting.
Mr Chambers for all I could say was very hawkish in ensuring that the APRC government was ousted by all means necessary even it required war.

These following ten allegations submitted by the Senegalese ambassador, at the UN Security Council on December 9, 2016, and corroborated by our own ambassadors, drilled the final nail in the coffin of the APRC government:
1. That his government exercised oppressive policies against the Gambians that was forcing thousands of the country’s youth to seek refuge in Europe and would refuse any deportees reentry to the country. (it made sense to the EU)

2. That Jammeh was mortally against the freedom and even existence of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender LGBT) people all over the world. (it made sense to the “all-powerful- gay community in the USA in particular; he had recently in a UN general assembly verbally attacked the rights of gay people to even exist, accusing them of being ungodly).

3. That Jammeh was forcing Gambians suffering from AIDS to forgo the antiretroviral drugs supplied to them free of charge to attend his “Mumbo-Jumbo” clinic where he had claimed to have the magic bullet for AIDS and other incurable diseases brewed from herbs. (it made sense at the UN who were still upset with him for expelling UN official Fadzai Gwaradzimba from the Gambia in 2007 for criticizing his AIDS curing practice).

4. That Jammeh would randomly select death-row inmates from state prisons and execute them under the guise of fighting rampant crime when it was all about ritual killings to prolong his stay in power.

5. That Jammeh had before the 2016 elections ordered his infamous assassins, called the “Junglers”, to kidnap seventeen school-going virgin girls for ritual sacrifice aimed at winning him the election.( it was at the time a widely-spread propaganda by Gambian dissidents in the diaspora and the Senegalese used it, backed by our diplomats).

6. That Jammeh had hired former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor’s fighters to help him subvert the Gambians and to fight for him in the event of an outbreak of war. ( it made sense to AU & ECOWAS)

7. That Jammeh was not only arming and financing the rebels in Southern Senegal, the Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC), violently and illegally fighting for an independent state of their own, but was using the Gambia Armed Forces to recruit and train fighters for the movement. And that the Gambia National Army was predominantly composed of those foreign rebel fighters-members of his tribe, the Jolas-with some of them hosted at his home village, Kanilai, as a private army. (it was another propaganda widely believed in Gambia and Senegal).

8. That Jammeh was involved in huge illicit drug trafficking, human trafficking, and illegal logging that was rapidly depleting the Casamance forest. ( it made sense among Senegalese, Gambians, ECOWAS member states and beyond)

9. That Jammeh butchered 44 Ghanaian immigrants on their way to Europe for no reason.(it made sense among ECOWAS member states particularly in Gambia).

10. That Jammeh had unilaterally transformed the Gambia into an Islamic fundamentalist state with plans to introduce Sharia Law and destroy Christian churches upon winning the election. (another broadly spread rumor in the Gambia and abroad).
With these allegations, it was obvious that I was on an uphill battle to change the dynamics.

So regardless of the fact that the UN Security Council resolution vetoed Senegal’s request to use military force in the Gambia in the absence of undue violence, they never objected to the mobilization of 7000 combatants from Nigeria, Ghana and Togo under the command of Senegal to come and fight an army barely 2000 troops strong.

It was far from being a mere saber-rattling as suggested by some optimists. They were coming for war and war it was going to be with the prospect of many lives wasted including perhaps that of Jammeh’s but certainly with an unimaginable collateral damage to public and private properties. Thousands of Gambians had already become refugees to Senegal when a single shot was fired. Imagine what would have happened if the firing had started. We all know that wars are easier stated than stopped.
Read my next article soon.

To be continued.

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