Images filtering in from Gambia of citizens fleeing the country following the political crisis are worrying. Businesses are not opening, workers are out of work and schools have been forced to shut down.
Gambians who were optimistic about their country bouncing back economically after the 2016 presidential election hailed by the international community as free and fair, have had to trek to neighbouring Senegal to seek refuge. Hundreds of them made up of children, men, and women. They are going to preserve their lives.
The cause is that the 16-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has sanctioned a military intervention to forcefully end the 22-year rule of President Yahya Jammeh.
He has refused to hand-over after he lost the presidential election to his political opponent, Adama Barrow. Mr Jammeh had initially conceded but was later to change his mind after he claimed he had discovered that some infractions were committed during the voting process.
He has a simple message: the Supreme Court should consider his petition for a possible rerun of the whole election. ECOWAS has no time to waste other than following the supreme law of Gambia. The country’s Constitution has set January 19 for the swearing-in of the country’s President-elect. In this case Mr Barrow, but Mr Jammeh would have none of that.
He wants his term extended to give the Supreme Court space to independently adjudicate on the matter. ECOWAS turned the suggestion down resulting in the triggering of the sub-regional body’s article on military intervention.
Some ECOWAS leaders in mediation talks with President Yahya Jammeh
An ECOMOG combatants have been organized led by Senegal to escort Mr Barrow to the country to take his oath. The President-elect has been in Senegal after negotiations for Mr Jammeh to step down took a different character of its own.
The President has succeeded in twisting the arms of the nation’s legislature to declare a 90-day emergency in the country. He has dared ECOWAS and the West to carry through with their military intervention promising to defend the sovereignty of Gambia.
President Jammeh with former Ghanaian leader, President John Mahama
Though we might not have all the details on the negotiation process, I am inclined to believe that ECOWAS negotiators led by Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari and supported by former Ghanaian President John Mahama did a poor job. They failed not only the people of Gambia but the entire African continent.
The approach to the negotiation process was not well thought out. The negotiators either ignored or failed to consider the makeup of a coup leader. People who ascend to power through military action know what it means for a military intervention to be carried out and know how to win. They know how to butcher their way through damning the consequences.
It’s shameful that rather than the negotiators dictating the pace, Mr Jammeh was the one who compelled ECOWAS to consider the military intervention. This means that he would do everything within his power including holding his citizens at ransom to have his way.
Gambian President-elect, Adama Barrow who appears to be gasping for political air
Negotiation failed because he didn’t trust ECOWAS. Over the years, the leaders of countries that make up the sub-regional body have proven untrustworthy only motivated by their selfish ends. Former Liberian President, Charles Tailor was promised an immunity by ECOWAS leaders, but this was denied him when it mattered most. He is now in a jail in Britain wasting away his life after he was charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The military intervention by the sub-regional body is premature considering it has done little by way of evaluating the consequences of that action. Most of these actions carried out under the guise of humanitarian gestures end up maiming lives of innocent people.
The question ECOWAS leaders need to answer is: Can military intervention in Gambia oust Mr Jammeh? This lends itself to other distinct questions. First, will the combatants remain militarily and humanitarianly intact sustaining a low or politically acceptable level of casualties in Gambia? What will be the reaction of the forces should loyalist of the President shell innocent citizens in their homes in retaliation?
We all need to be concerned. We have to weigh the benefits and costs of military intervention against Mr Jammeh.
I have maintained an open mind since the start of the crisis listening to ECOWAS leaders and independent analysts. The question for me is whether the intervention is both in the interest of ECOWAS citizens and Gambians. The strategy of our leaders was not comprehensive else the use of brute force would have been the last resort.
What we need is a successful diplomatic effort to bring about a stable and orderly transition from Mr Jammeh government to Mr Barrow. Addressing the concerns of the two is critical to a successful process. ECOWAS should give a hearing to the petition of the President.
It might not sound laudable but that’s one of the defects of democracy. The position that even though you might not have a good point, I have to give you the space to ventilate it.
ECOWAS must reconsider its relevance in the sub-region. It’s either our leaders are not listening or that they are listening to the wrong voices.
Disclaimer: Views expressed here are the Author's and do not reflect the position of management of the Multimedia Group Limited or Myjoyonline.com. The author Austin Brakopowers is a journalist with Joy 99.7 FM and could be reached via Brakomen@outlook.com or www.brakopowers.com