‘Barrow shouldn’t make retribution his agenda, as no president does that and succeeds’

Prof. Bola Akinterinwa

Prof. Bola Akinterinwa

Recently, The Gambia’s hope for a smooth transition of power was almost dashed when then President, Yahya Jammeh, after an initial acceptance of defeat, recanted and challenged the outcome of the December last year presidential election, refusing to hand over to the winner, Adama Barrow, until the intervention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the international community that made Jammeh to quit.

Former director general of Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and now President/Director General of Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS), Prof Bola Akinterinwa, said what happened in The Gambia couldn’t but be expected, saying nobody should be surprised that at the electoral controversy there.

He said people are bound to agree or disagree or disagree to agree, adding that the country’s national electoral commission later came up with new results that ought to have been computed in favour of Jammeh, thereby narrowing the margin of votes.

“The initial result was about 45 per cent for Barrow and 36 per cent for Jammeh, but when they discovered that there were some other votes that ought to be recorded in favour of Jammeh, when they added these up, it increased the number of votes for Jammeh and reduced that of Barrow.”

“The narrow margin between the number of votes for the two of them gave Jammeh the impression that the result could not have been well computed and he decided to go to court.

“But the ECOWAS, African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) decided that since The Gambian electoral commission had said that in spite of that, the election was valid, Jammeh must leave. We were then faced with the situation of non-readiness of Jammeh to accept to step down.

“This type of situation is unavoidable because political system is necessarily conflicting. It was not possible for Jammeh to seek redress in the law court and Barrow has supporters whenever any issue concerning the result of the election was raised.”

He recalled that it was one of Barrow’s supporters that said Jammeh would spend the rest of his life in jail after he had accepted defeat and congratulated Barrow.

“Barrow denied making that statement. The threat to the life of Jammeh by the opposition might be a critical factor for his decision to no longer accept defeat.”

Akinterinwa said the last breaking point to explain why Jammeh decided to quit rather than battle can be traced to the last minute discussions the Presidents of Guinea Conakry and Mauritanian had with him, where they were able to convince him to leave.

On Barrow, he stated: “He is talking about putting in place Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which means that he recognises that his success and progress of his country cannot be based on retaliation or retributive policy,” as many people, almost half the population, also voted for Jammeh during the election, showing that the two contestants had fairly large following.

“The second reason why he has to embark on reconciliatory measures is that Jammeh was in power for over 22 years.“Consequently, loyalty of the people, the military, law enforcement agents that had evolved for over two decades cannot, but be taken advantage of by Jammeh.

“Barrow is coming to power with some of Jammeh’s supporters still around, so he cannot succeed without their backing. “The supports of outgone president will be needed. This means that he needs to seek peace and that is why people believe that he cannot succeed without seeking reconciliation and peace.

“Another factor is the failed coup of December 30, 2016, which couldn’t succeed because there was a very strong resistance in the State House. When they couldn’t succeed, their leader ran to the United States Embassy.

“The implication is that those who fought the coup plotters will still be there as loyalists of Jammeh and Barrow has to work more seriously to have a new alliance.

“Also, all the immediate neighbouring countries want peace and The Gambia that will not be a problem to them.” One of the lessons to be learnt from what happened in The Gambia, according to Akinterinwa, is the prompt intervention of the ECOWAS, which he said is a good development and means that efforts should be made to strengthen the sub-regional body.

“The second point is that even though ECOWAS sent troops to The Gambia, in case there will be battle, it didn’t get to that point. That underscores the fact that West African leaders were able to prevent a violent transition, which is quite good.

“We should commend the prompt intervention by the Presidents of Guinea Conakry, Mauritania and Mali,” he noted.He said another lesson is that Africans need not wait for 22 years before compelling their leaders to do the right things, adding: “Others are saying that they want to take Jammeh to the ICC, because in the past 22 years he had been abusing human rights.

“Where were the African leaders all along?
ECOWAS had regular summits. Why is it that it had not been able to deal decisively with the matter?
“So, after 22 years, Africa leaders now can see why Jammeh must go and the need to negotiate. It is a good lesson to draw.”

But he warned that the misunderstanding in The Gambia is a regional one, saying: “Mauritania, which came in at the last minute to help negotiate, used to be a member of ECOWAS. The lesson here is that Mauritania can always be useful to the ECOWAS. So, efforts should be made to readmit Mauritania to reconstitute the 16 original members that made up the ECOWAS.”

The scholar noted: “American wanted Jammeh to go. AU wanted Jammeh to go. The lesson for us here in Nigeria is that if Nigeria does not promptly seek solutions to the problem in the West African sub-region, others will come to play Nigeria’s role. Any problem in the region should be quickly nipped in the bud.”

“The mere fact that Jammeh has left office and Barrow took over does not mean that The Gambia will remain in peace.“The truth is that Jammeh has gone to Guinea-Bissau on political asylum. There is a special cooperation between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, as Gambians do not need a visa to enter Guinea-Bissau and vice-versa.

“If Jammeh has decided to go to Guinea-Bissau, it simply means that both the supporters of Jammeh and Barrow can always visit either of the countries to foment troubles.“Also, Guinea-Bissau is the most unstable country in the ECOWAS region. So, Jammeh being there can be a major threat to Barrow in The Gambia.

“In that case, the extent to which Barrow can intimidate Jammeh in Guinea-Bissau cannot be under estimated. It is the same with the extent that Jammeh can build up anti-Barrow sentiments in Guinea-Bissau.”

He continued: “It is the will of the people of The Gambia that enabled him to stay in power for so long. The people had always been voting for him. Even the 2011 election, the international community commended the electoral commission for using a unique voting system. Nobody contested the results of the election. Even the last election until the electoral commission decided that there were some votes counted wrongly in favour of Barrow before Jammeh decided to contest the election.

“All along, Jammeh has been able to stay in power based on electoral victory. So, the people of The Gambia are only complaining about his misrule and the harsh economic situation under Jammeh’s administration.” Akinterinwa stated that after a second tenure in office, any president must have had enough time to impact on his people and anything after that is a political victory.

An Associate Professor in the Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, David Aworawo, explained that two things were actually responsible for what happened in The Gambia.

“First is the absence of a deep democratic culture, which led to the situation where the incumbent would lose an election and refuse to quit. “The second has to do with the characters involved in the issue, as it happened in Congo and Burundi.

“As in the case of Nigeria in the last election, the character of the former President came to play. In Ghana it is now more difficult for somebody to lose an election and not leave power.”

He admitted that some comments of Barrow’s supporters contributed to why Jammeh changed his mind, adding: “He telephoned Barrow after the announcement of the result of the election. He even called him “My President.”

“But when it was said that the man will spend the rest of his life in jail, not in his farm, he changed his mind. That must have been a fundamental factor.”

He stated: “When ECOWAS said they were sending troops, I said it was hasty, because diplomacy is a central measure that prevents loss of lives.“Political leaders should not get to the stage of people forcing them to leave office; they should leave honourably.”

He said the good thing is that it had a happy ending and shows that we can have a diplomatic resolution that will prevent loss of lives. “Our leaders should learn how to make strategic comments. They have already condemned Jammeh to jail even before any court of law.

“Barrow should give the people the blue print of how he will transform The Gambia. He should forget about Jammeh for now and not make retribution of Jammeh and those who worked with him his own agenda.

“One reason why the late Nelson Mandela succeeded as President of South Africa was because he did not make retribution his agenda. So, Barrow should face governance for now.

“If in the course of his administration he finds Jammeh to have contravened the law, he could address that, but not to make retribution his agenda, as no President does that and succeeds.”



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