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Jammeh will dance naked

Yahya Jammeh. / AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI

Yahya Jammeh. / AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI

Niccolo Machiavelli said in The Prince that “All well-governed states and wise prices have taken care not to reduce the nobility to despair, nor the people to discontent.” President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia seemed to have ignored these words of wisdom. On December 10, 2016, Jammeh brazenly rejected the result of the Gambian Presidential election held on December 1, 2016 in which he was defeated by the opposition candidate, Adama Barrow. President Jammeh had initially conceded defeat on December 2, 2016 but later changed his mind and vowed to stay put, saying that only the court could decide who was the President. Barrow, the President-elect offered direct talks but Jammeh has remained adamant. His petulance and shameless volte-face has thrown Gambia and the world into turmoil.

Meanwhile, many world leaders such as Ban Ki Moon of the United Nations, Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia and ex-president John Dramani Mahama of Ghana , among others, have appealed to Jammeh not to cause despair and discontent in Gambia. He has been told to relinquish power but the man has bluntly refused all entreaties. Barrow is expected to be sworn-in on Thursday January 19, 2017 but Jammeh has ordered that no judge would perform the ceremony. Jammeh has the backing of the Head of the Gambian army.

Yahya Jammeh, who came to power through a coup in 1994 has contested four presidential elections and won. His current intransigence takes us back to the Burkinabe uprising of December 2014 when President Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso was forced to resign and fled to Ivory Coast. Like Jammeh, Campaore seized power in 1983 and 1987 through coups d’etat. He killed his boss and friend, Thomas Sankara. He dumped his military uniform and contested the presidential elections in 1991, 1998, 2005 and 2010 and won.

Campaore’s attempt to amend the constitution to extent his 27 year old term caused the December 2014 Burkinabe uprising which overthrew him. If Jammeh remains intransigent, there may also be a Gambian uprising. Meanwhile, several top officials serving in Jammeh’s government have resigned while thousands of women and children have fled to neighbouring Senegal.

According to John Stuart Mill, “The worth of a state, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it.” We sincerely pray that Jammeh will not throw Gambia into avoidable civil war through sheer obduracy and the insatiable spirit to die in office. If Jammeh remains obstinate and greedy, he will only be following the disgraceful footsteps of several African leaders who refused to leave the stage when the ovation was loudest. Such men have been described as “corrupt, mean, autocratic and irresponsible.” On top of the abominable list is Teodoro Ngema of Equitorial Guinea. He became president in 1979 and has no plan to leave power. He is Africa’s longest serving President.

Denis Sassou ruled his country from 1979 to 1992 and stepped down; he came back to overthrow a democratically elected President in 1997 and has remained in office. Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola has been President from 1979 till date; he promised but failed to step down in 2003.

Robert Mugabe has been president of Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. Now 93, Mugabe who is one of the longest serving and indeed the oldest President in Africa is planning to contest the next presidential election. Mugabe has always maintained that he would die in office.

Our next door neighbour, Cameroon, has been ruled by Paul Biya since 1982 till date. He is 84 and not in a hurry to step down. Ibrahim Babangida ruled Nigeria from 1985 t0 1993; he was forced to “step aside” when it became glaring he was preparing to be a life president. His comrade-in-arms, Sanni Abacha, the most brutal ruler in Nigeria, was in power from 1993 to 1998 but died before he could change to civilian president. Some African leaders were either killed or died in office; some stepped down willingly. Mobutu Sese Seko was President of Congo DRC from 1967 to 1997. He was overthrown in 1997 by Laurent Kabila. Mobutu was accused of stealing five billion US Dollars from his nation’s treasury. At the height of his squandermania, Mobutu imported a four hundred million US Dollar cake from France for his birthday. He died in Morroco, aged 66. Laurent Kabila, who deposed Mobutu, was assassinated in 2001; he was succeeded by his son, Joseph.

President Omar Bongo of Gabon died after 42 years in power; he was also succeeded by his son, Ali. Omar Bongo ruled Gabon from 1967to 2009.
Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who called himself the Osagyefo ruled the country from 1960 to 1966. Despite his acclaimed popularity, he was assassinated in 1966.
Julius Nyerere of Tanzania was popularly known as Nwalimu “Teacher.”He was President from 1961 to 1985 when he stepped down willingly. But not so with the cerebral medical doctor turned politician, Kamuzu Hastings Banda of Malawi. He was president from 1963 to 1994. His ambition was to die in office but his life presidency project was terminated by protests and referendum.

The Republic of Togo is another neighbouring country where Gnassibe Eyadema ruled from 1967 to 2005. The tyrant died after 38 years in power. He was succeeded by his son, Faure.

Perhaps the most enigmatic African leader in this century was Mamman Gaddafi of Libya. He ruled his country from 1967 to 2011. He was killed by rebels after 42 years in power.

Idi Amin ruled Uganda from 1971 to 1979. He was autocratic, repressive and bloodthirsty. Though Idi Amin’s tenure was relatively short, it was nasty and brutish. He was overthrown and fled to Saudi Arabia where he died.

In a twist of fate, another dictator, Yoweri Museveni became Uganda’s President in 1986. He is still sitting tight in office; indeed he is planning to hand over to his son, a brigadier in the Ugandan army.

There are still more sit tight African leaders. Kenneth Kaunda ruled Zambia from 1964 to 1991. He only reluctantly stepped down after 27 years in office. Felix Houphet-Biogny was President of Ivory Coast from 1960 to 1993. He died in office. The poet-President, Leopold Sedar Senghor ruled Senegal from 1960 to 1980. He reluctantly stepped down after 20 years in office. President Jomo Kenyatta ruled Kenya from 1963 to 1978. He died in office. He never planned to leave office. His usual excuse was that he suffered for the liberation of Kenya. Samuel Doe of Liberia who was president of Liberia from 1980 to 1990 suffered a fate similar to that of Gaddafi. He was killed by some ragtag soldiers who mutilated his corpse. Finally, Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt from 1981 to 2011 had his tenure terminated by protesters. Mubarak was planning to pass the baton of governance to his son.

A retired professor of psychology summed up the proclivity of African leaders to cling to power thus: “African leaders who refuse to leave the stage when the ovation is loudest are driven by lust, greed, avarice and the morbid fear of the unknown.” You will recall that though President Goodluck Jonathan willingly conceded defeat in 2015, he was to say later that most African leaders refuse to leave office because of the fear of what might befall them after their tenure. You can see that Jonathan has been proved right with the current travails of his wife and other relations.

Perhaps President Jammeh is afraid of what might happen after his tenure but Barrow has offered direct talks with him. Will Jameh gracefully bow out or will he prefer to dance naked in the market square? And talking of the mediatory role of ECOWAS leaders, there is a faux pas in the choice of President Muhammadu Buhari as lead mediator. When you offer the Fulani an antidote for his aliment, he will ask whether you have suffered the same ailment before. There are past Nigerian leaders who willingly stepped down after their tenure. Such leaders should be sent to Gambia by President Buhari in company with other ECOWAS leaders to persuade Jammeh to save his country from avoidable bloodshed.

As it is, President Buhari and others would have visited Gambia for talks with Jammeh but he has remained stiff-necked and unimpressed. Båoth the ECOWAS and the African Union have vowed to stop recognizing Jammeh as President of Gambia from January 19, 2017 and possibly get him out of office at all costs, if he failed to step down. The clouds are gathering and the looming catastrophe is palpable and frightening. I urge President Buhari tosend former President Goodluck Jonathan to Gambia for further talks with Jammeh. I have it on good authority that Goodluck Jonathan and Yahya Aziz Jemus Junkun Jammeh are chummy pals. Only the deep can call to the deep, courtesy Chief
Obafemi Awolowo.

Omotoso is an Ibadan-based writer, journalist.



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