On the 31st of March, 2015, it was obvious that the electoral body would declare General Muhammadu Buhari the winner of the March 28 Presidential election, which has been described by both domestic and international observers as a defining moment in the history of Nigeria. An incumbent had never lost before and certain people were understandably apprehensive. All such apprehensions were however laid to rest when the then President Goodluck Jonathan called General Buhari to congratulate him on his victory, an unprecedented move which has seen him being described as “a hero and champion of democracy” by some people. No matter your opinion of the former president, you would agree that he acted in a mature way, and saved Nigerians from unnecessary political quagmire.
And so when the President of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, who had been in power for 22 years, lost and conceded defeat in the December 2016 elections, he was described as having caught the “champion of democracy” bug. But it appears that the Gambian strong man only caught a weak version of the bug, or maybe he was too strong, as he rejected the result a few days later citing “unacceptable anomalies.” The election itself took place on 1 December, 2016 and was surprisingly won by Adama Barrow, leader of a coalition of opposition parties. Jammeh announced he had annulled the result, pending a new vote (He must have been feeling like IBB). He then filed a petition with the Supreme Court of the Gambia to contest the result, stating that he would only relinquish the presidency if the court upheld the election result (Where does he think he was? Nigeria?).
However, ECOWAS wasn’t having any of that. The West African regional body started moving troops to Senegal’s border with the Gambia and threatened that it would invade the tiny swathe of territory embedded precariously between Senegal and the Atlantic, if Jammeh didn’t relinquish the presidency. This led to a “back and forth” contest of wits. Finally, after several missed deadlines, threats, mediation, recantations, and more threats, Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jammeh stepped down as the president of the Gambia. During the early hours of 21st January, 2017, he announced on state television that he was stepping down, and left the country later on the same day for Guinea, then proceeded onward to Equatorial Guinea (The man does love some guineas!).
If African leaders have received condemnations for doing the wrong things in the past, then it is only fitting that they be commended when they do the right thing. Their move to have Jammeh respect the wishes of the people of the Gambia is commendable. From the onset they appeared to have a plan, and they achieved it. However, as much as their action deserves commendations, it feels somewhat hypocritical. They are also guilty of what Jammeh was accused of. For example, what is the difference between what Jammeh did and vote rigging which goes on blatantly in Africa? They are the same thing: subjugating the will of the people. If Jammeh had predicted his loss and put in place an effective rigging machine, and won, would they have asked him to step down? Isn’t this like a case of a petty thief joining the mob to beat up another petty thief caught in the act?
It is good that ECOWAS made Jammeh to step down, but it does not stop there. There are other issues that are prevalent in Africa that need to be looked into, such as vote rigging, official corruption, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, etc. What Jammeh did is what any African leader (except a few) would do if in the same situation. That is because Africa does not have institutions or structures that enforce accountability. The leaders are therefore gods. That’s one of the reasons why we have governments who specialize in using the military and security agencies to trample on the fundamental human rights of their citizens. Africa is one of the few places where the people are afraid of their own military; they feel insecure when they have military personnel around. The people are terrorized by the same body set up to protect them. Africans live in constant fear.
What ECOWAS did is good, but it would be better if they set up institutions and structures to ensure responsible governance. It was easy for ECOWAS to do the military stunt because it involved a tiny nation with a small military force. If it had happened in a country with strong military assets like Nigeria, it wouldn’t have worked. That is why it is better to have a system in place that promotes accountability, other than military action. For you to hold another person accountable, you must be accountable yourself, more like removing the log in your eyes before attempting to remove the speck in another person’s eyes.
Take Nigeria for example; there is wanton corruption in government and the military, misappropriation of funds, killings, poverty, and a satanic political class whose only focus is looting the wealth of the nation while the people suffer. The same Nigeria contributed troops and funds for the military campaign in the Gambia. What is the difference between Nigeria’s political class and Jammeh? Isn’t that hypocritical?A country that daily abuses the right of its own citizens wants to protect the right of another country’s citizens! How convenient; like a man who does not feed his own family offering to feed another man’s family. What do you call that? And what is happening in Nigeria is a reflection of what is going on all over Africa, bar a few.
So ECOWAS, and its big-for-nothing sibling AU, should focus on making life better for Africans by enjoining their pompous confederates to act responsibly. They should start by having member states sign an agreement that defines how Africans should be treated by their governments, the breach of which would not be tolerated. Signatories should be required to agree to a yearly review of their performance by a commission setup for that purpose. There should be joint sanctions for countries that default on the agreement or fail to present themselves for review. The peculiar nature of the paraphernalia of power in Africa turns African leaders into inveterate despot. Without a controlling mechanism, they tend to misbehave. That’s why, after carrying out coups to oust their predecessors, they usually become worse. The extent of power that African leaders wield is akin to playing God, and with that comes the temptation to overstep the bounds of their humanity. After all, who can do anything about it?
Interestingly, what happened in the Gambia also highlights the power of the ballot. Yes, elections are rigged, but it is made easy when the people don’t go out to vote. It pays the politicians when people sit at home on Election Day, instead of going out to vote. And we sure know how to make it easy for them, the level of apathy is amazing; the more reason why we need to educate our people on the power of their votes, and their right to demand accountability from our leaders.
We need leaders who are sensitive to the plight of the people; leaders who are there to serve, and not add to the sufferings of Africans; leaders who are accountable to us.
We need accountability!