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The Gambian crisis unfolded

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Gambia is in crisis currently with Yahya Jammeh refusing to step down as President after election results were announced. He suffered a shock defeat to Adama Burrow. Gambia is a tiny country in West Africa with a population of 1.8 million which is popular for its beaches. It is surrounded on three sides by Senegal. The major religions of the country are Islam and Christianity. It attained independence from the United Kingdom (U.K.) in 1965. Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh took over power through a military coup in 1994. In 1996, he won elections in a contest where three major political parties were barred from contesting. In total, he has won four “multi-party elections” (much criticised).

On December 1 of last year after the results were announced, Jammeh, to everyone’s surprise, conceded defeat and agreed to step down. However, after one week, on December 9, Jammeh took to air waves and reversed his decision saying that he would not be stepping down. His “complaint” was that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was not all that independent but under foreign influence. Jammeh carried on bantering that many of his supporters were denied their right to vote, providing bogus reasons by alleging misinformation, intimidation and systematic exclusion of some of his polling agents, particularly in the Central River Region.

The Economic Committee of Western African States (ECOWAS) tried unsuccessfully to find a solution to the crisis. A delegation of four Presidents from ECOWAS even went to Gambia to convince the losing President from stepping down. This delegation also included Ghana’s ex President John Dramani Mahanama, who graciously conceded defeat in Ghana’s presidential elections. Unfortunately, they were not successful in their attempts to convince Jammeh to step down.

If at all Jammeh had any complaints about the manner in which the elections were conducted or the results, he should have taken the proper course to do it – which was to do it through the Supreme Court Panel. By the way, the Supreme Court Panel currently does not exist due to politicisation of the Judiciary which has led to a gradual breakdown of the rule of the law. Full credit for this achievement would have to go to Jammeh himself. Jammeh is also reputed to be one of the world’s most eccentric leaders. He believes that homosexuality threatens human existence. He decided to withdraw Gambia’s membership from the Commonwealth when they began to push for reforms. In 2007, he claimed that he could cure AIDS with herbs, prayer and a banana.

The African Union (AU) described Jammeh’s actions as an unconstitutional change of government, the definition which allows it to suspend a country’s membership. Its Peace and Security Council met on December 13, 2016 and although it condemned Jammeh’s attempt to reverse the election results, it stopped short of suspending it. Not that it would have had any effect on Jammeh. For he seems to be bothered only about his own clinging to power. Why would it bother him that his country is stripped of its AU membership? He has also tried various tactics to consolidate his position. He summoned various religious heads to the state house and tried to persuade them to promote “peace and reconciliation.” But his plan boomeranged when the 67 clerics from the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council and Gambia Christian Council unanimously told him to step down in the interests of peace.

Over 20 organisations including the Gambia Chamber of Commerce, the Bar, the Medical Practicioner’s Association and a raft of labour Unions have all asked Jammeh to quit and move on. The president of the ECOWAS commission has said that a military option was on the table. On December 20 of last year, Jammeh made a TV appearance and derailed everyone including the ECOWAS, the United Nations (UN), the commonwealth and the European Union (EU) and also challenged the ECOWAS to intervene.   Apart from leaving Commonwealth, under Gammeh, Gambia quit the ICC.

Coming to Adama Barrow, the opposition candidate who won a surprising victory in this elections, he is a property developer who has won this elections with 45 per cent of the vote. Barrow’s promises include free basic education, affordable higher education and affordable health care even in rural Gambia. He has also said that he would put an end to the imprisonment of government critics which has been the norm under Jammeh’s rule. During his younger days, he was employed as a sales manager in a gas company when he decided to move to London to study and save up funds to start his own firm. Even after building up his business, he still works for 12-14 hours a day. Currently he is in Senegal. It is a tragic fact that he was not even able to attend his son’s funeral ceremony who died because of a dog bite on January 15, 2017.

Gambia’s intelligence officers have arrested several opposition sympathizers and have shut down three independent radio stations. Meanwhile, Jammeh announced a 90 day emergency. Nigeria has reportedly deployed a warship in the coastline of Gambia to put pressure on the Gambian President to step down. Jammeh’s aides including the ministers of finance, foreign affairs, trade, information, environment and tourism & culture have resigned. There are also reports that Jammeh has assembled mercenaries from countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Casamanca in Senegal for a possible showdown with ECOWAS. Gambia’s entire armed forces is made up of only 2,500 people. The Gambian army chief has declared support for Gammeh. The elite section of the army is fiercely loyal to Jammeh. But the other sections of the army might not be so loyal.

On January 19, Jammeh refused to step down. Hence Senegal has entered Gambia. It is important that Jammeh should be made to step down since he has not done so voluntarily. Meanwhile, Barrow was sworn in Gambia’s embassy in Senegal. Barrow also has called on the military to remain loyal and has also warned that any soldiers possessing firearms without his order would be considered rebels. The United Nations Security Council has pledged support for Adama Barrow and called upon Jammeh to respect the election mandate. The Gambian military will do well to back Adama Barrow instead of Jammeh which they have done until now. With the West African countries set to intervene and ensure that Jammeh steps down (Senegal, Ghana, Togo and Mali have assured that they would provide the required military support), it would be a matter of time before the Gambian military gets defeated.

As for the African continent too, if the President of a small country like Gambia can ensure that he can get away by refusing to step down, it would send out a wrong message to the other countries and their leaders too might undergo ‘a change of mind’. That is already an issue in many countries like Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burkina Faso. The situation in Gambia is eerily similar to the Ivory Coast situation in 2010 when France had to attack the Presidential Palace in order to make Laurent Gbagbo step down after he refused to quit following the announcement of election results. One hopes that better sense prevails upon the mind of Jammeh. If it does not, it is the duty of the African and the international community to see to that.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author

Harish Venugopalan is a Research Assistant with the Observer Research Foundation. He has done his Masters in International Relations from the Dublin City University (DCU) in 2011-2012. His current research interest is ‘Conflict Management in Africa’.

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Africa

The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan

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Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.

The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.

In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.

Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.

The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.

While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.

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Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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