By Pata PJ Saidykhan
When news leaked that ECOWAS were to table a proposal at their next sitting to explore the possibility of instituting presidential term limits for member states, I thought it was sarcasm. I thought it was an expensive prank until I saw it on the regional body’s site. Then I thought it was a waste of time because a few African Leaders have been overly overdosed on power by an exorbitant quantity they could never have had a unanimous consensus on that item. But why would they be seeking unanimity in everything anyway? Why can’t they do quotas or simple majority like they do with the election of a chair? I wish I do understand these politricks.
If anything I was astonished that only two (Gambia and Togo) of the 15 countries rejected the motion. Expectedly, the Gambia’s representative at the summit unashamedly refused to join the civilized community of progressives, to allow you and your children have a chance at managing the affairs of your country at the executive level. President Jammeh, opting to stay away perhaps to avoid the awkwardness and shame plaster on his face, delegated his 18-year long deputy to deliver his position on behalf of the 1.8 million Gambians. Vice President Isatou-Njie Saidy told them that her Boss, is on tour of the country and has an overwhelming endorsement and show of solidarity and love, they wish he stays forever. She referred them to the 1997 Constitution that has no limit to the number of terms Yaya chooses to serve. If that means until Twenty million Eighteen (2,000,018). Therefore, they are relaying that message from Gambians that they would never partake in any ‘illegal’ thing that decent people are putting in place to safeguard the peace and security of the region and member States. And that’s on Bilai Walai Talai. Not exactly her words, but that was her message. She flipped them a middle finger!
When Lieutenant Yaya Jammeh led a disgruntled gang of armed bandits on the Gambian taxpayers payroll on a July Friday morning some 20 years ago to conspicuously oust a democratic government, they sort of magically threw acid powder in our eyes to blind us. They met little to no resistance from the many Gambians who were supposed to know better. I remember as a junior high teenager, overtaken by the euphoria and sight of drunken soldiers with guns speeding through the streets of Serekunda.
“We are Soldiers with a difference”, they promised, adding they “are not here to perpetuate ourselves and will return to the barracks as soon as we have set things right. We are here for reasons that are peculiar only to Gambia, and what has happened in other parts of the continent, that does not concern us.” They gave all sorts of justifications mainly the three decade one-man rule, flamboyant lifestyles, rampant corruption, nepotism, misappropriation of national resources and underdevelopment. I guess that was the spell that let Gambians gave the would-be criminals the more-than-necessary benefit of the doubt. My cousin who had lived under military regimes in Nigeria and Ghana foretold that the Gambia shall never be the same again, but we didn’t know any better. Since then the rest as they say, is history. Rudeness, disrespect, one-man wealth accumulation, witch-hunting, arbitrary arrests, torture, forceful disappearances, extrajudicial executions are what the smiling coast has been turned to. A Dictatorship. That is the Gambia under Jammeh who clings on for two decades and counting, reneging on everything they had promised.
Therefore, the only positives that came out of this summit was election of Mr Macky Sall as the ECOWAS Chair (congratulations, sir), and the audacity or at least a progressive thought my African leaders to even consider relinquishing power at some point. That is a big positive by a people who until recently would rather die at the helm or groom their families to establish a fiefdom and a dynasty at the expense of their countries. Just look at Africa’s history since independence.
Therefore, with the recent crop of Western educated Africans who lived in ‘developed nations’ where they tasted and inherited quite a degree of democratic ideal and have served in International Institutions of the highest integrity and reputation, there’s hope. These people are giving hope that there is light at the end of the undemocratic, autocratic tunnel. The Macky Salls, the Dramani Mahamas, have been gravitating towards relatability with the African Youth with the importation of ideals that could best shape our continent’s children and their future. Unfortunately, the Gambia’s President remains stuck with his premedieval ambition of a lifetime RULER until death snatches him. It’s not coincidence that Jammeh is the longest serving president in West Africa.
Hearing a semi-literate, uncultured and detached president speak of his people as roaches, donkeys and enemies who’d have to have a vulture’s patience to succeed him, is not only insulting but a declaration of intent to refuse any sort of power shift, peacefully. For a man who’s had several ECOWAS court rulings against his government but refused to honor them, mounts stages to speak of the regional bodies and his colleagues in a derogatory and inconsiderable manner, were evidential that that summit item was never going to get a stamp of approval from him. It was never a secret that Yaya reserves no iota of respect for any authority. In his peanut size brain, the world isn’t beyond the stretched walls of the Gambia, thus cares nothing about who scolds or reprimands him for what he’d done in Banjul with/to his subjects. He does not care about legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. For a man who believes he’s omnipotent and infallible, it’s best we come to terms with reality and explore more pragmatic ways to abort his government. It has to and can only be done in the Gambia, by Gambians. Through the Ballot, Barrel of the Gun or Popular Uprising. All three options must be equally considered.
For a continent ravaged by poverty and embroiled in unending civil wars and all sorts of instability for decades since Independence, the main cause of which has been political power struggle, you’d think our 2015 politicians would know and act better to not plunge it into further mess. Ask Burundi’s president Pierre Nkurunziza. You’d think they would play fair and stop toying with grenade pins by desisting from poking at the ingredients that comprise recipe for disaster. Instead, they continue to be greedy, irresponsible and murderous while they accumulate, siphon and pilfer public resources and funds as their constituents continue dwelling in abject poverty. Meet Gambia’s Yaya Jammeh.
Term limits serve an important purpose of strengthening democracy and ensure long-term stability by checking the concentration of political power. By that, it places a limit to two consecutive terms, prohibits a consecutive for re-election and/or complete prohibition of re-election. In the case of the Gambia and most African states, the demand for reform has been limited to two terms which should not have been a huge ask. It would be a primary conflict mitigating instrument. It curtails the power of incumbency and holds them accountable to their people and think twice about their actions knowing they’d soon be out of power. The longer a president holds power, the more the delineation between the state and the ruling party becomes blurred. Unlimited term limits abrades the balance of power and weakens the authority of sovereign legislatures and judiciaries and competitive political parties. That’s exactly what begets our present day predicament in Banjul. Because we lack effective checks and balances, power has been concentrated in one man, rendering all institutions – political, social, civil – dead or ineffective. Jammeh is the juror, judge and executioner.
WHY SHOULD JAMMEH be interested in term limits, knowing he is not interested in anything that would diminish is powers and weakens his grip? Of everything mentioned above, Yaya is not interested in any. He has no incentive to willingly relinquish power not only because he loves the presidency but he is very much cognizant of the crimes he’d committed in the time that he’s been at number One Marena Parade, his absolute wastefulness of our resources that Gambians would neither forgive not forget. So he resorts to daringly inviting to be killed or at least chased out of his misery. And we can do that. Individually, we are right to be afraid and scared buy collectively, we could pull his cards and expose him for the punk, corny, fraud, scary little man that he is.
Let each reach and teach one. Information-starved Gambians should be told that their president embarrassed them before his peers, by refusing to edge towards giving peace a chance. That he’s told the whole world that he has no desire to free Gambians from the 20 year oppression and terror, even after his colleagues offered him an escape route. He’s no longer keeping it a secret that wants to choose when to leave and would watch the country go down the drain or in flames before he vacates. We’d have to do something. If we can’t pick up sticks and guns, we have our votes come 2016.
Good Morning And Peace To The Planet.