Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Underestimate Jammeh's political skills at your peril

Coalition Leaders 
A Mauritania envoy visited Yaya Jammeh who is holed up in his bunker at State House, shuttling between safe houses, according to our sources, to pave the way for a planned visit to Banjul of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, president of Mauritania who is a friend and an ally. Mauritania was a member of ECOWAS until 2000 when it formally pulled out of the regional body.

The visit is seen as part what is being interpreted as Jammeh's two-pronged strategy of negotiating his way out of the political logjam he finds himself that will assure him of free from future prosecution for atrocities he is alleged to have committed while in office with Mauritania's help and support, barring which he will resort to a scorched earth by facing a possible ECOWAS military action and its likely outcome of death, destruction and mayhem.

Jammeh is not only reaching out to Mauritania but also to his friends in Guinea, Burundi, Sudan, Equatorial and Uganda.  There is a discernible pattern emerging from Jammeh's outreach efforts that suggests that some of Africa's so called strongmen are lining up behind their embattled friend. Jammeh's efforts should be discounted as desperate move by a desperate dictator.  He can inflict serious damage to the country's image - as if he's not already wreaked havoc -  and its future as he exits with guns blazing.

Last June, in a political rally outside the capital city of Banjul, Jammeh railed at the Mandinka ethic group with such vehemence and hatred by referring to them as "enemies" and "foreigners" and threatened to kill them one by one and place them "where even a fly cannot see them."  His speech attracted the attention of the Special Adviser of the U.N. Secretary General on Genocide and a strong rebuke resulting in being cited for "incitement" that could like to genocide.

The United Nations Secretary General's office invoked Rwanda and Bosnia in reminding Jammeh and the world "how incitement to violence has led to mass killings along identity line."  The UK government endorsed the United Nations' Adviser's condemnation of Yaya Jammeh as did Rwanda's New Times newspaper editorial entitled "The Mandinkas of The Gambia must be protected"with the suggestion that the world, including Yaya Jammeh, should draw lessons from Rwanda's experience.

There are unconfirmed reports that supporters of the outgoing ruling party of Jammeh are going around various localities - at least, in the urban areas of Greater Banjul - identifying supporters of Adama Barrow and his 7- political party coalition and marking their compounds with red paint, reminiscent of precursors to past atrocities against members of ethnic minorities - a very chilling development, if confirmed.

Jammeh lost the December 1st presidential elections to Adama Barrow in spectacular fashion and his concession speech that followed was equally spectacular, however short-lived.  These events seem so much in the distant past because of the absolute control Jammeh has in the narrative and his knack of headline-grabbing machinations like occupation of the Independent Electoral Commission's offices by the military, threats to its chairman that led to him fleeing to neighboring Senegal, filing an election petition at a Supreme Court that has not been properly constituted and sandbagging key installations, to name but a few examples that have kept the international press busy and its attention away from the transition team's activities.

Recently, his surrogates and sycophantic supporters have saturated social media with fake news announcing his escape to Conakry and the death by assassination of the president-elect, all to distract from the real and central issue about the illegitimacy of his continued occupation of State House. Jammeh carried out a constitutional coup d'etat the day he reneged on his concession to President-elect Adama Barrow.  Today's fake news should serve as a wake-up call that Jammeh will stop at nothing to impose his will on Gambia and Gambians in spite of the results of the December 1st elections.  The security of the president-elect and his immediate entourage must be secured at all cost and access to the former drastically curtailed.

For someone who, in our view, subverted the constitution the moment he reneged on his earlier decision to concede defeat to Adama Barrow, Jammeh is doing well for himself by his continuous deflection of attention away from the real story of historic proportion that Gambian voters wrote in December by retiring a brutal, corrupt and incompetent dictator using the ballot instead of the bullet. This important message to African dictators and to the rest of the world is being trampled upon by Jammeh and risk being lost in the shuffle with the inadvertent help of the victors of the presidential elections.

As a partner in our campaign against the dictatorship put it succinctly three weeks ago: "If little happens, (press statements will not suffice for much longer) the chances are the international media focus will shift to the next big thing, globally...and the eyes and ears of the world in Gambia will be lost."  We couldn't agree more.