Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Is orderly transfer of power possible in The Gambia?

As the Ukraine government was crumbling under the sheer weight of three months of protests against the repressive regime of Yanukovich in the winter of 2014, we were wondering whether Gambians will be so lucky as to enjoy an orderly and/or non-violent transfer of power.

This was two years before the December 1 2016 elections that saw the defeat of Yaya Jammeh which caught the majority of Gambians and non-Gambians flat-footed.  The violent protests in Kiev looked like an acceptable option for our country as Jammeh became more bellicose in language and reckless in action with the increase use of obnoxious laws that threatened opposition leaders with imprisonment.  This made the Gambia National Assembly an increasingly possible vehicle for political change.

We predicted that an orderly transfer of power was possible through parliamentary action.  Like most, our electoral chances of dislodging Jammeh was next to nil.  We join the many to have been gladly proven wrong by the Gambian electorate. 

This blog post was first published February 23rd 2014.  Enjoy.


We watched in real time as anti-government protesters in Kiev finally overran the city, after three months of protests against a repressive and corrupt dictatorship similar to what we have in The Gambia.  The Ukrainian protesters proceeded to fill the vacuum left by a fleeing President Viktor Yanukovich by occupying the Presidential offices.

The opposition immediately demanded May elections while the Ukrainian Parliament, under the control Yanukovich's party only hours before, voted almost unanimously to remove him from power.  They also voted to release the former Prime Minister who was being held in a hospital ( not in a prison ) who proceeded immediately to the city square to address the jubilant anti-government protesters. Although Parliament is yet to authorize an interim government, the affairs of state appears to be in the hands of its members.

It is obviously too early for the Ukrainian protesters to declare complete victory, given the complex nature of the competing geopolitical interests at play involving Russia, the U.S. and the European Union with Russia's stake being the highest.  Kiev did not only rain on Putin's Sochi parade both literally and figuratively, (the Sochi Winter Olympics just ending), the crisis has the potential of handing the Russian leader a humiliating defeat he can least afford to suffer at the hands of a strategically important ally of the Russian Federation. Equally unaffordable is for the United States to adopt a zero sum strategy that goes for gold i.e. push for total victory by the anti-government forces, assuming that Russia will not react with severe economic sanctions with the option of the use of military force to keep Ukraine within the orbit of the Russian Federation.  A solution that will help Russia safe face is the likely outcome.

Kiev protesters serving riot police sandwiches

Of course, conditions in Ukraine is far more complex that involve Russia, U.S and the European Union. The strategic importance of Ukraine cannot be compared with Gambia's, but there are lessons that can be drown from the events unfolding in Kiev and around Ukraine.

The protesters at the center of Kiev are yearning for the same things Gambia opposition parties are yearning for - freedom of association, of expression, of assembly, human rights, the rule of law and a government free of corruption. Within a federated Russia, even Ukraine's residual power appears to have been usurped by Putin and his cronies.  Yanukovich was part of Putin's team, but so was the Parliament until it decided, ultimately, to switch teams and join those demanding democratic space and the freedom to decide their own destiny.  They want closer ties with the European Union and the West. Russia, of course, wants to maintain the status quo.

Ordinary Gambians have been deprived of their liberties for twenty years by a repressive and corrupt regime.  The regime has found a dependable ally in the National Assembly that rubber stamps every law that originates from Yaya Jammeh, regardless of the impact of the law.

For example, and by way of illustrating the pathetic state of affairs within Gambia's parliament, the National Assembly passed a law that gives the president the power not only to expel a member from the party for breaking party by-laws but from Parliament as well, even though parliamentarians are directly elected by the people whose interest they are to serve and protect in the National Assembly. We have tried to look for a comparable law under similar circumstances in any country without success, not even in Ukraine.  Gambian parliamentarians have the unique distinction of voluntarily surrendering their mandate to the Gambian dictator who has routinely exercised his extraordinary powers against parliamentarians.

Is a Parliament that is composed of men and women of the caliber that readily surrenders its power to a dictator capable of putting the interest of the Nation ahead of that of a dictator like Jammeh?   Does the Gambia's National Assembly have the capacity to emulate the Ukrainian Parliament by deciding to put the national interest ahead of personal, individual interest?  When the protests persisted for over three months with increasing violence and mounting body counts, and the prospects of civil war staring members of the Ukrainian parliament straight in the face, they decided to abandon their individual interest in favor of the national interest.

Anti-government protesters in improvised Medieval armor - Kiev   

Gambia's National Assembly has been in the clutches of the Gambian dictator for so long that members seemed to have developed the Stockholm Syndrome.  Despite this, it is still possible that the National Assembly can, and with the right conditions will put the interest of the country ahead of individual and/or parochial interest should matters come to a head.  The conditions that exist in the Ukraine as they relate to individual and collective freedoms are similar to those that obtain in The Gambia.  The economic conditions and mismanagement are worse in The Gambia than in the Ukraine, leading to the threat of total collapse of the country's economy. Corruption continues to be rampant and unchecked.  In fact, it has gotten worse.

Our optimism and faith in the National Assembly to put the nation's interest ahead of Jammeh's is based entirely on recent trends observed in the proceedings of the National Assembly's Public Accounts and Public Enterprise Committees (PAC and PEC).   Over the past year, individual parliamentarians, few as they may be, have been unusually vocal.  Some have even ventured to veer away from the official position and toward the public interest at the cost of their membership in the party and in the National Assembly.  But there are still some in the national Assembly who are capable of leading a revolt by first voting to rescend the law empowering Jammeh to expel them as members of Parliament thus restoring their full parliamentary powers.

Parliamentarians have been particularly vocal about the lack of proper groundnut marketing and extension support to farmers, contrary to the regime's official pronouncements. To cite specific instances beyond what we've said here will only expose the concerned parliamentarians to political pressure from Jammeh and his ruling party.  There appears to be the desire to break loose from Jammeh's stranglehold.   With growing recognition of the failure of Jammeh's policies combined with an increasing level of corruption that is threatening the social order, some parliamentarians are ready and willing to side with the interest of Gambia and Gambians.  Of course, the opposition parties must provide the spark necessary to set the stage for a massive protest against tyranny.

We have left the army out of the Gambian equation because it will be last institution to join any popular uprising given its composition, and the corrupted command and control structure designed to make it difficult to act effectively under any command that is not led by Yaya Jammeh. That said, if a parliamentary revolve similar to Ukraine's should take place in the Gambia - it is within the realm of possibility - with politicians from the opposition and the ruling APRC joining forces, Gambia will succeed where many African countries have failed in the transfer of power from dictatorship to a new democratic dispensation with little or no bloodshed.

Are we engaged in wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  But it is also something the APRC parliamentarians should ponder over the next several days or weeks; to convene the National Assembly to remove Yaya Jammeh from power for the abuse of power.  To avoid a vacuum being created as we are are witnessing in Ukraine, the National Assembly should also pass a law ordering a transition government be formed to prepare for fresh, free, fair and transparent elections.  The international community, and especially the regional bodies, will be less hostile to this scenario than your run-of-the-mill military coup d'etat.