Sheikh Prof. Alhaji Dr. Yahya Jammeh has called the bluff of the rest of the world. Jammeh is talking tough and has literally told the world to go to hell. Jammeh has not only rebuffed all pleas to respect the wishes of the Gambian People and concede power to the opposition which won the presidential election late last year but has vowed to resist or even crush any foreign invasion of the Gambia to remove him from power.
Jammeh while slamming the decision of the UN Security Council, African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) asking him to respect the wishes of the Gambia people and the constitution, had declared that only God can remove him from power even if he chooses to rule for 1 billion years.
Jammeh has handpicked justices of the Gambian Supreme Court to hear his legal challenge to the election which he disputes while also vowing not to concede power under any arrangements whatsoever.
His confidence seems to have been bolstered by the pledge of allegiance made by the country’s military chief but then hearing Jammeh’s rhetoric, one would mistake the Gambia for the African version of North Korea in military might.
So what big meal has Jammeh eaten like the proverbial nwa nza that has pushed him to challenge his Chi to a wrestling contest? The nwa nza is the tiny weaver bird in Igbo folklore which Chinua Achebe made allusions to in his evergreen classic Things Fall Apart. The nwa nza after a heavy meal challenged its Chi (god) to a wrestling contest.
Jammeh presides over a tiny country of less than 2 million people and the Gambia has less than 1,000 men under arms to defend the country from external aggression. The Gambian Military depends on military assistance from Turkey, Pakistan and Muammar Ghadaffi before his fall from power.
According to the CIA Factbook 2016, the Gambian Airforce has less than 5 aircraft in its fleet and the Navy has nothing other than glorified patrol boats in its arsenal. The Gambia military has not been associated with any battle feat in recent times, save for its participation in ECOMOG interventions in the Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s.
In fact, Gambia’s closest neighbor Senegal had in the past successfully intervened militarily in the Gambia to stop an attempted coup and reacting to the present situation; Senegal has indicated its willingness to enforce the UN, AU and ECOWAS resolution asking Jammeh to cede power to Adama Barrow.
Jammeh is not only weak in military strength but even more vulnerable financially. According to the World Bank, the Gambia is one of the poorest countries in the world without any significant natural resources. The country’s budget is funded through bilateral and multilateral aid while government institutions are managed through technical assistance from multilateral and bilateral donors.
Tourism is the country’s main source of foreign exchange besides foreign aid. With Jammeh’s belligerence and war like posture, he risks losing aid and tourists if he comes under the Security Council sanctions (if no military action is taken against him). So head or tail, Jammeh loses as the noose on his neck tightens.
One then wonders who or what is beating the drums for Jammeh as it is clear only him can hear the music he is dancing to. Nigeria’s head of state President Muhammad Buhari, who has been given the task to bring Jammeh back to his senses as a mediator has not made things easy for Jammeh. He insists on Jammeh getting an honorable exit from power only.
ECOWAS and the AU must be commended for standing by Gambian electorates and insisting on Jammeh’s exit from power, unlike in the past where the African leaders who are mostly sit-tight dictators will rally round one of their own. However, whether Jammeh will come to his senses and quit or get the Laurent Gbagbo type of humiliating treatment will be known in the coming weeks.
Finally, Jammeh had before his current travails announced the withdrawal of the Gambia from the International Criminal Court (ICC) citing the same concerns of other African leaders on the court’s alleged “targeting of African leaders”. Jammeh’s actions so far has shown why all Africans must support the ICC as the last restraint on African leaders who seek to remain in power at the cost of the lives of their people. Like I always say, “Africans needs the ICC more than the ICC needs Africa”.
Maduka Onwukeme, a Lagos-based Legal Practitioner, is the Managing Partner of Elix LP. He blogs on www.legalfido.com and could be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org