When West African leaders stood up to one of their own -Yahya Jammeh.
An incredible thing happened in West Africa recently, and somehow the significance was lost on most of us. History is littered with stronger, richer nations standing up for the oppressed in the face of tyranny. It was the case in the second world war with Hitler’s invasion of Poland with his Nazi Army. History agrees this prompted the war which statistically, is the deadliest in human history. Following the invasion, France and the United Kingdom quickly declared war on Germany. Although this didn’t deter Hitler who subsequently succeeded in also annexing other territories like Finland, Romania and the Baltic states but France and the UK’s stance was clear, they would confront tyranny, anywhere.
Eventually, Japan’s plan for expansion with the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war and when they joined, they made it clear that they would not stand by and watch Hitler colonise Europe…..the rest is history.
Another example is the United States and The Coalition of The Willing standing up to the tyrannical Saddam Hussein during Gulf wars 1 & 2. Still in the Middle East, America and a less strong coalition are standing up to Bashar al-Assad presently. It has always been the case throughout history . . . stronger, richer nations assist poorer, weaker nations in seeing off despotic leaders.
Interestingly, a similar thing took place in Africa recently. It happened in The Gambia with yet another African leader who was power-drunk and unwilling to yield power even in the face of an overwhelming defeat at the polls.
Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh had been in power for 22 years; coming into power as a 29-year-old Army Lieutenant in 1994. The eccentric leader portrayed himself as a healer with miraculous powers with mystical cures for Aids and infertility.
In an interview with a leading British broadcaster Yahya Jammeh said: “I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so.” His plan for eternal reign did not manifest however because he was trounced very roundly at the election polls. His rival, Adama Barrow won with a landslide; people had lost faith in Jammeh’s ‘healing powers.’
After accepting defeat and agreeing to vacate the seat of power (which initially surprised most) Yahya Jammeh back tracked as is the norm with most African Leaders who see the presidency as their birthrights.
But other West African leaders would have none of that. When Senegal, Nigeria and other West African armies entered Gambia prepared to force him to recognise a shift in power, he knew the threat was real and subsequently went into exile. This is almost unprecedented in Africa generally. African leaders are notorious for wanting to hold on to power for decades.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – Equatorial Guinea (35 years), José Eduardo dos Santos – Angola (35 years), Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe (34 years) are just prime examples of leaders who tend to forget their time is up. What is even more fascinating is that naturally, leaders of other countries would turn a blind eye even in the face of extreme human rights abuse by some of these leaders. It was different in the case of Yahya Jammeh, West African leaders, and to an extent the African Union (AU) intimated their position very quickly. And their position was simple, they were not in the mood to accommodate yet another African leader showing contempt for Democracy.
Though surprising, I commend them for this. I commend them for doing what is right, for standing up to a tyrant who if left unchecked, could remain in power for as long as he wanted to like some of his counterparts.
The monitoring group from West Africa, and their armies reacted swiftly and decisively and only due to their presence did Jammeh concede defeat and vacate not only the seat of power but the country, disgraced.
It is my hope that this trend is continues, is repeatable and fine-tuned in order to hold other despots in Africa to account. A word is enough for the wise.
“His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa,” enjoy all your money in exile.