Gam­bia’s Jam­meh: From TV con­ces­sion to drama

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BANJUL: Long­time Gam­bian leader Yahya Jam­meh, who ini­tially con­ceded de­feat in a De­cem­ber 1 pres­i­den­tial poll, has lodged a Supreme Court case to chal­lenge the re­sult, de­spite pres­sure from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for him to cede power peace­fully. The op­po­si­tion in the small West African coun­try, how­ever, fears Jam­meh will use a ju­di­cial sys­tem-con­sid­ered by ex­perts to lack in­de­pen­dence-to give le­git­i­macy to his at­tempt to hang on to power.

The le­gal com­plaint

The rul­ing Al­liance for Pa­tri­otic Re­ori­en­ta­tion and Con­struc­tion (APRC) filed a com­plaint with the Supreme Court on De­cem­ber 13 al­leg­ing that op­po­si­tion leader Adama Bar­row was “not duly elected or re­turned as pres­i­dent, and that the said elec­tion was void”. The court chal­lenge came af­ter Jam­meh had sur­prised ob­servers by con­ced­ing de­feat af­ter 22 years in power on tele­vi­sion, be­fore chang­ing his mind. It said the coun­try’s In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (IEC) had vi­o­lated elec­toral law, an­nounced a De­cem­ber 5 re­count with­out the con­sent of the APRC, and that its re­turn­ing of­fi­cers in­tim­i­dated le­git­i­mate vot­ers and turned them away on elec­tion day.

The Supreme Court

The Gam­bia’s Supreme Court has lain dor­mant since May 2015 with Chief Jus­tice Em­manuel Fag­benle, a Nige­rian, the only cur­rent sit­ting judge. Ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence is “the ex­cep­tion rather than the rule,” said Niklas Hultin, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the US’s Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity and Africa spe­cial­ist. “Where the Supreme Court and other high-level courts have as­serted their in­de­pen­dence, there has usu­ally been some kind of ret­ri­bu­tion on the part of the ex­ec­u­tive,” he added. Jam­meh fired sev­eral judges last year af­ter they com­muted the death sen­tences of former mil­i­tary of­fi­cers to life im­pris­on­ment.

Jam­meh needs to ap­point four more Supreme Court judges for the con­sti­tu­tion­ally re­quired panel of five to hear the chal­lenge, and six if the de­ci­sion re­quires a ju­di­cial re­view. Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, the target of his com­plaint, the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion, is rep­re­sented by Jam­meh’s own At­tor­ney-Gen­eral. The Gam­bia’s most in­flu­en­tial lawyers’ group, the Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, has de­scribed any fu­ture hear­ing as there­fore “fun­da­men­tally tainted”. A Bar As­so­ci­a­tion state­ment said the chal­lenge was “tan­ta­mount to one be­ing a judge in his own cause con­sid­er­ing that the out­go­ing pres­i­dent has al­ready pre-empted the out­come of court process by declar­ing the elec­tion re­sult as a nul­lity”.

Pres­i­dent-elect Bar­row says Jam­meh has left cases against the govern­ment to stack up by fail­ing to ap­point jus­tices. “There are a pile of cases that are wait­ing... but he doesn’t care about it,” Bar­row told AFP. “And now he has a case, if he ap­points judges we will see this is per­sonal in­ter­est, and not in the in­ter­ests of jus­tice.”

Sene­galese po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Babacar Justin Ndi­aye be­lieves Jam­meh’s aim is to ob­tain bet­ter terms for his exit, given the uni­ver­sal con­dem­na­tion of his volte-face and lack of other op­tions. “It’s a strat­egy of giv­ing him time, mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion worse, wear­ing down the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and fi­nally to look for some sort of com­pro­mise, an ar­range­ment,” he told AFP. Jam­meh has “played his cards well”, Ndi­aye said, lever­ag­ing his con­tin­ued sup­port from im­por­tant sec­tions of the mil­i­tary to keep the Gam­bian pop­u­la­tion from tak­ing to the streets against him. If Jam­meh wins the case at some point in the fu­ture, new elec­tions could be called with a Pres­i­dent Bar­row in State House. That would be a “un­prece­dented” sit­u­a­tion in Africa, ac­cord­ing to Ndi­aye. The United States has said it does “not be­lieve (the case) will be heard by a cred­i­ble court ded­i­cated to en­sur­ing the in­tegrity of The Gam­bia’s demo­cratic process”, a re­ac­tion that was no­tably more hard­line than the UN and re­gional bloc ECOWAS. “It is OK for the le­gal process to be go­ing on,” the UN’s west Africa en­voy Mo­hamed Ibn Cham­bas told AFP Wed­nes­day. “That le­gal process has noth­ing to do with the term of his man­date,” he added. Ban­jul­based diplo­mats have em­pha­sized that the most im­por­tant fo­cus now is the han­dover of power still ex­pected on Jan­uary 19, rather than the out­come of the le­gal case that for now re­mains loom­ing in the back­ground.


BANJUL: This file­photo taken on Novem­ber 29, 2016 shows Gam­bian Pres­i­dent Yahya Jam­meh lis­ten­ing to one of his aides in Banjul, dur­ing the clos­ing rally of the elec­toral cam­paign of the Al­liance for Pa­tri­otic Re­ori­en­ta­tion and Con­struc­tion (APRC).

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