The Gam­bia’s pres­i­dent, Yahya Jam­meh, clings to power via a state of emer­gency, but he could be re­moved by force.

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IN A fur­ther es­ca­la­tion of the post-elec­tion cri­sis in The Gam­bia, Pres­i­dent Yahya Jam­meh de­clared a state of emer­gency just a day be­fore his of­fi­cial man­date was due to come to an end.

The an­nounce­ment fol­lowed re­ports that a Nige­rian war­ship was de­ployed off the Gam­bian coast while a regional mil­i­tary force was be­ing as­sem­bled in neigh­bour­ing Sene­gal for pos­si­ble mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion. The events are the clear­est signs that the regional Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of West African States (Ecowas) could act mil­i­tar­ily to re­move Jam­meh from power. The Con­ver­sa­tion Africa’s Julius Maina asks Ab­dul-Jalilu Ateku to ex­am­ine the prospects. JULIUS MAINA: What are the prece­dents for joint mil­i­tary ac­tion by West African states?

Ab­dul-Jalilu Ateku: This isn’t the first time Ecowas would be in­ter­ven­ing to re­solve a na­tional con­flict. The 15-mem­ber or­gan­i­sa­tion has in­ter­vened in all ma­jor hot spots within its ju­ris­dic­tion rang­ing from the civil war in Liberia in 1990 to the post-elec­tion cri­sis in Côte d’Ivoire in 2011.

Ecowas is in fact the first regional se­cu­rity or­gan­i­sa­tion to in­ter­vene mil­i­tar­ily in an in­ter­nal con­flict in the re­gion. When civil war broke out in Liberia in 1989, the US – which had strong ties with Mon­rovia – merely evac­u­ated its ci­ti­zens and turned a blind eye to the cri­sis.

The UN, on the other hand, pre­oc­cu­pied in the res­o­lu­tion of crises in the Gulf and Yu­goslavia, left Liberia to its own de­vices. Ecowas in­ter­vened mil­i­tar­ily on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds.

But the cri­sis that comes clos­est to the cur­rent Gam­bian im­passe is the elec­toral dis­pute in Côte d’Ivoire. The in­cum­bent pres­i­dent, Lau­rent Gbagbo, and his Pop­u­lar Front Party were de­feated in the 2010 run-off elec­tions, but re­fused to step down for the win­ner Alas­sane Ou­at­tara.

West African lead­ers were quick to de­cide to in­ter­vene mil­i­tar­ily to oust the de­feated pres­i­dent. In the case of Côte d’Ivoire, how­ever, there were al­ready UN peace­keep­ers de­ployed in the coun­try in a con­flict that started in Septem­ber 2002. JM: How clear are the jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion?

AA: Ecowas can mil­i­tar­ily in­ter­vene through its Me­di­a­tion and Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on ad­vice of its Defence and Se­cu­rity Com­mis­sion. But any in­ter­ven­tion must be car­ried out within the UN Char­ter. The UN Char­ter pro­vides for the in­volve­ment of regional ar­range­ments and agen­cies in the main­te­nance of in­ter­na­tional peace and se­cu­rity. This is pro­vided such ac­tiv­i­ties are con­sis­tent with the pur­poses and prin­ci­ples out­lined in Chap­ter 1 of the Char­ter.

As a mem­ber of Ecowas, The Gam­bia is bound by the de­ci­sions of the regional or­gan­i­sa­tion and pro­to­cols re­lat­ing to peace and se­cu­rity. In­deed the rec­om­men­da­tion to es­tab­lish and de­ploy the Eco­mog – short for Ecowas Cease­fire Mon­i­tor­ing Group – into Liberia in 1990 was made by a com­mit­tee chaired by the then Gam­bian pres­i­dent, Dawda Jawara.

For mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion, regional lead­ers can in­voke the sup­ple­men­tary pro­to­col on democ­racy and good gov­er­nance which pro­claims: Zero tol­er­ance for power ob­tained or main­tained by un­con­sti­tu­tional means.

Ar­ti­cle 45 (1) states: In the event that democ­racy is abruptly brought to an end by any means or where there is massive vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights in a mem­ber state, Ecowas may im­pose sanc­tions on the state con­cerned.

The Ecowas mech­a­nism for con­flict pre­ven­tion, man­age­ment, res­o­lu­tion, peace­keep­ing and se­cu­rity – known sim­ply as the Mech­a­nism – autho­rises all forms of in­ter­ven­tion, in­clud­ing the de­ploy­ment of po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary mis­sions.

West African states can in­ter­vene mil­i­tar­ily un­der ar­ti­cle 25 of the Mech­a­nism in re­sponse to con­flict be­tween two or sev­eral mem­ber states and in the event of in­ter­nal con­flict that threat­ens to trig­ger a hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter; or that poses a se­ri­ous threat to peace and se­cu­rity in the sub-re­gion. JM: What are the chances of suc­cess of such in­ter­ven­tion?

AA: Jam­meh will cer­tainly be re­moved if Ecowas de­cides to use force. But that will come at a heavy price – for The Gam­bia, the neigh­bour­ing states and the world. The regional ram­i­fi­ca­tions in terms of re­sources to main­tain the mis­sion, refugee flows as well as the de­struc­tion and un­told hard­ships that the peo­ple will face should not be glossed over.

The use of mil­i­tary force will be­gin as an at­tempt to re­move a de­feated and in­tran­si­gent pres­i­dent. But the re­sis­tance may trig­ger at­tacks be­tween his sup­port­ers and those of his key op­po­nent Bar­row.

Con­flict be­tween ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal group­ings can trig­ger a civil war that will be dif­fi­cult to re­solve in a mat­ter of days. It may take the form of eth­nic cleans­ing, par­tic­u­larly in view of his long stay in power and the toes his ad­min­is­tra­tion might have stepped on. His sup­port­ers will be the tar­gets and there would cer­tainly be reprisal at­tacks. So, it’s not just sim­ply a mat­ter of force­fully re­mov­ing Jam­meh from power. JM: What are the po­ten­tial con­se­quences should such a mis­sion fail?

AA: The suc­cess or fail­ure also de­pends on the man­date. If the Ecowas force’s man­date is to force­fully re­move Jam­meh and it fails, then I’m sure there will be a high hu­man toll. This could re­sult in huge dis­place­ments in­ter­nally and refugees would flow into neigh­bour­ing states. But the chances of fail­ure are small if Ecowas in­ter­venes with tacit sup­port of the UN. In the end Jam­meh would be re­moved at what­ever cost. JM: Do you think mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion is the best op­tion?

AA: My own view is that more in­tense diplo­macy is re­quired to me­di­ate be­fore the mil­i­tary op­tion is de­ployed. Such other op­tions as di­plo­matic sanc­tions, in­clud­ing sev­er­ing ties with the Jam­meh ad­min­is­tra­tion, re­main to be pur­sued. If Ecowas in­ter­venes mil­i­tar­ily now to force Jam­meh out of of­fice, it may still not get Bar­row in­stalled (timeously). I do not think ex­ter­nal mil­i­tary ac­tion by Ecowas can eas­ily oust him in a mat­ter of a few hours.

If Bar­row is in­stalled in another lo­ca­tion, Jam­meh is likely to get him­self sworn into of­fice as hap­pened in Côte d’Ivoire where Gbagbo was sworn into of­fice de­spite the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of elec­tion re­sults by the UN sec­re­tary-sen­eral’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Côte d’Ivoire.

Ecowas and its part­ners must move cau­tiously on the mil­i­tary path. JM: Should the mis­sion suc­ceed, does the end jus­tify the means?

AA: If the mis­sion suc­ceeds through mil­i­tary means, then the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity would have to be­gin the process of re­build­ing peace. If Jam­meh gets the back­ing of his se­cu­rity (ap­pa­ra­tus), which may also be sup­ported by civil­ian groups, then the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should be pre­pared to re­build what has been de­stroyed. – The Con­ver­sa­tion

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