Gam­bia’s cri­sis proves Africa’s demo­cratic re­solve

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - DR. OLADIRAN BELLO Dr Oladiran Bello is a re­search as­so­ciate of the South African In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Good Gov­er­nance Africa.

BE­FORE flee­ing over the week­end, pres­i­dent Yahya Jam­meh plunged his coun­try into a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis whose out­come will res­onate far be­yond The Gam­bia’s bor­ders.

Hav­ing con­ceded vic­tory to op­po­si­tion can­di­date Adama Bar­row after the De­cem­ber 1 elec­tion, Jam­meh back­tracked a week later.

For more than two decades, he dom­i­nated The Gam­bia, sus­tained by a mix­ture of re­pres­sion and sor­cery, such as his out­landish claim of a di­vinely be­stowed right to rule for a bil­lion years and his pur­ported pos­ses­sion of su­per­nat­u­ral pow­ers to cure Aids.

The re­ac­tion of Gam­bia’s neigh­bours in the Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of West African States (Ecowas) was res­o­lute. They de­manded that Jam­meh hand over power to his demo­crat­i­cally-elected chal­lenger. The AU also lent its voice to this re­gional cho­rus with more con­vic­tion and pur­pose than pre­vi­ously demon­strated.

A land­mark elec­tion in 2015 in Nige­ria, West Africa’s pow­er­house, ush­ered in the first peace­ful han­dover of power from a rul­ing party to the op­po­si­tion, while Ghana’s closely-fought elec­tion saw the in­cum­bent con­cede grace­fully to the op­po­si­tion can­di­date just a week after the Gam­bian vote.

As the events in The Gam­bia show, three broad lessons stand out for the wider African con­ti­nent, par­tic­u­larly for South Africa and Nige­ria as re­gional pow­ers with the eco­nomic, diplo­matic and mil­i­tary where­withal to en­sure demo­cratic pro­cesses are re­spected.

First, Africa needs a beefed-up supra­na­tional mech­a­nism for elec­tion over­sight. It is time to move be­yond the con­tro­versy-prone ap­proach which sets much store by one-off elec­tion ob­ser­va­tion mis­sions. These have, time and again, proved to be in­ad­e­quate.

The peren­nial spec­tre of op­pos­ing can­di­dates si­mul­ta­ne­ously declar­ing vic­tory after elec­tions is a recipe for con­fu­sion and un­rest. The truth is that Africa must re­duce room for usurpers of the demo­cratic will. In­deed, any­one in clear breach should au­to­mat­i­cally cease to en­joy recog­ni­tion from Ecowas and the AU.

Sec­ond, Africa’s grad­ual but steady con­sol­i­da­tion of demo­cratic norms in re­cent years shows that the re­spon­si­bil­ity for more ac­count­able forms of gov­er­nance lies squarely with the peo­ple. As peo­ple across Africa rise up in de­fence of good gov­er­nance, they will stand a bet­ter chance if re­gional co­her­ence and sol­i­dar­ity pre­vail.

The threat by Nige­ria, Sene­gal and other re­gional states to mil­i­tar­ily re­move the re­cal­ci­trant Jam­meh from power, with the bless­ing of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, should be com­mended.

Third, we need more pur­pose­ful lead­er­ship and co-oper­a­tion by Africa’s two big­gest democ­ra­cies on the ques­tions of elec­toral val­ues and norm-set­ting. Fol­low­ing the post-elec­tion cri­sis in the Ivory Coast in 2010, Nige­ria sup­ported the vic­to­ri­ous op­po­si­tion can­di­date, Alas­sane Ou­at­tara, while South Africa backed the in­cum­bent, Lau­rent Gbagbo.

Such a di­vide must be more sys­tem­at­i­cally ban­ished from Africa’s fu­ture in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. The Nige­ri­aSouth Africa bi-na­tional com­mis­sion right­fully fo­cuses on is­sues of a bi­lat­eral na­ture, but broader com­mon goods such as peace­ful elec­tions must also be­come a core com­po­nent of the di­a­logue.

Had Jam­meh had his way, this would have em­bold­ened would-be usurpers of the bal­lot across the con­ti­nent.

The DRC’s Joseph Ka­bila has also clung on to power un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally, dis­re­gard­ing the ex­pi­ra­tion of his pres­i­den­tial man­date last De­cem­ber.

The call needs to ring out from Pre­to­ria, through Ad­dis Ababa to Abuja and all the way to Dakar, that the con­ti­nent is de­ter­mined to safe­guard the demo­cratic rights of Africa’s peo­ple.

Winds of change bode ill for fu­ture would-be usurpers

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