Jam­meh now re­fuses to ac­cept de­feat in Gam­bian elec­tion

Cel­e­bra­tions end as African democ­racy dealt set­back

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY AL­PHA KAMARA

BAN­JUL, GAM­BIA | It was an aus­pi­cious — and all too brief — mo­ment of cel­e­bra­tion and self-con­grat­u­la­tion for a coun­try and a con­ti­nent: Gam­bians rev­eled in their pres­i­dent’s ac­cep­tance of de­feat at the bal­lot box in his re-elec­tion bid ear­lier this month. It was a mile­stone mo­ment in Africa, they said, one when a long­time strong­man would step down peace­fully af­ter decades in of­fice.

But in the past few days, Pres­i­dent Yahya Jam­meh re­versed him­self, re­jected the re­sults of the elec­tion and said he would de­mand a do-over. This coun­try, the small­est on the African main­land, sud­denly has be­come the fo­cus of a fu­ri­ous re­gional ef­fort to keep the demo­cratic train from jump­ing the track.

Mr. Jam­meh’s se­cu­rity forces on Tues­day blocked ac­cess to the elec­toral com­mis­sion of­fice, which in­sists the Dec. 1 vote was fair and ac­cu­rate. Staffers were re­fused en­try, even as sev­eral West African lead­ers ar­rived to urge the pres­i­dent to re­spect the elec­tion and try to en­sure a peace­ful tran­si­tion of power.

“The pres­i­dent and all the en­ti­ties have as­sured us that peace and sta­bil­ity will re­main in Gam­bia as the de­ci­sion process pro­ceeds to a con­clu­sion,” Liberian Pres­i­dent Ellen John­son Sir­leaf told re­porters, ac­cord­ing to The As­so­ci­ated Press. Ms. Sir­leaf was joined by other lead­ers from the West African re­gional eco­nomic bloc known as ECOWAS, in­clud­ing Nige­rian Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, Sierra Leonean Pres­i­dent Ernest Bai Koroma and Gha­nian Pres­i­dent John Ma­hama, who also was just voted from of­fice.

Re­gional lead­ers are set to meet again Satur­day to dis­cuss the cri­sis, Ms. Sir­leaf said.

The prospect of a smooth tran­si­tion ap­pears to have dis­solved. Mr. Jam­meh’s rul­ing party is ques­tion­ing why the vote counts were re­vised Dec. 5 and why some 360,000 reg­is­tered vot­ers did not make it to the polls. Many jaded res­i­dents of the na­tion of 1.9 mil­lion peo­ple say they let their hopes get ahead of their ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Per­son­ally, I am not sur­prised,” said Fa­tima San­deng, 28, a stu­dent who fled to neigh­bor­ing Sene­gal in April af­ter hu­man rights groups re­ported that Jam­meh ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials tor­tured and killed her fa­ther, op­po­si­tion leader Solo San­deng, for ad­vo­cat­ing elec­toral re­forms.

“He is a man who does not re­spect the con­sti­tu­tion and the rights of the peo­ple,” said Ms. San­deng. “But we were re­laxed af­ter he ac­cepted the re­sults and went quiet.”

Af­ter rul­ing with an iron fist since he seized power in a 1994 coup — he once said he would rule the West African na­tion for 1 bil­lion years and as­sumed the of­fi­cial ti­tle of “ex­cel­lency sheikh pro­fes­sor doc­tor pres­i­dent” — Mr. Jam­meh con­ceded de­feat to po­lit­i­cal new­comer Adama Bar­row, a for­mer real es­tate ex­ec­u­tive, on Dec. 2.

Many Gam­bians say they are sick and tired of the sta­tus quo un­der Mr. Jam­meh.

Many have been em­i­grat­ing to Europe in search of job op­por­tu­ni­ties. Yet the pres­i­dent risked Western sanc­tions fol­low­ing his de­ci­sion to with­draw the coun­try from the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court and the com­mon­wealth of for­mer Bri­tish colonies.

Mr. Jam­meh has cracked down on civil so­ci­ety, too. Hu­man rights groups say en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances, lim­its on the free­dom of speech and the press, ha­rass­ment of dis­senters and other hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions have been wide­spread.

“I want to pay a spe­cial trib­ute to all those we have lost dur­ing this long fight for free­dom: op­po­si­tion mem­bers, jour­nal­ists, or­di­nary cit­i­zens and all,” said Fa­tou Cisse, 38, a house­wife in Ban­jul, the cap­i­tal on the At­lantic coast. “It was like a dream come true when it was an­nounced that Jam­meh lost the elec­tion. The mood in the coun­try changed to cel­e­bra­tion.”

Mr. Jam­meh’s ini­tial de­ci­sion to hand the reins of power to Mr. Bar­row in Jan­uary was hailed as a bright day for democ­racy in Africa. The re­sponse of the peo­ple was over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive, said Ibrahima Kane of the Open So­ci­ety Ini­tia­tive for West Africa.

“For a sit­ting pres­i­dent to lose an elec­tion was very im­pos­si­ble in Africa dur­ing the ’80s, ’90s and the early 2000s,” Mr. Kane said. “The Gam­bia ex­pe­ri­ence is an in­di­ca­tion that West Africa and Africa is ready for a change. Africa has come a long way, and other lead­ers who are sup­press­ing their peo­ple should know that the wind of change is blow­ing.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Gam­bian Pres­i­dent Yahya Jam­meh and his se­cu­rity forces have blocked ac­cess to the elec­toral com­mis­sion of­fice, which in­sists the Dec. 1 vote against him was fair and ac­cu­rate. West African lead­ers are urg­ing a peace­ful trans­fer of power.

AL­PHA KAMARA/SPE­CIAL TO THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Fa­tima San­deng, daugh­ter of an op­po­si­tion leader re­port­edly killed by the Jam­meh regime, has fled Gam­bia.

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