By Samsudeen Sarr, New York City, NY
I am sure a lot of my readers have been keenly waiting for my opinion over the political developments in the Gambia where the whole world is trying to figure out what went wrong after His Excellency Sheikh Professor Doctor Alhagie Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, Babillimansa, my party leader of the APRC government first conceded defeat in the 2016 presidential election and a week later decided to rescind it and nullify the result. I first want to make it abundantly clear that I am totally in support of President Jammeh’s final decision to toss the results away, and I would urge everyone concerned to bear with me while I lay out my justification in this rather elaborate piece.
I am surprised that many of the reports conveyed around the world about how he first conceded defeat and later changed his mind are not explaining the most important part of the issue, i.e., the reason he did it. Obviously, the confusion created by the IEC in declaring two results with the original margin of victory by Mr. Adama Barrow over President Jammeh being over 35, 000 votes and a later-revised result drastically narrowing down the winner’s lead by an insignificant 19000 votes out of over 800,000 registered voters raised the red flag over the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC’s) counting competence.
Without doubt, as honest as the APRC leader demonstrated in the first results in which he was convinced that he had lost, the second-time results left him with no choice but to consult his party members who overwhelmingly demanded instant and quick investigation into what the hell had happened. Factoring the troubling incidents leading to such a publicized national election and the overzealous efforts of those in the diaspora to effect regime change in the country by hook or crook, I think the IEC’s mistakes in the counting of the votes was at best too hasty and at worst gross incompetence.
Those in the diaspora whose contribution in many ways of ensuring that the APRC government would be defeated in the elections, were commended by Mr. Adama Barrow and attributed his victory largely to their support. They had organized armed attacks in the country, using mercenaries in December 2014 to overthrow the APRC government with the belief that the IEC could never hold a free and fair election in the country because of its dependence and blind loyalty to President Jammeh and would always rig elections in his favor.
They had also raised funds in April 2016 and sponsored radical extremists in the country to hold mass civil disobedience that they thought could bring down the government under the guise of calling for electoral reform because of, again, their lack of trust in the IEC. Well, after what transpired in this election, it is obvious that the IEC was never the abominable, unfair or puppet commission most of them had believed it was under President Jammeh. Hence those who were therefore, paid, cajoled or deceived into taking the ultimate sacrifice through brute force simply lost their lives or went to jail on a wrong conviction.
Apparently, the IEC, though created and throughout supported by His Excellency President Jammeh never was a bias commission insulated to favor him but one, that in my judgement simply proved its incompetence in handling the elections and causing the whole confusion. Trivializing their huge error or not even mentioning it in the reason why the Gambian president later refused to accept the result is disingenuous and ungodly. They should have first cut their ’T’s and dot their ‘I’s before going public with those outrageous numbers. And that’s not all I have to say.
I believe I am blessed to once again be a first-hand witness to this special 2016 presidential election that had almost brought about the end of the APRC government in the same way I was a witness to the July 22nd 1994 bloodless revolution that brought about the change of the PPP government.
I believe President Jammeh was magnanimous and commendable for conceding defeat when the initial results were read by the IEC. Those first numbers, like I said earlier showed a huge margin in which the APRC clearly lost by about 40,000 votes.
I was at the Statehouse that night when by 2:30 am, the numbers clearly convinced everybody that the APRC government had hopelessly lost. Just after 3:00 am, President Jammeh, in a cool and collected disposition stood up, the Holy Quran raised in his right hand, and to our total dismay swore to the Almighty Allah that the victory of his opponent was final and that he was going to hand over the government to Mr. Adama Barrow.
There was nothing remotely factual about some foreign pressure exerted on him by the likes of President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Kofi Annan former UN Secretary General or any African leader for him to finally concede as falsely rumored on social media.
The angels of gloom and doom that morning of December 2nd, hastily bombarded the internet with litany of fabrications ranging from his escape out of the country to Cuba to his arrest by his personal bodyguards, and his mother’s death by the shock of his defeat; his wife and children also reported to be on the run.
But in addition to the fake news, there were serious threats from members of the opposition advocating for President Jammeh’s arrest and how he should be held accountable for everything that had ever went wrong in the country for the past two decade.
The blogger, Sidi Sanneh, was also out there in the US shamelessly saying that I was part of a conspiracy trying to compel President Jammeh to change his mind and nullify the results. I will not be wasting my time disputing such fabrications in the same manner I refused to dignify his publication few days ago, that I was in the Gambia trying to incite the Armed and Security forces to overthrow the new government of Mr. Barrow that has not even been sworn in yet. I think Mr. Sanneh is walking with many screws missing in his head.
But heck, I am after all 100% behind President Jammeh in his decision to nullify the disputable elections in the wake of the IEC messy results. No one can justify such major mistake in this special election and brush it off as insignificance. Hell no!
Once again, the IEC Chairman was aware of the 2014 mercenary attack in the country funded by dissidents living in the USA aimed at overthrowing the APRC government because of their wrong opinions that the IEC could not conduct a free and fair election. They had accused the IEC of being hand-picked and bought by the government and will never allow the opposition parties to win. As a result, assault weapons were purchased with ammunitions to the tune of 10million Dalasi and the “brave” took the risk for a belief that was proven wrong in this 2016 presidential election.
Some were killed in the attack and the few who escaped, arrested by the US government and are serving jail time in American penitentiaries. That’s fighting for a wrong belief or opinion and being killed or jailed for a dogma, a problem plaguing several members of the diaspora in opposition to the APRC government.
Conversely, the IEC should have also remembered that in April 2016, the same dissidents who planned and executed the fatal attack in the country explored another regime-changing tactic of the APRC government by raising funds in the USA and sponsoring a mass civil disobedience veiled as a peaceful demonstration for electoral reform because of the “corruptibility” of the IEC. In that failed-incited uprising people also lost their lives while others went to jail for their wrong beliefs.
As of up to the very day of the elections when the IEC chairman was still reassuring the public of his commission’s impartiality these troublemakers in the diaspora were advocating for the opposition to challenge the votes if they happened to lose because President Jammeh according to them had already paid the chairman $450,000.00 to share among his staff to guaranteed his victory. Hence, voter discrepancy or not, their plan if the opposition had lost, was for the folks in diaspora to push for the delegitimization of the results through relentless street protests.
These were all serious issues that the IEC should have considered earnestly in the sensitive outcome of the results.
On America’s watch and what could be said as their endorsement of the negative campaign, Gambian dissidents in the USA have been working day in day out on their online radios and social media, encouraging and financing any Gambian willing to take the risk of causing political havoc in the country. They have constantly demanded for the assassination of President Jammeh, members of his family, his cabinet ministers, senior military and police officers.
Up to this very day, these American online radios are being used to raise funds, sponsor brigands to cause trouble in the country while insisting that President Jammeh, even whereas he had assured Mr. Adama Barrow a smooth and peaceful transition of power must be arrested, his security forces disbanded and many soldiers and police officers held accountable for “crimes” they have committed in the past.
Yet amazingly, with all his reconciliation proclamation Mr. Barrow continues to attribute his victory to the “special support” rendered to his party by these hardliners. And trust me, with his inexperience and open declaration to rely on borrowed brains internally and externally to run his government the diaspora agenda of vengeance and persecutions of the old regime members remain frighteningly possible.
Given all that, and the high stakes looming over such a historic election, the IEC not exercising maximum care about the results before reading them bordered on irrational haste at best or total incompetence at worst.
If it was therefore all funky and dandy for the opposition to defiantly challenge the results if they were to lose based on their mistrust of the IEC’s relationship with the government, why then can’t the APRC equally challenge the votes with uncompromising zeal if discrepancies were revealed such as having two different results all favoring the pessimistic opposition party? The Wollofs say, “Mak Du Feicha Yal Naa Dea”. The APRC government and its supporters shouldn’t allow these unpredictable people with no experience on modern government matters to come and destroy their lives on questionable election data that stinks high up in the heavens
Left to me alone I would have challenged the results upon their first announcement on December 2nd 2016 because of the competitive campaign launched by the APRC and the government’s willingness to play by the rules despite all cynical doubters. I am not just querying the IEC’s suspicious mistake/ incompetence but also wondering whether there is even any provision in the constitution to address any such inharmoniousness. Perhaps that was the reason why they wanted everyone to take it as a negligible malfunction; as a matter of fact, further investigation has revealed massive voter fraud where genuinely registered card holders were denied their voting rights because of dubious registration irregularities that the election officers used to disqualify many APRC voters. President Jammeh briefly mentioned it in his Friday night address to the nation but wouldn’t be reported by his enemies bent on lynching him.
We must acknowledge the fact that out of the 800,000 plus registered voters, over 360,000 never showed up or voted in an election that by all indications should have brought out at least 75% of the electorate. Also with the Coalition Party winning only 227,000 of the votes and the APRC and the GDC together taking 295,000 while 365,000 are yet to be located, telling the world that most of the Gambians are behind Mr. Barrow is delusional and utterly erroneous. Percentage wise we are only looking at about 26% of the 800,000 plus registered voters or 12% of the population of 1.8 million people. We also must not forget that the Coalition is composed of five political parties whose representatives so far are expressing different viewpoints on the way ahead. Some are sounding confrontational, others reconciliatory while a few are sending mixed signals depending on which of the two groups they find themselves congregating with. Give that a month or two and they will fall apart like house of cards.
However, like many Gambians, including a lot of people who voted for him, I don’t know much about Mr. Adama Barrow; albeit from the unscripted interview he gave in the Wollof language to a Senegalese journalist from TFM TV on Monday December 5, 2016, I could draw some enlightening conclusion over the kind of domestic and foreign policies he intends to pursue especially towards neighboring Senegal who for years couldn’t get along with the APRC government.
Most of the armed attacks against the APRC government since 1994 originated from Senegal including the latest planned one from the USA and was launched from there with the escapees allowed an easy passage back to America. Many abortive coups in the Gambia against President Jammeh had fingerprints of the Senegalese government traceable to them.
Oh yes, since 1994, successive Senegalese governments have shown President Jammeh nothing positive but hatred of his government with their actions in this election further confirming that animosity. I think Macky Sall gets up every day wishing President Jammeh death and destruction.
That said, I think Mr. Barrow’s statement on TFM TV underscoring his intent to tap into the experience of President Macky Sall in his foreign policy agenda on especially how to build a viable and productive socioeconomic system in the Senegambia region should have incorporated the recognition of President Jammeh’s experience and role in that area, who regardless of what his haters may have to say against him, remains a formidable mediator for the maintenance of peace and stability in Southern Senegal, Cassamance. Everybody knows about the tremendous work he has been doing there by safeguarding a sustainable solution to the complex problem that has outlived three Senegalese presidencies.
I have always argued that the root cause of the Cassamance insurgency has a lot to do with the political, social and economic marginalization of the Jolas in their own country, especially in their own geographical domain which in all fairness was for decades neglected by Dakar.
Which I believe upon their realization that Northern Senegal wouldn’t consider them for the recognition they deserved, forced them to resort to the armed uprising that has claimed thousands of lives and is still not well contained in over 30 years. However, with the ascension of President Jammeh to power he somehow provided them with the dignity, respect and the symbol of power, hope and success that they only yearned for. President Jammeh gave them the recognition and respect which has helped in stopping other politically dominant tribes from treating them as mere maids or third-class citizens who were allowed minimal responsibilities in the socio-political development of Senegal.
To me therefore, ousting President Jammeh now could lead to among other regional troubles, the demoralization of the Jolas in the entire region which in effect could translate into reigniting a zealous demand for their independence or greater autonomy. Experience of the conflict in Cassamance, illustrated that the PPP government never wanted to meddle in it and had watched Senegal fought it alone with no help from the Gambia. This Gambian Coalition government looks like the PPP reincarnated. Plus, politically, Gambians in all honesty do not trust Senegal, period.
And please don’t get me wrong. President Jammeh’s great work is not only limited to emancipating the Jola but has been broadly beneficial to everybody irrespective of tribe, class, race or religious affiliation in the country. Above all, he has been very outstanding in building a dependable National security establishment that allows no room for criminals, terrorists, or swindlers to disturb the civility of the nation. In other words, he has kept the Gambia, safe, well secured and very developed.
Notwithstanding, I am yet to hear Barrow or the Coalition Party elements tell us how they are going to handle the country’s national security and the Cassamance factor in their foreign policy. President Macky Sall is heard assuring the Coalition Party or Mr. Barrow his full support after being the first world leader to congratulate him on his victory; nonetheless, I am afraid Senegal’s ambition for a final federation with the Gambia remains a top priority in their foreign policy strategy which during the PPP regime culminated in their unceremonious withdrawal from the Senegambia Confederation in 1989. Senegal in that covenant left feeling betrayed by the PPP after committing huge resources and many of the lives of their troops in taking back the country for them after the late Kukoi Samba Sanyang toppled President Dawda Jawara in June 1981. Senegal thought they finally had Jawara to reciprocate their sacrifice by agreeing to a permanent federation of the two countries. But eight years later Sir Dawda Jawara “betrayed” them, in a nasty divorce that the two countries have still not revealed its exact cause.
That in mind, I think a comprehensive cooperation between a Macky Sall government of Senegal and that of a Coalition Party’s in the Gambia will not come short of a final agreement for that long-desired federation.
For all I know Senegal will never again risk another bloody military intervention in the Gambia without the operation sealed on a solid federation agreement. The last thing their Armed forces would ever want to attempt again is to launch another Operation Foday Kabba in The Gambia with the hope that the assisted Gambia government will be the ultimate puppet to be used.
I only hope that the threat of military intervention in the Gambia by Senegalese senior political and security officials currently shared on social media is fake news or mere saber rattling and not anything they are seriously contemplating to do.
Trust me, The Gambia Armed Forces is not the Field Force and without doubt is one of the most formidable fighting forces in the region. Taking them on in their own terrain by any foreign forces will be regrettable and could plunge the entire region into an unintended crisis of colossal proportion. The only people to win from starting a war in the region will be the weapon merchants and manufacturers.
That brings me to my next subject of commending President Jammeh for the excellent job he has been doing for the Gambian security forces, by selflessly uplifting the organizational and operational standards of the Gambia Armed and Police Forces from their previous status of once being the laughing stock of the nation to one of the most violable and respectable forces in the country and around the world. Before the 1994 revolution or during the PPP regime, serving in the army was viewed as a deadened occupation where soldiers deployed on their first international peacekeeping operation in Liberia-1990-were paid $3.00 a day and were denied burial rights back to their country when killed in action abroad. I have in many cases tried to remind the Gambians about such an unheard-of treatment of soldiers in any nation in the world. However, when the soldiers protested about the unwarranted government abuse they used to be subjected to, foreign military commanders were contracted to come and take charge of the command and control of the Army with the hope that another misbehavior from the soldiers by claiming equal or respectable treatments will be crushed by the “Bigger and Stronger parent army of the Commanders”.
That threat never deterred the GNA led by President Jammeh in 1994 to put a stop to the unacceptable government abuse the soldiers used to encounter in their own country. He brought back the abandoned dead Gambian soldiers buried in shallow graves at the port of Liberia and gave them state burial ceremony with their parents handsomely compensated after years of their traumatic experience.
The Armed and security forces therefore have come a long way to be where they are today and would have been a huge mistake and a disservice to the country for the Coalition Party to heed the opposition voices demanding the reversal of their fortunes back to the Pre-President Jammeh era. Any action towards that objective will be wrong and very dangerous.
Being currently responsible for their international peacekeeping mission at the United Nations Organization in New York, I can share the wonderful news that the Gambian Armed and Police Forces, as of now, bring in salary disbursement from their peacekeeping duties in amounts close to $1million dollars every three months.
That was the whole annual grant the US government used to give the PPP government at the time of the military takeover in 1994 that they immediately stopped as soon as Washington had confirmed the coup then.
So, denying the soldiers, police and immigration officers such a lucrative opportunity out of political expediency will dangerously rupture the fine establishment with possible devastating consequences.
This discussion will be continued in the days ahead as new events unfold and the Gambia forges ahead.
Long live the Gambian people!
Long live the Islamic Republic of The Gambia!
Long live His Excellency Sheikh Professor Doctor Alhagie Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, Babillimansa, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Gambia Armed and Security Forces.