President Yahya Jammeh has the gaze of the whole world fixed on him now. He came unto the scene in 1994 through a military coup. Ever since then, he has four electoral wins under his belt.
To break it down, he has been in power for 22 years. And he continues to hold on dearly to it.
His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babili Mansa, the 51-year-old despot, got the world confused earlier this month when he conceded defeat in the recently held elections.
No one was expecting free and fair elections in Gambia. No one expected him to lose. And even if he lost, no one was expecting him to concede in the manner in which he did. It was a fait accompli in his favour - many thought.
After all, the chief bridge builder had proclaimed that he was going to rule the country for a billion years.
This was in response to a question posed to him about whether he feared suffering similar fate like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. These two leaders were effectively pushed out of power. And the outcomes were bloody.
He said no – he didn’t think any such fate would befall him. In the interview however he added an important caveat. He did not simply say that he was going to lead Gambia for a billion years. He qualified by saying “If Allah says so.”
So I believed him. And I did so because of his consistent choice of words. In a telephone conversation with the President-elect of Gambia, Adama Barrow, he struck a conciliatory note: “Hello your excellency President-Elect Mr. Barrow. I am fine. I am calling you to wish you all the best. The Gambian people have spoken and I have no reason to contest the will of the mighty Allah.”
After a number of seemingly cordial exchanges, he tried playing on a number of dates whose significance are hard to fathom.
He went on: “Allah is telling me that my time is up and I hand over graciously, with gratitude to the Gambian people and gratitude to the Almighty Allah to you.”
At this point, everything made sense.” And in his concession call to the President-elect, he talked of how Allah was telling him that his time was up. And that he had to bow out graciously.
But what changed? “I hereby reject the results in totality… I will not accept the results”, he declared. He now insists on having fresh and transparent elections, which will be officiated by a “God-fearing and independent electoral commission.”
Ever since then, there have been calls on him to step aside peacefully. The ECOWAS sent a mediation team made up of our President, John Dramani Mahama, the Nigerian President Buhari and the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It was a failed mission.
There is now talk of military intervention to oust him from power. If carried through, it would be the second of its kind in recent years, in which an incumbent head of state would be forcefully, pushed aside. And it promises to be bloody.
The Gambian situation is further complicated by the manner in which Charles Taylor (former Liberian leader) was ousted out of power and later sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC). He is currently serving a 50-year sentence in the United Kingdom.
Before Charles Taylor was granted political asylum in August 2003, there was a general consensus amongst many actors that his presence in Liberia was an impediment to the peace process. There was no way people would have felt neutral of the man who was at the heart of a 14-year-old civil war. He, therefore, accepted and was granted Asylum in Nigeria.
The grant of the asylum was hinged on humanitarian (the need to restore peace and stability in Liberia) and strategic considerations. The need for African leaders to show leadership and deal with the challenges