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ECOWAS Must Not Flinch on Gambia Intervention

By Baba Galleh Jallow

Following their failure to convince Yahya Jammeh to step down, one hopes that ECOWAS will not flinch from its determination to force Yahya Jammeh out of power. Certainly, no one likes violent conflict, not least the Gambian people themselves. But the reality is that Yahya Jammeh is determined to abrogate and trample upon the will on the Gambian people and continue to brutalize Gambians through an even more repressive regime of arbitrary arrests, detentions, disappearances, killings and general intimidation than we have suffered for the past 22 years. If the Gambian people and ECOWAS do not follow up on their determination to make sure that he steps down come January 19, we will be saddled with an even more cruel and mindless despot for God knows how long. Gambians and the world cannot afford to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rid ourselves of this mad man who has inflicted untold suffering on the Gambian people for 22 long years.

We dearly hope that ECOWAS follows through on its promise to help liberate the Gambian people with the least amount of violence possible. In spite of his chest pounding and loud bravado, it is likely that ECOWAS, perhaps supported by French Special Forces, can extract or otherwise neutralize Yahya Jammeh without causing too much damage to the country. Yahya Jammeh has trampled upon the will and dignity of the Gambian people for 22 long years. Tired of being oppressed by a bully state, the Gambian people have spoken, they have chosen a new leadership, and Yahya Jammeh must not be allowed to trample upon their collective choice for change. If it means military intervention, so be it.

Of course, Yahya Jammeh is not refusing to step down because he believes that there were any irregularities in the elections, or because he believes that the IEC stole the elections for the Coalition candidate. He is refusing to step down because he feels that he has a natural right to impose himself on the Gambian people. He is refusing to step down because he has no respect for the Gambian people and the Gambian constitution. He is refusing to step down because he does not care what anybody thinks or wants. He is refusing to step down because he wants to prove to the Gambian people that as he has told us to our face so many times, no elections can remove him from power. He is refusing to step down because he wants to prove to the Gambian people that as he has told us so many times over the years, he will rule us for as long as he likes and then choose his successor. He is refusing to step down because he wants to prove to the Gambian people that as he has told us so many times, he will never allow an opposition candidate to become president of The Gambia. In essence, Jammeh is trying to prove that he owns us and our country and will do whatever he wants with us and our country for as long as he likes and if we or anyone else don’t like it, we can all go to hell.

We have always maintained that we do not think it is wise for Mr. Barrow to reject the use of force out of hand. Yes, we all prefer a peaceful resolution. Yes, no one likes to hear a gun shot in The Gambia. But Barrow must be careful while in Mali not to commit a case of classical political naivety by totally rejecting an offer of military intervention by ECOWAS in favor of reasoning with Yahya Jammeh. Yahya Jammeh is a psychopath – a lunatic - and psychopaths cannot be reasoned with. If Barrow totally rejects an ECOWAS offer of military intervention, Jammeh could still be forced out of power by a popular Gambian uprising. But that would potentially cost more innocent lives than a military intervention. We are certain that Jammeh, once convinced that ECOWAS military intervention is off the table, would not hesitate to attempt forcefully stopping Barrow’s inauguration on January 19 and use lethal force to suppress any protest at his insistence on staying in power. One hopes that Barrow, while expressing his preference and the Gambian people’s for a peaceful resolution in Mali, will not go so far as to reject the ECOWAS military intervention option completely out of hand. That would be a tragic mistake on his part.

If Barrow rejects the ECOWAS military intervention option, ECOWAS may still be compelled to intervene after January 19 because Jammeh will try to stop his inauguration and order his troops to shoot to kill protesters and there might quickly evolve a much more complicated situation to resolve, especially if the Gambian military is as divided as is being currently speculated. One thing is almost certain, Jammeh will have to be physically removed from power. One hopes that one is proven wrong on this score. But if our knowledge of mad men in power is anything to go by - from Nero to Caligula to Idi Amin and Bokassa – force in resolving this Jammeh-induced crisis is most certainly inevitable. Mad men in power cannot be reasoned with.