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Amnesty for a Despot

By

Foday Samateh


According to Senegalese news reports quoting the Senegalese Foreign Minister’s statement to the Senegalese National Assembly, “Yahya Jammeh could leave The Gambian power quietly, without being sued for his former exactions. The ECOWAS is in the process of negotiating an amnesty law for him, so that he cedes power to Adama Barrow in a peaceful way.” And on social media, individuals close to President-elect Barrow and his Coalition insinuated as much. They wish to assure the nation that actions are being taken behind the scene for a peaceful transfer of power as mandated by the Constitution, despite Yahya Jammeh’s rancorous protestations that the December election must be discarded for a do-over.

It stands to reason that if ECOWAS is undertaking such a task to stave off the looming political standoff,  the Coalition would be in the know. They should clear the air by confirming or denying it. The remarks attributed to the Senegalese Foreign Minister should free the Coalition of any nondisclosure obligations regarding secret negotiations, or impel them to inform the nation they are voted to serve. At this stage, failing to be transparent on this matter cannot be sustained on any justifiable reason.

The prevailing plea since the election has been that the Coalition be given the space to plan the transition behind closed doors and be expected to act in good faith even in the absence of any public information about their decisions and deliberations. The long and short of it is, Trust the Coalition, but the Coalition is in no position to do the same. This argument needs to be retired. It flies in the face of the very purpose and spirit of political transition. But more importantly, it’s antithetical to democracy itself, especially for people seeking to banish a dictatorship.

That said, any effort to bring about peaceful transfer of power ought to be applauded. The benefits are too obvious and numerous to mention. And it’s a given that any peaceful handover would involve some form of negotiated settlement with the incorrigible despot lashing out from the State House. Barrow and his Coalition are dealt a bad hand. It’s an odious affair. Even the thought of giving Yahya Jammeh a pass on anything, more so after the dangerous stunt he’s pulling, is an affront to any idea and meaning of justice. But it may be necessary to avert military intervention. At the same time, the desire for a peaceful resolution shouldn’t obscure the consequences of peace at any cost.

The reality is — in spite of his delusional claims and acts of defiant bluster — the despot needs this conundrum of his own making to end in peace more than the Coalition. More and more, The Gambian public is turning their back on him. ECOWAS, the African Union, the UN Security Council, the United States and the European Union all have denounced him and pledged their support to Barrow. And it’s clear from his latest ranting on television that even The Gambia Armed Forces he’s counting on to do the fighting against ECOWAS military intervention are wavering. A despot has never been so deserted and lonely.

Therefore, any amnesty he might end up getting must impose onerous conditions that carry binding penalties in the event of a breach. The Coalition couldn’t be in a firmer position now to demand so. Among other things, these conditions must enjoin Yahya Jammeh to:

  1. declare all the assets, properties, businesses, investments, and savings that are in his name, in the names of his wives and children and he owns through relatives, associates, partners or other fronts both in The Gambia and elsewhere.

  2. surrender these wealth and properties for restitution to the state and those with rightful claims.

  3. relinquish his claims on everything he has built in Kanilai except one house to be a residence for him and his family.

  4. renounce politics; and cease and desist publicly and privately from engaging in politics or providing any form of support to any party or candidate for any office.

  5. not commit any crime or corruption in the future

  6. testify fully and faithfully before any commission of inquiry that may look into crimes and abuses of power committed on his orders, or with his approval or knowledge during his presidency.

If he refuses to consent to these terms and conditions, the use of force must be utilized to evict him in handcuffs from the State House. If he agrees in exchange for immunity from prosecution only to be later found violating or not compiling with any aspect of the terms and conditions, he must be hurled before a judge for all criminal wrongdoings he is responsible for during his time in office.

This is the only amnesty we can hold our nose to offer him. Anything more will be  too grievous an injustice to his victims who are still living, and too grave a dishonor to the memory of those murdered.