On Saturday 10 December, 2016, the world woke up to the shocking news of The Gambia President, Yahya Jammeh, rejecting the result of the country’s Presidential election he earlier accepted. What could have necessitated this decision remains in the realm of speculations but may not be unconnected with the statement credited to Adama Barrow to the effect that his administration may look into the books of Jammeh who has been in power for about 22 years. How true this is remains to be seen. Events look to have moved fast since Jammeh made the announcement on state TV last Friday.
Aware the implication of this especially in a continent that has a history of sit tight leaders, several African Heads of State have moved in to forestall impending doom on the tiny West African country. On this list is Nigeria’s President, Muhammed Buhari.
Buhari’s visit to Banjul has raised some question here in Nigeria. Since he was sworn in as president in 2015, he has traveled out of the country on countless occasions to the chagrin of many Nigerians. Many Nigerians see most of his travels as needless and economically not beneficial to his country especially as the recession has hit the country hard. Couldn’t Buhari has ordered his Minister of External Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama , who has stayed at home more than the President himself to attend to brief the Gambian president of Nigerian official position? These and more are the issues raised about President Buhari’s visit to The Gambia.
First, let us make it clear that what is going on in The Gambia is purely political. Political issue, therefore, must be solved politically, not diplomatically. Why do we say this?
In a continent with a history of incumbent sitting tight and volatile to ethnic and religious conflicts, incumbents have the capacity to exploit the volatility in these states to hold on to power by promoting ethnic conflicts, if not full scale war. We witnessed this in 2008 in Kenya (which led to power sharing agreements between the two main factions) just as we also saw in Ivory Coast in 2012 (before French-led troops could restore order). These two events alone led to avoidable loss of lives and properties. Since it is a political issue, leaving such for diplomats may led to unpredictable series of events that may be beyond the control of those in the diplomatic circles themselves. Political problems often require political solutions!
Secondly, whether many people admit it or not, (West) Africa’s problems are often Nigeria’s problems. Buhari personally going to put pressure on Jammeh to obey the will of the may be the prudent measure to take at a time like this before things get out of hand. Now that the warnings are there, it will be easier to solve the problems that when they take other dimensions.
Many people will probably remember that when the Liberian civil war started, no one predicted it will spill quickly into Sierra Leone and Guinea. Nigeria did not understand the magnitude of what was happening till it was forced to hurriedly put together, with other members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), what is now known as ECOMOG. ECOMOG alone has cost Nigeria and Nigerians a lot in terms of human and material resources. The country would have been spared all these expenses, had it intervened earlier enough.
That also remind us, we think, had Nigeria intervened politically, earlier than the French by putting intense political pressure on Laurent Gbagbo, may be a lot of lives would have been saved in 2012!
In our opinion, Buhari’s visit to The Gambia at this state of the build-up to what could be a major crisis is timely and prudent. It can be the other way too!
Kindly follow me on Twitter @adgorwell