Gambia: important lessons for SADC

Gambia: important lessons for SADC

FORMER Gambian president Yahya Jammeh left his country at the weekend for exile in Equatorial Guinea ending what was likely to be a bloody confrontation with soldiers from ECOWAS.

It is telling that Jammeh only gave up power after threats of military intervention by the regional bloc ECOWAS.  But all this was really unnecessary.  After initially conceding defeat to Adama Barrow in an election held on December 1, Jammeh made a dramatic U-turn when he refused to accept the election result. That triggered a real threat of military intervention.

It is the firm manner ECOWAS dealt with an intransigent Jammeh that holds important lessons for us here in Southern Africa. First, we note that ECOWAS stood firm in its resolve to defend democracy. The regional bloc has consistently refused to mollycoddle dictators whose time is up. The wishes of the majority must be respected.

We believe these are important lessons for SADC, a regional bloc that has been accused by human rights groups of protecting the worst of dictators in southern Africa while ignoring the will of the people at the polls. Take for instance, the tragic case of Zimbabwe and Kenya, further north of us. SADC has tragically allowed dictators who have lost elections to stay in power through the barrel of the gun, literally.

Such leaders have bludgeoned their own people into submission to stay in power at all costs. Instead of defending the people’s vote, SADC has chosen the easiest way out: by setting up power-sharing arrangements to prop up dictators. The result is that losers have been allowed to hang on to power through the back-door. In fact, once they are back in office they begin to consolidate their grip on power and plot a way of coming back stronger at the next election.

The power-sharing experiments we have seen in Zimbabwe and Kenya have been unmitigated disasters for democracy in Africa.  They also failed the people terribly, resulting in people losing their trust in elections as an avenue of changing unwanted governments. While SADC has guidelines on how to run and manage elections, such guidelines have largely proved impotent. The biggest weakness lies in the enforcement of SADC mechanisms to uphold democracy.

That to us must change. It is for these reasons that SADC must adopt a zero-tolerance for electoral malfeasance.
The hardline stance by ECOWAS is beginning to pay dividends for the West Africa region. Over the past decade, the region has enjoyed relative peace, thanks to the position taken by the bloc.

Governments in the region are fully aware of what is expected from them and the attendant consequences of non-compliance. When leaders are tempted to hang on to power through foul means, they are left in doubt as to what they should expect from ECOWAS. The result is that West Africa has over the years seen peaceful transfer of power in Ghana and Nigeria and now The Gambia.  The threat of force always hang on the heads of leaders who might be tempted to subvert the will of the people. The result is that West Africa has prospered economically, driven by the political stability in the region.  We believe SADC can pick a few lessons from ECOWAS and adopt similar tactics to deal with rogue leaders who steal elections and seek to subvert the will of the people.

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