By Professor Binneh s Minteh
As Heads of States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) converged for their annual meeting at the Senegalese capital, Dakar, one controversial, but familiar leader was noticeably absent from the colorful occasion. This controversial leader was no one else than the flamboyant and megalomaniac Gambian Leader, President Yaya Jammeh.
The historic meeting convened at a time, when the Government of President Jammeh is faced with mounting national and international pressure for deteriorating civil and political liberties. In the past month, the main opposition party, the United Democratic Party(UDP) in collaboration with other opposition and civil society groups embarked on weekly protests, demanding the unconditional release of detained opposition leader, Lawyer Ousainou Darboe and other detained political activists: dead or alive.
Throughout his two decades of iron fist rule, President Jammeh notoriously cracked down on dissent, burning media houses, arresting, torturing, murdering opponents, including journalists. Today, most of the country’s prominent journalists have fled for fear of persecution.
Nonetheless, controversy is not new about the Gambian leader. He claimed to have a cure for HIV /AIDS, withdrew The Gambia from the Commonwealth and intermittently threatens to bury his opponents 6 -9 feet deep while vowing to rule for a billion years. Similarly, he repeatedly bashes at the “West” as enemies working to destabilize his rule. For example following a press release from the United Nations Secretary General expressing concerns about the detention and torture of peaceful protesters, and an Amnesty International report on the appalling human rights situation in the Gambia, President Jammeh responded by saying ” the UN Secretary General and Amnesty International can go to hell “.
Similarly, as preparations for ECOWAS heads of states were well underway, President Jammeh once again, at a political rally in the Gambia, threatened to kill members of the ethnic Mandinka group like ants. Throughout his two decades rule, President Jammeh has repeatedly used such divisive political strategies by specifically singling out, threatening and using abusive language against ethnic Mandinkas. This threat came at a time when the Gambian born International Criminal Court ( ICC ) Chief Prosecutor, Mrs Bensouda during an interview with the West Africa Democracy Radio ( WADR), irresponsibly outlined that political violence in The Gambia is not grave enough for ICC intervention through investigation or the form of expressing concerns.
Mrs Bensouda’s remarks were not the least surprising to most Gambians : she worked as a legal advisor to the Military Junta that brought President Jammeh to power in 1994 and served as Attorney General and Minister of Justice for President Jammeh at a time when grave violations of human rights took place in the Gambia, including the brutal murder of former Finance Minister, Ousman Koro Ceesay, whose charred remains was found in his burnt-out Mercedes Benz under a bridge, and the brutal shooting deaths of unarmed student demonstrators.
President Jammeh’s absence at the ECOWAS meeting did not come as a surprise either to most analysts and citizens in the region and across the world for two reasons. Firstly, the Criminal State in West Africa is defeated, and the Gambian leader is increasingly isolated, since all his former allies once heads of criminal states in the region are either ousted, dead or facing international prosecution. Secondly, ECOWAS has made considerable progress in promoting people centered governance within the framework of democratic tenets and principles, and President Jammeh’s view of governance is a stark contrast to that reality.
Perhaps the absence of President Yaya Jammeh at the ECOWAS meeting is another confirmation that the problems in the Gambia are largely caused by the controversial nature of the Gambian leader. ECOWAS must ask for the resignation of President Yaya Jammeh for the interest of peace and stability in the region.