In his address to the nation before a panel of African Lawyers, President Yahya Jammeh appeared erratic, broken, angry, defiant, betrayed and defensive about his decision to challenge the outcome of the elections.
To Gambians and non-Gambians alike, the man in that erratic and defiant tone on national television was a familiar face; a face of deceit, lies, greed, arrogance and disrespect for due process. From his rants about the election, to the principles of sovereignty regarding interventions by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to the United Nations (UN), none of Yahya Jammeh’s remarks makes sense. The erratic leader’s remarks mark a sharp contrast from Gambian and international governance realities.
Regarding his reasons for shifting from conceding to challenging and annulling election results, Yahya Jammeh failed to realize that his actions constitute an abuse of legislative and executive power; an act of treason as most legal luminaries opined. Under the constitution, participating political parties can only file a petition to the Supreme Court to determine the validity of the election. And such petitions do not necessarily change the outcome of the election presented by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
More baffling of all was Jammeh’s departure from his earlier assertion that the election process in The Gambia is by far the most transparent in the entire world. Jammeh’s departure from his own bragging lines and conceding defeat to transgressing constitutional procedures and principles confirms President Yahya Jammeh’s lack of respect for the people.
Reference to remarks on interventions by ECOWAS and the UN, little did Jammeh realize that there has been a change of policy on the meaning of sovereignty. The erratic president’s use of sovereignty and non-interference in dismissing calls to uphold election results is indeed a departure from contemporary meaning of sovereignty. Traditionally, the meaning of sovereignty was limited to non-interference, however, in contemporary terms sovereignty means responsibility to the people. President Jammeh got it all wrong.
By the dawn of the millennium, a response to the state abuse of power or reluctance to protect citizens in Rwanda and Srebrenica (just to name a few), triggered a new global initiative to draw the fine line between sovereignty, responsibility and intervention. In line with that thinking, former Secretary General Kofi Annan was among the first global citizens to plea to the international community to find a consensus on state sovereignty, responsibility and intervention.
In September 2000, the UN General Assembly established The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICIS). The commission comprising of twelve commissioners presented its report with the central theme “The Responsibility to Protect”
“The responsibility to protect is the idea that states have an obligation to protect their citizens from avoidable catastrophe when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states”.
The shift from sovereignty in the context of control and non-interference to sovereignty in the context of responsibility strengthened intergovernmental provisions of good governance and the rule of law in numerous way. First, state authorities are now held responsible for functions of protecting citizens. Second, state authorities are directly accountable to citizens and the international community. Third, state agents are directly responsible for their very own actions. President Jammeh’s narrow perception of sovereignty and non- interference shows his lack of interest for the legitimate concern of citizens regarding good governance, security, opportunities and progress in a changing world.
Arguably, the principle of intervention, including military intervention is justified and supported when citizens are harmed or peace and security is threatened and the state is either unwilling or unable to protect citizens, or the state is the perpetrator. These are the basis on which ECOWAS, UN and AU intervention in Gambia is justified. It was the same basis on which ECOWAS intervened in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea Bissau.
In sum, President Yahya Jammeh got it all wrong in his address to the nation. Gambians have spoken well and President-Elect Adama Barrow is entrusted with the legitimate consent and mandate to be the President of the Third Gambian Republic.
The author is at Rutgers University, Newark Campus
By Professor Binneh S. Minteh