Gambia held elections on December 1, and opposition candidate Adama Barrow won; long-time head of state Yahya Jammeh publicly conceded. That should have been the end of the story,* but it is not, for Jammeh soon reversed himself and demand a re-run of the election. The ensuing crisis has lasted up to the present.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is mediating in the Gambia crisis, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and outgoing Ghanaian President John Mahama as Co-Mediators. ECOWAS is working to solve the crisis before January 19, the constitutionally-mandated day when the presidential inauguration must take place. ECOWAS has suggested that if diplomacy fails, a military intervention is possible.
Jammeh is widely considered to be at least partly insane, and so some will chalk his erratic behavior up to psychological factors. But there is a rational explanation for at least some of his behavior: he wants guarantees of immunity before he agrees to step down.
Indeed, some of the opposition’s/transition team’s rhetoric may have frightened him in the days after the election, prompting the public reversal. Jammeh seems to fear what many would-be “presidents-for-life” fear: that he will be punished for crimes committed in office, and stripped of ill-gotten gains.
Barrow has publicly promised that Jammeh will not be prosecuted, and that Jammeh can remain in Gambia, and the opposition has told ECOWAS that it does not plan to prosecute Jammeh, but perhaps Jammeh disbelieves such promises.
Given all that, I was struck by a report (French) on the Senegalese news aggregation platform Seneweb. The reporter claims to know Jammeh’s secret demands to ECOWAS, which are allegedly two-fold:
- Judicial immunity for Jammeh, his family, and up to 400 associates
- Financial immunity for Jammeh and his family for at least 20 years
The reporter goes on to say that ECOWAS’ offer to Jammeh is exile in a friendly country, where he would be expected to keep a low profile.
Who knows if any of this is true, especially the specifics. But I can certainly give credence to the general notion that Jammeh is negotiating, behind the scenes, for his and his associates’ immunity.
There also remains the possibility of a coup by military officers who fear that the transition, even if Jammeh secures his own protection, would leave them in the cold. Presumably ECOWAS is well aware of that possibility, and would react swiftly to a coup.
*My initial take on the election, I fear, was too rosy, but you can read it here.