On Gambia and ECOWAS for World Politics Review

Today’s post, on the role that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) played in the Gambia’s recent crisis, is outsourced to World Politics Review (paywalled). An excerpt:

Do ECOWAS’ actions in Gambia’s crisis show a growing willingness by the bloc to use force against West African leaders who overstay their welcome? Likely not. The overall trend in West Africa from the past decade suggests that ECOWAS takes political crises case by case, and that its default mode is to proceed cautiously.

If you read the whole piece, please share your reactions in the comments section below.

The Gambia: What Happens to Yahya Jammeh?

Last week, the Gambia’s post-electoral crisis came to a formal and relatively peaceful end. President Adama Barrow, who won election in December, took the oath of office at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, on January 19, the constitutionally-mandated transition day. (You can watch the full ceremony here.)

Outgoing president and long-time ruler Yahya Jammeh had disputed the election results and refused to leave power. But Jammeh finally bowed to domestic, regional, and international pressure: he left the Gambia on January 21. It seems he may have taken a lot with him – as much as $11.4 million, if the Barrow team’s information is correct.

What comes next for Jammeh? That partly depends on what deals were struck between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Jammeh, and Barrow. As I wrote in an earlier post, rumors in the Senegalese press held that Jammeh was pushing for full immunity – financial and criminal – for himself, his family, and hundreds of associates.

There are contradictory signs about whether such a deal is in place. The joint statement from ECOWAS, the African Union, and the United Nations seemed to be not-so-subtly urging Barrow to avoid pursuing charges against Jammeh and his associates. An excerpt:

ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that it assures and ensures the dignity, respect, security and rights of HE former President Jammeh, as a citizen, a party leader and a former Head of State as provided for and guaranteed by the 1997 Gambian Constitution and other Laws of The Gambia.

Further, ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that it fully guarantees, assures and ensures the dignity, security, safety and rights of former President Jammeh’s immediate family, cabinet members, government officials, Security Officials and party supporters and loyalists.
ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that no legislative measures are taken by it that would be inconsistent with the previous two paragraphs.
ECOWAS, the AU and the UN urge the Government of The Gambia to take all necessary measures to assure and ensure that there is no intimidation, harassment and/or witch-hunting of former regime members and supporters, in conformity with the Constitution and other laws of The Gambia.

The relevant section of the Gambian Constitution is Chapter VI, Article 69 (.pdf).

The joint statement sounds a lot like immunity for Jammeh, and a strong signal from the international community to Barrow to leave Jammeh and his people alone.

But there are other signals from Barrow’s camp:

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Barrow said he wanted to create a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate allegations of human rights abuses during Mr Jammeh’s time in office.

This pledge is not nearly as strong as the promises of prosecution that came from Barrow’s team in December. Perhaps a truth and reconciliation committee would be more an exercise in collective memory and honesty than a body empowered to prosecute people and seize assets. But it is clear that Barrow does not seem to simply wish to move on.

African leaders’ attitudes toward Jammeh are affected, it seems to me, by two basic considerations. First, as ECOWAS’ posture makes clear, Jammeh was widely disliked and mistrusted by his peers. The swiftness and decisiveness of ECOWAS’ rejection of Jammeh, including its rapid deployment of troops to enforce its directive, does not represent the usual posture of African heads of state toward their peers. Jammeh’s fall was not inevitable; had he been more popular and had he managed things differently, he would likely still be in power.

But second, even though they dislike him, some African heads of state have an incentive to see that Jammeh is not prosecuted. Penalties for Jammeh and his associates would set a precedent where African heads of state are held accountable for crimes committed in office (or, if one counts the trial of Hissene Habre in neighboring Senegal, Jammeh’s prosecution would strengthen that precedent). I suspect, too, that the prospect of domestic punishment worries other autocrats more than the prospect of trial at the International Criminal Court or some other international forum. So it seems that some of Africa’s “presidents for life” will feel better about their own retirement prospects if Jammeh can enjoy a peaceful exile somewhere, without facing charges in his own country.

For my own part, I think that he should be held accountable to the extent possible under the Gambian Constitution. But the matter is for the new president and the Gambian people to decide.

The Situation in Gambia on Inauguration Eve

Tomorrow is the Gambia’s inauguration day, and it is clear that incumbent President Yahya Jammeh has no plans to step down. Jammeh initially recognized the results of the December 1 election and conceded to opposition candidate Adama Barrow, but then reversed himself, generating the present crisis.

Barrow remains in Senegal under official protection from the national gendarmerie (French). Plans to inaugurate Barrow are proceeding, but the inauguration may take place at a Gambian embassy (likely the one in Senegal), which is technically Gambian territory. Here is Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama explaining:

An embassy is a territory of a particular country that that embassy represents. The constitution provides for a swearing-in by a judge of a superior court and there are a number of those that are available.

The inauguration will, in the eyes of other West African leaders, the African Union, and most of the international community, make Barrow the recognized president of the Gambia. Enforcing that recognition is another matter. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is openly talking about a military intervention in the Gambia to remove Jammeh, but it is unclear how seriously and quickly West African leaders would move to launch such an intervention. Nigeria’s decision to send a warship to the Gambia could be one sign of seriousness.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS continues to urge Jammeh to step down peacefully and accept asylum in the region, possibly in Nigeria.

Inside the Gambia, Jammeh is attempting to forcefully assert his rule, notably by declaring a 90-day state of emergency on January 17. Jammeh has already begun to clamp down on dissent, shutting down radio stations and harassing Barrow’s supporters – one of whom, the mayor of the capital Banjul, has fled to Senegal.

Jammeh’s crackdown and refusal to leave power, however, are beginning to produce major dissent from within his own government. At least five ministers – communications, foreign affairs, finance, trade, and environment – have resigned from Jammeh’s cabinet. (You can read the foreign affairs minister’s letter to Jammeh here.) Their departures represent a real loss of confidence in Jammeh, and suggest that many Gambian elites feel he will eventually lose his struggle against Barrow and ECOWAS. Meanwhile, other institutions are also bucking Jammeh’s authority – the head of the Independent Electoral Commission remains outside the country, and the Supreme Court is refusing to hear Jammeh’s petition to overturn the election results. In a sense, the Court’s decision gives Jammeh a pretext for staying in power – he says that he must wait until the Court rules, which might not be until May – but in another sense the Court’s posture shows that it is unwilling to help him in any legal maneuvering.

The crackdown is making ordinary Gambians fearful, and many are reportedly fleeing for Senegal.

Tomorrow, then, may bring Barrow’s inauguration abroad, and Jammeh’s refusal to step down. It will be ECOWAS’ move then.

Gambia Updates – One Week Out from Inauguration Day

The electoral crisis in Gambia has continued. President Yahya Jammeh continues to reject the results of the December 1 election. For background, he initially accepted his loss and conceded before reversing himself, likely partly out of fear that the new administration would hold him legally accountable for human rights violations and financial crimes.

The countdown to inauguration day, January 19, continues. Jammeh’s procedural maneuvers for blocking the transition appear to be failing. On January 10, Gambia’s Supreme Court declined to rule on Jammeh’s legal suit connected to the election. The Court says it cannot decide on the case until May, or even November, due to the absence of a quorum – several members of the court are foreigners who say that they cannot travel to Gambia until May at the earliest.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on behind the scenes with the Court, but the possibilities are intriguing. The quorum issue may be a clever political maneuver by Nigeria, whose President Muhammadu Buhari is the lead regional negotiator in the Gambia crisis. From the Nigerian press:

When the case came up for hearing on Tuesday, the court, which required five judges before it can adjudicate on matters brought before it, had only one judge – the country’s Chief Judge, Emmanuel Fagbenle, a Nigerian.

Mr. Fagbenle said Tuesday’s sitting was for “housekeeping purposes.”

He announced that the court could not constitute the required quorum to hear the petition because Nigeria and Sierra Leone declined Gambia’s request to send judges to adjudicate on the petition.

The Gambia relies on judges and other judicial officials from other West African countries due to shortage of qualified officials in its judiciary.

Mr. Fagbenle said the country made a request for judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone since last August, but that the countries’ judicial authorities said they could not send judges outside the usual May and November judicial sessions as they did not anticipate the rescheduled January session.

[…]

Stating that there was no foreseeable judicial means of resolving the dispute before the January 19 inauguration of the President-elect, Mr. Fagbenle advised the contesting parties to look towards the ongoing mediation by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as a viable alternative to resolving the dispute.

An ECOWAS team is scheduled to visit Gambia and meet Jammeh this Friday (January 13), but Jammeh appears defiant and unwilling to step down.

As the Court rebuffs Jammeh, other institutions are protecting themselves from Jammeh in less subtle ways – the head of the Independent Electoral Commission,Alieu Momar Njai, fled the country on January 3.

With the possibility of overturning the election in the courts or through the commission blocked, Jammeh may resort to a coup. The head of Gambia’s armed forces, General Ousman Badjie, has publicly pledged his support to Jammeh. Jammeh has already moved to clamp down on dissent, for example by shutting radio stations.

Nevertheless, President-Elect Adama Barrow has stated that he will take office on January 19, that is, next Thursday. It promises to be a hectic week for the Gambia.

Gambia: Yahya Jammeh’s Conditions?

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.

Headlines out of Today’s ECOWAS Summit

Between May 15 and 19 (today), Ghana has hosted three important meetings for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): (1) an Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers from May 15-16; (2) a Session of the Mediation and Security Council on May 17; and (3) a Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on May 19.

The Council of Ministers is made up of member states’ Ministers in charge of ECOWAS Affairs, while the Mediation and Security Council is composed of member states’ Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense. More details about the agendas for these meetings can be found here, with additional information on the Heads of State summit here. I should note also that Ghana’s President John Mahama has been the ECOWAS Chairman since 2014.

Here are some key takeaways, readouts, and headlines from the meetings:

  • Term limits: “West African leaders on Tuesday rejected a proposal to impose a region-wide limit to the number of terms presidents can serve, after opposition to the idea from Togo and Gambia, Ghana’s foreign minister said.”
  • Mahama’s remarks/Jonathan’s farewell: Reiterating his earlier praise for Nigeria’s “historic elections,” Chairman Mahama lauded President Goodluck Jonathan for his “mature statesmanship” in conceding defeat, and “salute[d]” President-elect Muhammadu Buhari for his victory. You can read Jonathan’s remarks at the summit here.
  • Youth Employment: Mahama also urged greater focus on job creation for youth, saying, “considering the fact that we have the fastest growing youth population; young people are coming out of school at every level of the educational system in the hope of finding jobs, it’s going to be a major hurdle for us.”
  • Common External Tariff: “Regarding the [ECOWAS Common External Tariff or CET], which entered into force in January this year, the Commission indicated that as at 30 April 2015, only eight Member States had started the implementation, namely, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, with the remaining seven countries, lagging behind due to various reasons, such as legal requirements, public health and other technical considerations. Council commended the eight Member States and urged the remaining seven to take the necessary steps to ensure effective implementation of the CET before the end of the year in accordance with the decision of the Authority of Heads of State and Government.”

In West Africa and Paris, Chad’s President Idriss Deby Calls for Clarity on Military Intervention in Mali

Chadian President Idriss Deby has made several forceful calls recently for clarity on plans for a possible military intervention in Mali. Deby’s met Tuesday with Boni Yayi, President of Benin (and Chairman of the AU), and Malian Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra. Deby told reporters:

“It’s up to the Malians to tell us as clearly as possible what kind of support they expect from Africa, beyond what has been done by [the Economic Community of West African States, of which Chad is not a member], and what kind of contribution they expect of Chad.”

He and the AU called formally for the UN to authorize a military intervention in Mali (see a timeline of steps toward intervention in Mali here).

On Wednesday, Deby met with French President Francois Hollande in Paris. A military intervention in Mali was one of the central subjects they discussed. This was the first time the two men had met face to face, but not the first time they had discussed Mali: on July 5, the Presidents had a telephone conversation on the topic. Jeune Afrique (French) reported that at the time Deby gave his conditional support to the idea. But he recommended that the framework of the intervention be broadened beyond ECOWAS to include the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN), with Western powers’ logistical support. “Under these conditions, Chad could participate,” he reportedly said. Since that time, the AU has signed on, and some Western powers (including France) have indicated they would support an intervention logistically, but the UN Security Council has yet to approve the force.

On Wednesday, following his meeting with Hollande, Deby spoke (French) of “total confusion” on the issue of Mali coming from ECOWAS, the UN, and Mali itself, confusion concerning the military option as well as the option of negotiations. Nonetheless he reaffirmed Chad’s intention to work “alongside the Malians so that Mali may recover its territorial integrity.” Deby’s statements in Paris tracked closely with his remarks the preceding day.