A Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the Gambia

When Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh finally gave up power in January after having lost the December 2016 presidential election, one looming question for the administration of Gambia’s new President Adama Barrow concerned accountability: Should Jammeh and his team be punished for their abuses of power, and if so how? Jammeh, on his way out, appeared to have negotiated some form of immunity for himself (and perhaps for dozens or even hundreds of family members and associates) as part of a deal with West African leaders. Jammeh is now in Equatorial Guinea and likely beyond the reach of Gambian (or international) prosecutors. Meanwhile, Barrow’s team has, since December, sent mixed signals about its intentions vis-a-vis the previous regime: some of Barrow’s people indicated an intention to investigate and punish abuses, whereas Barrow himself favored a truth and reconciliation commission.

On March 24, Barrow’s Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou announced that the administration will create such a commission. According to Tambadou, the commission will investigate human rights abuses and financial wrongdoing. It is unclear to me whether perpetrators of abuses will face criminal penalties, but Tambadou said that victims would receive compensation. Tambadou gave a six-month timeline for the creation of the commission. As part of the preparations, Gambian authorities intend to study past commissions from other countries, including the famous commission in South Africa. Deustsche Welle has more details on the proposed process:

Initially, victims are to be invited to give the commission an account of their experiences. But  it will be two years before even preliminary findings are forthcoming. Tambadou has appealed to Gambians to be patient. Many are expecting that the rapid political transformation the country has undergone will lead to equally swift changes in all other walks of life. Reforms cannot be enacted overnight, Tambadou said. Not even in the new Gambia.

The commission has support not just of the president, but of segments of the press and civil society. One interesting argument for the commission appeared earlier this month in The Point. The author suggests that the commission’s importance has to do less with the past than with shaping the future, namely by foreclosing the possibility of Jammeh’s return.

It is hard to contemplate but should by no means be dismissed out of hand that wherever he is, Yahya Jammeh is nursing hopes of making some kind of triumphant return to The Gambia. He must be scheming and plotting and exploring just how he could use whatever financial muscle and local human capital he has to return to Banjul, even to State House so he can teach Gambians a lesson they would never forget. Some of us would think that this is too far-fetched to merit serious consideration. But in my humble opinion, it is not at all farfetched that Jammeh is certainly dreaming of making a return to Banjul sooner rather than later. Whether he does so or not depends on how our political situation evolves over the next three years and the extent to which the real Jammeh is brought out into the open for all to see and recognize.

[…]

Making it impossible for Jammeh to come back to The Gambia or the APRC from coming to power ever again requires practical realpolitik from Barrow’s coalition government. Appropriate and rigorous enquiries into the activities of the ousted despot, his enablers and his party must be started immediately, and findings of any and all wrong doing must be vigorously and consistently publicized and discussed on national media. Jammeh’s crimes are so horrendous that when they are exposed and laid bare for all to see, even some of his most die-hard supporters might think twice about ever associating themselves with him or his party. The much touted truth and reconciliation commission needs to be established without delay, its deliberations opened to the public and streamed live on public and social media.

The columnist’s words are not idle. Barrow recently asked neighboring Senegal, a strong backer of his administration, to send more troops to the Gambia. Barrow explained, “Twenty-two years is a long time, [Jammeh] still has influence, he has his friends in Gambia. We need the Senegalese to stabilise that security situation so that we can reform, train our military. This is very important because we cannot do this if the government doesn’t have enough security.” The announcement of the truth and reconciliation commission, then, comes at a time when even the president is worried about what Jammeh’s remaining loyalists might attempt, should the opportunity present itself.

Gambia’s Next Major Political Milestone: Parliamentary Elections in April

This week, the Gambian and Senegalese (French) press both reported that the Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has confirmed 6 April 2017 as the date for the country’s National Assmebly elections. Municipal elections are confirmed for 12 April 2018. I have not been able to find the IEC’s statement online, but its website does feature a countdown clock for the elections.

The Gambia’s constitution (.pdf, Chapter VII, Part 1) mandates that National Assembly should have fifty-three members, forty-eight of them elected and five appointed by the president. The National Assembly’s website lists fifty-one current members.

The final days of former President Yahya Jammeh’s rule, in January, saw mass resignations from the cabinet but not from parliament. Indeed, the National Assembly remained strongly loyal to Jammeh, approving a ninety-day extension of his tenure as well as a ninety-day state of emergency.

By my count, forty-four of the fifty-one members listed online belong to Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction. It will be interesting to see how that party fares without him, and how new President Adama Barrow gets along with an APRC-dominated parliament for the next two months.

To conclude, it’s worth revisiting this comment that Peter Penar made to Deutsche Welle last month:

In previous parliamentary elections, Jammeh’s party held all but one parliamentary seat. So he has a lot of loyalists in parliament. In the up-coming legislative elections, there is a chance that he could come back in some sort of form. This would be very destabilizing. So ECOWAS would be very concerned about Jammeh’s potential return to politics.

 

The Gambia: The Logic of Adama Barrow’s Cabinet

Yesterday, a list of new Gambian President Adama Barrow’s cabinet was released on Twitter. I believe it to be genuine, although there has been some uncertainty about whether Barrow’s account is really his or not. Here is the list:

  • Ousainou Darboe, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Hamat Bah, Minister of Tourism and Culture
  • Omar Amadou Jallow, Minister of Agriculture
  • Mai Ahmad Fatty, Minister of Interior
  • Henry Gomez, Minister of Youth and Sports
  • Lamin Dibba, Minister of Forestry, Environment and Natural Resources
  • Isatou Touray, Minister of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment
  • Amadou Sanneh, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs
  • James Gomez, Minister of Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters

Some of the names on the list will be familiar to readers of last week’s post on the people close to Barrow. Recall that Barrow was the candidate of a seven-party opposition coalition. Bah, Fatty, Jallow, Henry Gomez, and James Gomez are leaders of individual parties within that coalition, and one assumes that Halifa Sallah will remain spokesman. If my count is right, that means that each of the seven parties got a major post. And one party got more: Darboe, Dibba, and Sanneh, who were still political prisoners at the time of the December 1 presidential election, are long-time leaders within Barrow’s own United Democratic Party (UDP).

Touray was another opposition candidate for president, who withdrew in favor of Barrow.

In other words, Barrow has formed a cabinet that attempts to reward and preserve the coalition that brought him to power, while giving the UDP preeminence.

Relatedly, Niklas Hultin has “the five big questions facing the New Gambia’s new government.”

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: Key People Around President Adama Barrow

Now that the path has been cleared for Adama Barrow to serve as the Gambia’s president, it’s worth taking a look at his team. Here are a few key members:

  • Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang: Barrow announced his pick of Tambajang on January 23. As this bio (French) and this bio describe, she is a long-time development practitioner, human rights activist, and opposition politician. She was an adviser to Gambia’s first president, Dawda Jawara, and served in the 1990s as a cabinet minister under outgoing President Yahya Jammeh. In the lead-up to the 2016 election, she was asked to serve as a mediator between the opposition parties working to form a coalition, and was elected president of the coalition. As Al Jazeera points out, “She made headlines last month when she told The Guardian newspaper that Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, would be prosecuted for alleged crimes committed by his regime.” Given some uncertainty about whether the Barrow administration will attempt to hold Jammeh accountable, it’s noteworthy that Tambajang is already on the record on the issue.
  • Mai Fatty: Fatty is a special adviser to Barrow, a member of Barrow’s transition team, and a leader within the coalition behind him. A lawyer and opposition activist, Fatty founded an opposition party, Gambia Moral Congress (GMC), in 2009. The GMC was one of seven parties that came together to back Barrow in October 2016.
  • Halifa Sallah: Sallah is Barrow’s main spokesman. Within Barrow’s coalition, Sallah represents the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism, whose activism dates to the 1980s.
  • Other key leaders of parties within the coalition include Hamat Bah of the National Reconciliation Party and Lamin Bojang of the National Convention Party. Barrow himself comes from the United Democratic Party.

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 Gambia: Who Is Left in Yahya Jammeh’s Cabinet?

Today, the Gambia’s internationally recognized president, Adama Barrow, took the oath of office at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal. The incumbent, non-recognized president, Yayha Jammeh, remains in power in the Gambia. But Jammeh is quickly losing the support of his own circle: his vice president and some nine cabinet ministers have resigned.

Here is the list of resignations (sources: Reuters, The Point):

  • Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy, in office since 1997
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs Neneh MacDouall-Gaye, foreign affairs minister
  • Minister of Finance Abdou Kolley
  • Minister of Information Sheriff Bojang
  • Minister of Trade, Regional Integration, and Employment Abdou Jobe,
  • Minister of Tourism Benjamin Roberts
  • Minister of Health Omar Sey
  • Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Parks and Wildlife Pa Ousman Jarju
  • Minister of Youth and Sports Alieu Jammeh

Who does that leave in the cabinet? According to a cached copy of the government’s official website, Jammeh had a twenty-member cabinet as of early January, which included him, the vice president, the secretary general, the head of civil service, and sixteen ministers (with Jammeh taking at least one portfolio, Defence).

Jammeh is quickly replacing some of those who resign, although the cascade of resignations has made for constant reshuffling – Roberts, for example, had been moved from Tourism to Finance just two days before he resigned.

Here are some of the remaining officials and new appointees:

  • Musa Jallow, Head of the Civil Service and Minister of Presidential Affairs
  • John Gabriel Gomez, Minister of Youth and Sports (appointed January 9)
  • Seedy S.K. Njie, Minister of Information (appointed January 9)
  • Momodou Alieu Bah, Minister of the Interior
  • Bala Garba Jahumpa, Minister of Transport
  • Ebrima Njie, Deputy Minister of Works and Infrastructure
  • Fatima Singhateh, Attorney General and Minister of Justice
  • Musa Amul Nyassi, Minister of Lands and Regional Government

The list is undoubtedly inaccurate in part. Wikipedia gives a somewhat different list, which includes a few different names and few more portfolios.

The point is that Jammeh has lost about half of his cabinet. The rationale for resigning is not hard to follow: cabinet members are putting their fingers to the wind and deciding that either (a) Jammeh is bound to fall, and they don’t want to fall with him or (b) if Jammeh stays, he will be so isolated that their lives will become extremely unpleasant. Either way, sticking with Jammeh is clearly seen, increasingly, as a career-killer – and there is international acclaim to be won even for those who jump ship at the last minute.

So far, the defections are limited to the cabinet (and the mayor of Banjul) – and have not extended significantly to the parliament, which has approved both a ninety-day state of emergency and a ninety-day extension of Jammeh’s term. Nor have the defections extended to senior military, although Chief of Defence Staff General Ousman Badjie has reportedly said that his soldiers will not fight with forces from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should they intervene to topple Jammeh.

Between the political defections and the military’s reluctance to fight ECOWAS, it looks increasingly like Jammeh’s days are numbered.

If you have any additional/better information about the remaining cabinet members, I urge you to share it in the comments.