There is always something that unites people on opposing sides…
By Tijjani Abdulsalam
It would seem that there are two stages to winning an election in this part of the planet. One, is to defeat the opponent in the polls and be announced winner. The second is for the person so defeated to ‘concede’ or ‘accept’ that defeat. Should the defeated candidate ‘accept defeat’ in peace and hand over power, then he or she is considered a hero of sorts for ‘allowing peace to reign’. Supporters will demand that their hero be awarded, or at the very least, be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, or be considered for the post of UN Secretary General! Where the defeated refuses to ‘accept defeat’, then the ‘supposed’ winner needs to understand that it is not yet uhuru.
This is where we are now in the Gambia. The incumbent, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji (only you?) Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh was surprisingly defeated in the polls of December 1 and had accepted defeat. But before you could shout Eureka!, our Sheikh Professor rejected the same results in a smart U-turn manner that would make Lewis Hamilton look like an amateur. His grouse? There were ‘serious abnormalities’ in the elections and he wants a fresh one to be conducted by a ‘God-fearing commission’, whatever that means.
I can understand Jammeh’s condition. Being given a rude shock after deciding to test his supposed popularity in the polls has been a terribly bitter pill. Now he is faced with the reality of having to relinquish power after 22 years of enjoying absolute authority. The transition from Alpha and Omega to ordinary citizenship comes with potential pitfalls; a loss of relevance in state affairs, loss of the loyalty he had commanded all through his decades in power, potential subjection of his regime to all sorts of examination, including, but not limited to, human rights abuses and press suppression, possibly corruption and more, all of which do not sound exactly funny.
There is a common two-in-one problem with most dictators like Jammeh: They have an over bloated image of themselves and an over-rated sense of relevance. They believe they are loved and adored, possibly the best things to have happened to their people. But the reality is that, after years of physical and systematic suppression, the people they govern have been psychologically battered into resignation or indifference, or worse still, Stockholm syndrome. Jammeh, for the records, is not doing anything new. He is merely reverting to the default mode dictators adopt when cracks begin to appear on the walls of their fortresses of power: hang on in there for as long as possible. He is merely doing what he, and his ilk ‘should’ have done first.
People like Jammeh do not go down easily, and when they do, they usually take a lot with them, including the system. This is because, in their decades of obsession with the trappings of power, they do not build any viable social or democratic institutions. Instead, they build a strong personality cult and ensure that the functionality of the entire system depends on them. The army is usually built and equipped to protect perpetuity with fierce loyalty. Should trouble come, he is assured that the army, or at least a large part of it, will stand by him. There are also the tools of ethnic and religious incitement which can readily be deployed if need be.
Well, too late for Jammeh. It is no more about whether he’ll go or not. It is about how. ECOWAS and the AU have all issued statements in favour of the President-elect, Adama Barrow, and the UN Security Council has spoken in the same vein. The Gambia is not a Syria or Iran, and he is not exactly an Assad, so it is practically impossible to expect any ‘Russian backing’ or any sort of UN Security Council impasse that would favor him when the chips are down. While the world waits to see what will happen after January 19, I don’t think anyone will lose any sleep in giving him a dose of the Gbagbo treatment if push comes to shove.
Tijjani Abdulsalam is a Lagos based political affairs enthusiast. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org