By John Bosco Nizeimana
John Bosco Nizeimana is currently a visiting researcher at Georgetown University-School of Foreign Services in the Department of African Studies (Washington DC, US). Bosco holds a Master of Science degree in International Relations from the University of Zimbabwe. He previously worked as full-time Associate Lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, in the Deptartment of Political and Administrative Studies. He is a PhD student in South Africa, at Rhodes University, researching the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect norm in Sudan and Libya.
The outcome of the December 2016 Gambian presidential elections took the world by surprise. After 22 years in power, Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office. In July 2017, Gambians celebrated Jammeh’s political announcement in which he accepted the election results, conceded defeat, and congratulated the new President, Adam Barrow, promising a smooth transition of power. Jammeh’s decision was applauded worldwide and was seen as the most important step towards democracy in Africa, and in The Gambia in particular, since the country has achieved no peaceful transition of power through national elections since its independence.
Two of the major electoral promises made by Barrow were to reverse The Gambia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court and to reinstate the country’s membership of the Commonwealth. Barrow’s promises angered Jammeh who soon after he accepted defeat went against his initial declaration and declared that, ultimately, he was not going to accept the election results. He vowed to fight against what he called “external interference in the politics of The Gambia” and threatened bloodshed if force was used to eject him from office. His declaration was followed by the announcement of a 90-day countrywide state of emergency.
Across The Gambia, there were fears of political unrest, civil war, and massive human rights violations. The UN Security Council, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed their concern and called for Jammeh to step down. Despite this, Jammeh’s refused to step down, creating a situation that brought The Gambia at the centre stage of global attention.
The situation in The Gambia was of concern to the international community, particularly ECOWAS and the UN. In his June 10th, 2016, statement, the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, noted that President Jammeh referred to the Mandinka, an African ethnic group with a strong presence in the Gambia, as “enemies, foreigners, and threatened to kill them one day and place them where even a fly cannot see them”. Dieng condemned Jammeh’s “public stigmatisation, dehumanisation and threats against the Mandinka” and warned about the danger of such statements that can contribute to dividing populations, feed suspicion and serve to instigate violence against communities based solely on their identity. Continue reading