It was quite a surprise to many Gambians when they heard President Yahya Jammeh on his return from the recent Ecowas summit in the Ivorian political capital, Yamousoukro, describe the summit as “one of the most successful” considering his usual indifference to the regional bloc.
This is therefore quite a positive departure from his usual position, often heaping criticisms on Ecowas, especially after it refused to send an observer mission to the last presidential elections, describing the process leading to the polls as flawed and therefore the election was not going to be free and fair. That of course infuriated President Jammeh and since then, he seems to have snubbed the regional bloc until recently when he again started attending its summits. Probably he has now realized that the Gambia needs Ecowas more than it needs the Gambia.
We have all seen how the Jammeh regime had been manifesting its lack of respect and open contempt for Ecowas decisions. A good case in point had been the decision to ignore judgments of the Ecowas Community Court in favour of two Gambian journalists. We can all recall the cases involving Chief Ebrima Manneh, who ‘disappeared’ since 2006 when he was arrested by the security forces, as well as Musa Saidykhan, who was detained and tortured by the same security forces. In both cases, the Gambia government was found culpable by the Community Court and ordered to pay compensations to the two journalists as well as to release Manneh.
While in the case of Saidykhan, the government appeared as a defendant, but in that of Manneh, they refused to even defend it, and in both instances, they chose to ignore the court orders.
However, most Gambians also felt quite let down by the outcome of the Ecowas summit as they expected the Gambia’s lack of adherence to the Ecowas Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance and its flawed electoral process to be put on the summit agenda. While in their final communiqué, the heads of state commended those countries that held credible elections in the past two years, as well as expressed concern about certain developments in the sub-region, but there was never any mention of what is going on in the Gambia.
Therefore, most Gambians no doubt feel abandoned to their fate by the failure of both Ecowas and the African Union to put their predicament on their agenda, especially in view of the arbitrary arrests and indefinite detentions, and the frequent prosecutions over very flimsy charges like ‘giving false information to a public official’, in addition to the blatant refusal by the Gambian authorities to carry out the most basic electoral reforms.
Instead of Ecowas and the AU working in tandem to put pressure on the Gambian regime to open up and allow the people their basic freedoms as enshrined in the constitution, the two organizations seem to be operating from different platforms, and as a result, giving conflicting signals. A good case in point was the last presidential election in which the two organizations openly contradicted each other. While Ecowas decided not to send an observer mission to the Gambia because the process leading to the polls was flawed and therefore the election was not going to be free and fair, the AU on the other hand not only sent an observer mission but its head of mission even congratulated President Jammeh for winning a free and fair election.
This sort of situation no doubt leaves many Gambians not only confused but also let down when those to whom they look up to for deliverance are not themselves speaking the same language.
While many Gambians no doubt welcome President Jammeh’s apparent volte-face on Ecowas by attending its summits, others feel that his main objective for attending the Yamousoukro summit may have been with the hope that he would be elected Ecowas chairman to replace Alassane Ouattara. Therefore, he may have been disappointed when Ouattara was re-election for another term. It is indeed hard to imagine the Ecowas leaders ever entrusting that position to President Jammeh when he has shown his regime’s lack of respect for the Ecowas principles and adherence to democracy and good governance.