Last week was soaked in political tension. The dictator Yahya Jammeh that ruled Gambia as a fiefdom in the last 22 years and who lost the last December election first refused to accept the appeal of the ECOWAS leaders to respect the wishes of the Gambian People. The ECOWAS mediation team led by President Muhammadu Buhari visited Jammeh several times but he remained adamant. Rather, he declared a state of emergency all over The Gambia, rebuffed and threatened ECOWAS and the international community. He even got his legislature to grant him a 90-day extension of his term.
In response ECOWAS amassed an intervention military force to go and force him out. Time ticked and there was apprehension everywhere. Some Gambians took flight as they did not want to become collaterals to the imminent forced eviction of the sit-tight rogue leader. Nigerians began to worry about the fate of Nigerians living in The Gambia and pressure was brought upon the government to plan an ordered evacuation of Nigerians. Meanwhile the African Union (AU) and subsequently the United Nations (UN) all rose in support of the ECOWAS stand: Jammeh must go! Then came the 19th of January and Mr Adama Barrow was sworn in as the new President of The Gambia in the Gambian embassy in Dakar Senegal. Jammeh sat tight in the Presidential Palace in the Banjul, perhaps trusting in his 900man-strong army or in his ‘occult’ power as a traditional medicine man to keep him in power. He was then given a deadline of 12noon on the 20th. of Jan to step down and run. The military operation seemed inevitable but the consequences were indeterminate. The world worried about collateral damage to civilians and possible refugee fall out.
When his army Chief and tribesman General Ousman Badjie announced that he would not fight against the ECOWAS troops, Jammeh came to his senses and began to make belated demands through the Leaders of Guinea and Mauritania, which were hitherto offered him on a platter of gold. Those demands which included amnesty against future trials and the leave to go and live in his country home were out rightly rejected by ECOWAS. Eventually the coward stepped down and went into exile, saving himself from suffering the fate of Gbagbo in Cote’ De Ivoire, or Sadam Hussein of Iraq or even Muamar Ghadaffi of Libya. Gambians, West Africans and indeed the rest of the world breathed down, that at last diplomacy supported by show of power achieved the enthronement of democracy in The Gambia without firing a shot and without the loss of innocent lives. Kudos to ECOWAS & the AU! Another milestone in the maturity of democracy in Africa has been achieved.
The tension last week was not limited to West Africa. It extended to the United States of America where the billionaire businessman, now turned politician, Donald J. Trump who won the last November election was billed to become President. Many Americans (North, Central & South) had apprehensions of what would happen after Donald became President. He himself had promoted the inauguration on 20th of January as a unique event not seen before. He had promised to do several things on his first day in office. What would he do? Immediate deportation of illegal aliens? Immediate ban on Muslims entering America? Closure of the border with Mexico until the wall was built? Immediate order for the arrest of Hilary Clinton or immediate withdrawal from NATO, or declaration of trade war with China? Even his supporters were not sure of what he would do or say. Since he claimed that he wrote his inaugural speech, even his fellow Republicans, especially the establishment must have been saying silent prayers that he did not say or do anything on Inauguration Day that would embarrass every person!
Then the 20th of January came. At 12noon, Donald John Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. It was a great milestone. As President Barak Obama, the first black American President took a graceful exit after accomplishing several milestones and leaving America with a great economy, 2.3% GDP growth in the 3rd quarter, an unemployment rate of 4.5%, a completely contrasting character stepped in. Did he disappoint with his inaugural speech? Certainly there were no such proclamations as had been feared. But his “America First” speech contained all the elements of what we feared. “We are taking back our country” can be interpreted to mean that all those not ‘real Americans’ should get ready to be pushed to the background or be shipped out. “We will only buy made in America or hire only Americans” speaks to the looming discrimination and trade wars ahead. He accused the politicians of being selfish and said he was returning power to the ordinary folks! But most of his cabinet nominees are billionaires and the movers and shakers of the economy. The populist appeal sounded like a campaign effort. Indeed at the inauguration ball he still called some of his countrymen enemies. Indeed the speech was a well dressed echo of the campaign slogans, only delivered in a quieter and more measured tone. Did the tensions die with the inauguration? You bet!
There were protesters on the Inauguration Day, but that was assumed to be just part of the American democracy. But no one truly anticipated the women’s marches that erupted the next day- President Trump’s first full day at work. Mostly women, and many men wearing pink hats gathered in their thousands in many cities in all the 50 states of the USA and extending to several cities elsewhere in the World- London, Paris, Bonn, New Zealand, Melbourne & Sydney Australia, Bangkok, etc. I am yet to see a President who starts his presidency with such a low approval rating of 40% both in the country and internationally and seems to have no opportunity for a honey moon. What a landmark! At the same time, Barak Obama leaves office with high approval ratings of over 60%. What a milestone!
One thing is certain; the tensions of last week have generally mellowed. The worst never happened. But democracy was in full bloom last week as the world watched what happened in a tiny West African country and what happened in the most powerful country of the world. I believe the days ahead for both the Gambia and the USA will be quite exciting. But if both new Presidents live up to the expectations of their peoples, promoting world peace and development, humanity will have gained from the tensions of last week. But if they disappoint and end up making the situations of their countries worse than what they are taking over or making the world a more dangerous place to live in, then history will be hard on them. Our prayer is that they succeed, unite their peoples and make the World a better place!
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR