By Tafi Mhaka
It is time for world leaders to stop mollycoddling a ruthless dictator like Yayha Jammeh. They wined and dined with the man for 22 years. They hosted him in the capitals of Europe and Africa, as long-suffering Gambians fled their country in huge numbers for safety and economic reasons.
Jammeh and his wife posed for photographs alongside Barrack and Michelle Obama at the White House in 2014. So he has had more than his proverbial 15 minutes of fame – and all he has done with it, since the last century, is suppress basic rights and freedoms in his country.
World leaders did not question his legitimacy as he rode roughshod over democratic norms and principles, in a quasi-military dictatorship, for over two decades. Now, President-elect Adam Barrow, who should be inaugurated on January 18, is pledging not to prosecute Jammeh if he leaves office when his legal mandate expires.
Is Barrow serious? Does he expect the same Jammeh who staged a bloody coup in 1995 to go quietly for the sake of democracy? Any sweetheart deals for Jammeh should be ruled out – and the idea of clemency should never be raised again. As of Wednesday, the rule of law must prevail in Banjul for good.
In 2016, Sheriff Bojang, then-minister of information in The Gambia, announced that the West African nation of two million people had decided to leave the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICC).
Bojang said the ICC was “an International Caucasian Court for the persecution of and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans”. Has the ICC ever threatened, persecuted, humiliated, harassed or killed innocent Gambian citizens?
Bojang, who resigned as Information Minister last week, and went into exile in neighbouring Senegal, has denounced Jammeh all of a sudden and backed Barrow.
So Barrow and President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria are sending Jammeh the type of conciliatory messages Africans are tired of hearing. Protracted negotiations with an illegitimate and heartless leader like Jammeh should not be entertained for one minute. He should go. And he should go now. The people of The Gambia spoke against his despotic rule in a resounding manner last month, and that is it frankly.
If Jammeh intends to asphyxiate democracy, or become indispensable to a peaceful transition of power by using military force to impose his will, as he has done successfully in the past, he should languish in a prison in Banjul, or elsewhere, for a long time for it. And if he does do a complete turnaround, again, and suddenly accepts the result of the presidential election held last December, before, on, or after, Wednesday, January 18, it matters not, he should still have his day in court for running The Gambia like his personal military outpost.
When disgraced Liberian strongman Charles Taylor found himself in a similar predicament, with nowhere to go or hide, Nigeria offered him political asylum in August 2003. Taylor and his henchmen had committed atrocious crimes against humanity. They had not only recruited thousands of child soldiers, but also ordered their ragtag armies to mutilate and amputate children’s limbs, and rape thousands of women, all for the love of power, and diamonds.
Taylor abused the leniency and comfort extended to him in Nigeria and continued to destabilise Liberia and Sierra Leone in exile. Now everybody, from President Francois Holland of France to Liberian President Ellen Johnson, is urging Jammeh to step down or go into exile in Nigeria. Why should they, and he, do that? He knows fully well what the endgame for a tyrant of his nature is like. He should not be deprived of his day in a specially convened tribunal for any longer than is necessary for the poor people of The Gambia.
Jammeh, along with key members of his security forces and government, should face trial for gross human right abuses committed during his tenure. He must be held accountable for students and political activists killed by his security forces, and he must tell the world exactly what happened to the people who went missing in mysterious circumstances over the years in The Gambia.
Jammeh should not have peace of mind at all, oh no, he should not be afforded such a grand luxury; nor should he have a happy retirement, not when other Gambians allegedly died cruel deaths on his orders. What is more, this idea, that African leaders can resolve the political impasse engulfing The Gambia, is questionable at best.
If Jammeh refuses to step down voluntarily, will leaders of Ecowas, the West African regional bloc, seek to capture him and detain him in Banjul, Lagos or Freetown? If Jammeh is imprisoned, which country will try him? The anti-ICC crusade is fast gaining support across the continent.
African leaders might not be willing to hand Jammeh over to the ICC for fear of setting a precedent they may have to revisit each time an electoral process is disputed in Africa. But Africa does not have a court similar to the ICC.
Whatever happens from here on, the last anti-hero of The Gambia, Yayha Jammeh, must have his day of reckoning at The Hague.