By Tafi Mhaka
Dear African Union,
I do not know if I should heave a sigh of relief or cry for Africa after Yahya Jammeh left The Gambia on Saturday night. I am reminded of a song by John Denver called Leaving on a jet plane. Jammeh left behind him a people bewildered by 22 years of peculiar, despotic misrule, and unbridled greed.
He left a nation overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty; a country held hostage to the nefarious schemes of negotiators who seemed so concerned about Jammeh – and much less bothered about the welfare of the people of The Gambia.
The future of the small West African nation looks somewhat promising at the moment. President Adama Barrow sounds magnanimous, lucid, positive as ever, and fully determined to unify Gambian citizens. He has a huge task at hand if he is to resuscitate one of the least-performing economies in Africa and build a smooth-running, non-partisan civil service.
Yet power is so sickly sweet and intoxicating in Africa, a few years or months at the helm of government have the potential to change a leader, and test their honour, so much so, speculation in this business is an exercise in futility. A promising start does not for a good ending in African politics make.
So I worry about Jammeh. I worry about Barrow. And, I worry that everything which should have been, in the aftermath of a great electoral win by an opposition party in The Gambia, has failed to materialise thus far. I worry because it feels like Jammeh has been allowed to get away with murder.
Why did the Africa Union let him hold an entire nation hostage to his every whim for over a month? And why did the African union allow him to leave Banjul on a private jet wholly unaccountable for his political shenanigans over the festive season?
If he is such a nationalist, a man of the people, as he claims to be, he should have stepped down from the presidency in December, and waited for the Supreme Court of The Gambia to rule on his application to have the result of the 2016 Presidential election annulled.
The month of May is just four months away after all. Jammeh should have shown faith in the justice system he presided over for so long and proved to all and sundry he is not above the law.
He should have become an opposition leader instead. A politician with such a wealth of experience would be a welcome sight in the opposition benches of parliament – and streets of Banjul.
We could get to see him mingling with the ordinary folks of The Gambia, where, according to World Bank estimates, 48% of citizens live below the international poverty line. Perhaps Jammeh could live on less than $US1.90 a day for a little while and Gambians would get to see how he survives on such meagre resources.
He might begin to appreciate why 60% of the electorate chose to not vote for him, even though the odds had been heavily stacked in his favour when the presidential election took place – as he used state-owned media houses and other resources to his advantage.
Jammeh would also have the wonderful opportunity to reject all claims of human rights violations levelled against his administration by Gambians and non-governmental organisations alike in a court of law staffed by principled judges.
Only Jammeh can lay to rest ghosts from a long, dark chapter in the history of The Gambia. No number of secretive deals agreed to in Banjul, or Equatorial Guinea, will wish away his past misdemeanours, or pacify Gambians citizens who feel aggrieved by Jammeh – and yearn for immediate remedial action.
Not surprisingly, Jammeh and his close associates would like the national assembly to pass a vote granting them amnesty for crimes they committed in the past two decades; and apparently, he would like to go live in his home village of Kanilai in Southern Gambia, near the border with Senegal. His list of demands is fanciful and predictable on his part – but unacceptable.
Who will stand up and get justice for Gambians allegedly unfairly imprisoned, tortured and killed at the behest of Jammeh? Therein lies the huge problem with this blanket amnesty Jammeh has been demanding behind closed doors. The people of The Gambia need and deserve justice and closure.
There are also media reports alleging $US11 million has gone missing from state coffers in The Gambia. The last seven weeks have undoubtedly proved Jammeh does not have the interests of Gambians at heart. His number one priority is Yahya Jammeh. So why should he be absolved of his crimes?