Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

GAMBIA: Election stalls in a stalemate!

GAMBIA: Election stalls in a stalemate!

An end to Jammeh rule will offer relief but not a permanent respite unless there is a break with capitalism

Workers and poor masses must be united in a struggle for a socialist Gambia!

By Abbey Trotsky

The Gambia presidential election held on December 1, 2016, has ended up in a stalemate despite producing a clear winner. Now this tiny West Africa country with the estimated population of two million people is currently at the risk of being plunged into a serious political crisis or a war over the plan of the incumbent President Yahya Jammeh to hang on to power despite losing the election.

According to the official result of the election released by Gambia electoral commission, Adama Barrow of the United Democratic Party (UDP) standing as a joint opposition candidate, won the election with a total vote of 263,515. This represents 45% of the total votes cast while President Yahya Jammeh, the candidate of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, APRC, and Mama Kandeh, the third candidate has 212,099 votes (36.7%) and 102,969 votes (17.8%) respectively.

Yahya Jammeh, who earlier accepted the result of the election and in the process had conceded defeat to Mr Adama Barrow the declared winner of the election, on December 9, 2016 appeared on the state television to announce his rejection of the results and call for a new election.

Barrow in his response while speaking to reporters in Banjul insisted that “The outgoing president has no constitutional authority to reject the result of the election let alone order for fresh elections to be held”. Therefore Barrow revealed that he is ready to “open up a channel of communication with Mr Jammeh so as to convince him to facilitate a smooth transfer of executive powers in the supreme interest of this country.”

International bodies like UN, EU, AU as well as the regional ECOWAS have called on Jammeh to carry out a peaceful and orderly transition process to transfer, without condition and undue delay, power to President-elect Adama Barrow.

Indeed, the ECOWAS has threatened to undertake all necessary actions including both sanctions and military force to ensure that Barrow is sworn in as the legitimate president of Gambia on 18th January, 2017. There is a precedent for foreign intervention in the Gambia. In 1981 Senegal, which effectively surrounds Gambia, rapidly intervened to suppress a leftist coup attempt against the then President Jawara, who himself was eventually overthrown in the 1994 military coup which first brought Jammeh to power.

Despite these threats and condemnations Jammeh has refused to baulk as he continues to demand a fresh election and boasts that his security forces are on “full alert”.

This impasse that has obviously heightened the political tension in the country such that the thousands of Gambia working people who took to the streets in the capital, Banjul, in celebration and jubilation shouting “We are free” and “we won’t be slaves of anyone” after the announcement of the election’s outcome, are now fearful that the lingering power tussle could plunge the nation into serious crisis or even war.

Repression and Abuse of Human Rights spur opposition

The over two decades of Mr Jammeh has been largely despised because of its record of human rights violations, including excessive use of force against demonstrators, arbitrary detention and deaths in custody, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees. Several opposition leaders have been arrested and jailed for so-called offences like participating in peaceful protest.

Thousands of Gambians have fled Jammeh’s iron-fisted 22-year rule for Europe, or sought work abroad as the economy wilted. Homosexuals, described as “vermins” by Jammeh, are threatened with being beheaded and dealt with like malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The outlandish claim of Jammeh that he will cure AIDS only with prayer and a concoction of herbs and a banana largely reflects his attitude towards the country’s health system. Most hospitals are without drugs and quality doctors. Schools have no teachers and facilities for quality education.

In the absence of independent pro-working people political alternative that could have united workers and the poor masses towards an agenda to enthrone a government of workers and poor masses, Mr Barrow was able to tap into the mass anger among the working people who are interested to end years of repression and oppression by Jammeh.

Most of the voters in this election see Barrow’s presidency as a new beginning. This is because he had never held any public office and is relatively a newcomer to frontline politics in the Gambia. Until about six months ago, Barrow was just a businessman who was largely unknown as a politician. He was thrust into the political limelight following the jailing of top officials from the United Democratic Party (UDP) in July. Later, in September 2016, seven political parties and an independent candidate opted to join forces in “Coalition 2016” to present Barrow as their joint candidate in the December 1 poll.

Other significant factors that also worked for Barrow was the fact that throughout his campaign he pledged support for an independent judiciary, as well as increased freedom for the media and civil society and promised to rule for just 3 years. He reportedly described Jammeh as a “soulless dictator” and promised to undo some of his controversial moves. He pledged in particular to take “the country back to the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court (ICC)”.

It is not impossible that the decision of Jammeh to reject the outcome of the election could be as a result of fear of what would become his fate, given his record of violation and abuses of human rights, if the country is returned to the ICC and Commonwealth as pledged by Barrow. The rejection of the result could be a ploy by Jammeh to force out a peace deal from Barrow under the supervision of UN, EU, ECOWAS etc. that will protect him from probe and prosecution.

The possibility of either the ECOWAS or the UN/EU agreeing to this kind of term of settlement is not something that can be ruled out in the coming period.

It must be stated that the reason behind the quick response of EU or ECOWAS to the Gambia crisis is not to defend democracy as claimed. Rather, it is to prevent an outbreak of violence or war that could destabilise the region and throw up refuges or immigrants flocking to neighbouring countries and even Europe which is already grappling with a serious of crisis of immigration. It needs to be remembered that bodies like the UN, AU and ECOWAS are, behind smokescreens of fine sounding words, are institutions used by capitalist powers for their own interests. Similarly the ICC is not a real court where crimes against working people can be tried, its refusal to even consider the 2003 US and British invasion of Iraq is testament to its kowtowing to the major imperialist powers.

However, should Jammeh continue to maintain a rigid stance, the combination of ECOWAS and western imperialist powers may resort to the use of military force as unleashed on Gbagbo in Ivory Coast to oust him from power.

Peace-pact and the prospects for the working people

Either through a peace pact or a military force, ousting Jammeh from power will bring a temporary relief for the country. However, it will not automatically translate into a permanent respite for the poor working masses of Gambia. To bring about a lasting solution will require a total turnaround of the already devastating economy with provision of adequate infrastructure and measures that would fundamentally improve the living standard of the poor masses.

Unfortunately this will be a tall order under Barrow presidency owing to his ties with IMF/World Bank and their capitalist and generally neo-liberal policies. This means the condition of mass poverty in the midst of plenty which has been the lot of many Gambians under the reign of Jammeh will continue. This may make working people who voted for Barrow to be grossly disappointed and push them to consider the option of mass struggle in a bid for an improvement in their living condition.

Any government that will guarantee basic needs like education, health, water, electricity, roads etc. for workers and the poor working people of Gambia must be ready to subject the country mainstay of the economy like tourism and mineral wealth under public ownership with democratic management and control of the working people.

The task before Gambian workers, artisans, tradesmen and all other oppressed strata of the society is not to continue to have illusions in Barrow and his imperialist backers.

Rather, they should be prepared to organise themselves and build a mass working people movement through which they would struggle for full democratic rights, improvement in infrastructure, basic needs and living standard and contest political power with a socialist program. Such an approach would also find an echo and support from working people in neighbouring countries, something which is essential if a small country like Gambia is going to be able to fully break from the shackles of capitalism.