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Jammeh and the African disease

Jammeh is the latest manifestation of a disease that has been plaguing Africa for quite a while now.  Just when many thought the continent had gradually begun to surmount, rise above this dangerous ailment, which had set it back almost irredeemably, comes this megalomaniac and powermonger, defecating on the strenuous efforts and sacrifices of a few African torchbearers, polluting the whole atmosphere in the process.
Oh, this jamming Jammeh!  Oh, beautiful, enticing and enthralling Banjul! Gambia, land of splendour and serenity, cursed by a Jammeh, who threatens not only to make it a laughing stock, but also about to plunge the nation into bloody crisis for vaunting ambition and sit-tightism, the deadly disease of African leaders. They get to power, abuse their office and seek to perpetuate themselves in office, even when the people pass a no-confidence vote in them. And for these senseless reasons, Africa has been turned into a theatre of war:  Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, and a long list of other African countries, which wear scars of battles to wrest power from African monsters who, sadly, found their way to power and became afflictions to their people and nation; the effect of the African disease.
Now, he comes, the man I described in my opening shot, as the latest manifestation of the Black man’s disease.  You know him, don’t you? The man who goes by the tongue-twisting appellation:  His Excellency, Sheikh, Professor, Alhaji,  Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Awal Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen Babili Mansa, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and Chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of the Gambia.
“On June 16, 2015, a statement from the State House stated that President Jammeh should henceforth be addressed as, “His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babili Mansa.”  Babili Mansa is a phrase in the Mandinka language  translated as either “Chief Bridge Builder” or “Conqueror of Rivers.”
Now, when a young man who seized power in a military putsch at 29 and  has ruled his country for 22 years decides to adopt a title that confers on him the position of sole chief custodian of the entire nation, you do not need anyone to tell you that something has gone terribly wrong with him. You do not need any telling that the man urgently needs help: To get out of office or be kicked out.
And that’s what I believe the ECOWAS leaders have offered him, by asking the maximum ruler to respect the outcome of an election, which he presided over but lost  to the opposition coalition  leader, Adama Barrow, on December 1, 2016.
Jammeh had initially conceded defeat and congratulated the winner. But in a dramatic and shocking volte face, the outgoing president claimed the process was marred by “serious and unacceptable irregularities.” His party, which he virtually runs as a private fiefdom like the country, has filed an appeal at the country’s Supreme Court, which itself suffers alleged manipulation in the hands of Jammeh.
So, what stares the world in the face is the huge possibility of a bloody clash, except Jammeh listens to the voice of reason and honourably relinquishes power January 19, 2017. And if he doesn’t, coalition forces of ECOWAS should waste no time in shoving him out. His action drags the continent back from the shining examples of former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, who has left office and President John Mahama of Ghana, who is about to quit power. We can’t imagine the turmoil and refugee problems that would have engulfed the world, if Nigeria had broken down in internecine squabbles occasioned by electoral disputations or if Ghana does. That’s why, for me, it is an intellectual exercise debating whether Jonathan was persuaded or coerced to relinquish power or Mahama deciding to leave office not out of his volition. Nigeria and Ghana, therefore, have been mercifully spared the deadly aftermath of sit-tightism inspired by the African disease!
In saner climes, when a man loses an election, even before vote count is concluded, he has picked up his phone to congratulate the winner. He does not go to the tribunal, appeal or supreme courts to challenge the election, because the elections are seen as largely transparent, free and fair. But another reason is that elections are not taken as ‘do or die’ events, but a platform for service. The loser pledges to partner with the winner  in the service of the people. But, this is not so in Africa. Not in Nigeria.  Of course, elective and appointive offices are the shortest routes to the honey pot.
The situation in Africa, with its long list of geriatric, sit-tight, poor-performing leaders, is particularly pathetic. Check out the roll call: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo,  Guinea, 33 years in power; Eduardo Dos Santos, Angola, 33 years; Paul Biya, Cameroun, 31 years; Sassou Ngueso, Republic of the Congo, 29 years, approaching 30;  Omar Al-Bashir, Sudan, 24 years. Of course, Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for almost three decades, has pledged to continue to rule, “if God gives me strength.” He is almost hitting 90 and not about to let go. And Jammeh is about to make the unenviable list, except he is forced out. The people of Gambia, who gave Mr. Barrow the mandate, must insist that their votes count, and Jammeh must go. Anything short of that would amount to trampling on their democratic rights, to elect a leader of their choice.
One is particularly enthralled at the new spirit rising in Africa; of the collective resolve and angst against leaders who do not wish to respect the sanctity of the ballot and electoral process. If Africa unites and says no to sit-tight rulers, and demand that they vacate office once the people have so decided, there’s the hope that Africa would begin to witness progress and development, as those elected would be conscious of the fact that they can be voted out in another round of polls. Power must truly belong to the people in Africa.
Another salutary effect of the collective action against Jammeh is that those in power today, who may think of self-perpetuation tomorrow, even when they lose elections, will be reminded that they were on the Jammeh project when he toed a similar path. They can then be told to swallow the medicine they once recommended and forced down Jammeh’s throat.
After Jammeh, next stop: Other African sit-tight leaders. But the people of those countries must first take the lead, while the regional and continental bodies then take over. Will Africa truly rise?  Yes, if it gets its act together;  if it learns to let democracy thrive and work for the people. The way it is today, power has been used for largely personal aggrandisement and cronyism. That is the tragedy of Africa: a continent of stark contradictions. Extremely rich in material and human resources, but populated by poor, deprived  citizenry, no thanks to its many rapacious eaters and their hangers-on calling themselves leaders. Lord have mercy!


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