ECOWAS has to find a peaceful way to oust Jammeh

Wars cost money.

According to Aljazeera Centre for Studies, $455.5 million was contributed to the African Union in 2013, for the African-led International Support Mission (AFISMA) to keep the peace in Mali. Of this donation, African countries contributed 23 percent. Nigeria alone, donated $5 million and 1200 troops for AFISMA.

The country is seen as a Big Brother by other countries in West Africa, and has borne much of the cost for previous ECOWAS military interventions. With Nigeria now in a 5-month old recession, the financial costs of a military intervention in Gambia will undoubtedly feature in President Muhammadu Buhari’s thoughts. The Nigerian leader is the mediator for ECOWAS.

ECOWAS in its 50th ordinary session, held in Lagos on December 17, 2016 had agreed to ‘‘take all necessary actions to enforce’’ the mandate of Adama Barrow, the President-elect and winner of Gambia’s December election. The group had in January disillusioned anyone who thought this included military intervention.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian president and chair of ECOWAS, told reporters that ‘‘We are committed to a peaceful mediation and a peaceful transfer of power in The Gambia. We will continue to pursue that for now’’.

Now Sirleaf’s ECOWAS has to perform a diplomatic miracle. That is, find a peaceful way to oust Gambia’s seat-tight President Yahya Jammeh.

It is the position of Jammeh’s led government that any attempt to swear in Barrow, who is currently in Senegal and has vowed to continue with his inauguration, is unconstitutional. Going by media reports, it is certain that Jammeh will remain in office come January 19, the inauguration day for a new government in Gambia. The Associated Press reported Jammeh said, in a state TV broadcast, that he had obtained a court order to stop President-elect, Adama Barrow, from taking the oath of office.

Jammeh said: ‘‘I have confirmed that we have filed an application for an injunction to restrict Mr. Adama Barrow from being sworn in as well as restricting the chief justice and any other parties from swearing in Mr. Adama Barrow until the application is decided by the Supreme Court of Gambia. And until then, the status quo remains’’.

It is uncertain what the regional group ECOWAS or the African Union (AU) will do, in the event that status quo remains.

On Friday 13, the AU put out a statement in Addis Ababa that from January 19 it will no longer recognise Jammeh as the president. The statement praised ECOWAS’ mediatory role in the impasse and affirmed AU’s support for the regional group, ‘‘including the consideration to use all necessary means to ensure the respect of the will of the people of The Gambia’’. Also, AU threatened ‘‘serious consequences’’ if Jammeh’s refusal to step down breaches the peace.

In the same state TV broadcast mentioned earlier, Jammeh called Sirleaf to inform her that ‘‘the only peaceful resolution of this impasse is through the courts’’. Also, Jammeh asked that Sirleaf assists in getting the Supreme Court judges to adjudicate. Earlier, On Monday 16, Gambia’s Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle, had said the court could not hear Jammeh’s case challenging the result because justices from Nigeria and Sierra Leone who made up the Supreme Court were absent.

In response to which Sirleaf said, ‘‘we are going to work on this right away’’, and ‘‘Gambia needs peace, and ECOWAS wants peace’’.

However, Sirleaf said in a telephone interview with the BBC Focus on Africa that she was oblivious Jammeh’s call to her was being recorded and on live television. Her responses had been staged to make it appear ECOWAS was changing its position to resolve the impasse through the courts in order to ensure peace.

Sirleaf said, ‘‘let me make it very very clear there’s no change in ECOWAS’s position. The constitution of the Gambia must be respected. That has been conveyed by our mediator, the President of Nigeria, it has been conveyed by the mediating team’’.

But is it constitutional for a sitting president to remain in power while he challenges an election he has lost? Jammeh has run out of time to decide on the fairness of his decision not to relinquish power while the courts decide. Something has to give.

Is there a peaceful way to reconcile ECOWAS’ interpretation of the constitution with Jammeh’s?

It is important for all parties to remember that wars cost lives. The casualties of wars, or even the euphemistic military intervention, which are fought to protect ideals such as Democracy, always include innocent people who would rather have peace. Yet, having lost an election he conducted, Jammeh has to go. Peacefully. That is the ideal.