This is rather long long but I thought I should share it with people who have the time and patience to read it. My thoughts on the West African mediation effort in The #Gambian crisis:
The West African mediators in the Gambian crisis are the best for what is a tough task of getting a man used to exercising absolute power to exit the political stage peacefully. Presidents Mahama, Johnson-Sirleaf, Koroma and Buhari have formidable statecraft skills between them.
Sirleaf – Survived two bloody dictators and went on to rule and hold Liberia together after peace was restored.
Koroma – came from opposition to win elections against an entrenched incumbent party. Skilled in getting his way through charm and soft power.
Buhari – Is Mr clean – known to be a Strict disciplinarian, With Nigeria’s might behind him
He also defeated a mighty political party in elections in Africa’s most populous nation. He believes in the democratic process
Mahama – Despite all the complaints in Ghana, and the baggage associated with incumbency, Mahama got more than 40 percent of Votes in the elections
The current political crisis in The Gambia was brought about by President Jammeh after he initially accepted that he had lost a presidential election, only to change his mind a week later.
The West African political and economic bloc ECOWAS responded immediately. President Johnson-Sirleaf, who is the current regional Chairperson said that Jammeh’s stance “threatened peace”. She also called on him to “do the right thing and take actions to facilitate a smooth and peaceful transition in Gambia”.
But she also backed her words by quickly putting together a four member mediation team – and it is the composition of this team that I think should give Mr Jammeh cause to rethink his decision:
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – Liberia
President Muhammadu Buhari – Nigeria
President John Mahama – Ghana
President Ernest Koroma – Sierra Leone
There is much one could say about these leaders and their own domestic issues. But I want to focus on what they will be bringing to the Gambian table.
The tv footage of Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf getting out of the black Rolls Royce in Banjul showed an elderly lady, looking somewhat frail. But don’t let that deceive you. Madam President is most definitely tough. At the talks with Mr Jammeh, Liberia’s Iron Lady was polite and attentive. She has long and vast experience of dealing with obstinate men. She knows how to bend subjugate them to her will or else vanquish them.
Mrs Sirleaf, who has raised up more than one son, has also in her life time, taken on and survived two of the toughest and most recalcitrant bad boys in West African politics – the late President Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor. Tough and mean as they were, she survived all attempts by the two to put her out of action. She then went on to become Africa’s first elected female head of state – defeating a very popular sportsman and youth icon, George Weah. President Johnson-Sirleaf has the experience and the authority to deal with men behaving badly. She has worked in some of the World’s top financial institutions. She speaks the language of world leaders – she knows how to get them on her side. This frail looking elderly woman is not someone one should cross.
Then there is President Muhammadu Buhari. A retired Nigerian general and former military head of state of West Africa’s dominant country. At an advanced age, he took on a giant of a political party and defeated them in national elections. The Boko Haram insurgency which he inherited, is losing its most vicious edge. Mr Buhari has monumental domestic problems – he won’t have the time to waste on a protracted problem in West Africa’s tiniest country. He will want a quick and successful outcome.
Ghana’s president John Mahama wisely conceded electoral defeat on the same night that Yahya Jammeh performed his ‘I-don’t-agree-anymore-act’. Mr Mahama probably conceded defeat despite strong pressure from close associates who would have wanted him to do otherwise. Mr Mahama, wisely, conceded knowing that to do otherwise would be disastrous for him and for his country.
He has that experience to share with Mr Jammeh, and the positive example to make him stand tall in the Hall of Fame of past leaders. That gives him international respectability. Besides he has to hand over power soon. He will need a quick result on the Gambian issue.
And then there is Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Koroma. He comes across as cool and calculated. He has a reputation for mesmerising charm. But behind that handsome face and gentle exterior is a man that led his party when it was on its knees to victory against the odds – beating a powerful incumbent party in elections. He knows how to strike a bargain in his favour, what to give in order to get what he wants. If anyone can, he is the man who will know what to offer to both Mr Jammeh and his opponents to stave off a protracted dispute.
These West African leaders have the collective knowledge, the clout and skills to resolve the crisis in The Gambia. They will be able to help Mr Jammeh secure himself a safe and dignified exit from power. But they all have big issues on their home fronts. They don’t have the luxury of time to waste. President Yahya Jammeh will be well advised to listen to them – before they resort to the big stick approach.