Jean-Jacques Cornish

Jammeh’s departure from Gambia is an African success story

By Jean-Jacques Cornish

The bloodless and belated departure of Yayha Jammeh after he lost an election in Gambia is an undoubted African success story.

Even the light-fingered denouement – with Jammeh taking $11 million from the state coffers into exile with him – has not taken the icing off the cake.

That decorative delicacy was provided by the intervention of neighbours of this thin silver of a country that has just experienced its first democratic change of government.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) made it immediately clear to Jammeh that it would not tolerate his staying in power when he contested the fairness of the December 1 election he lost, by his own admission, to Adama Barrow.

It made a number of unsuccessful demarches on Jammeh, urging him to step down before the victor’s scheduled inauguration date of January 19.

Jammeh declined offers of asylum in Senegal, Morocco, Mauritania and Guinea.

He hoped to wait around for the supreme court to consider his arguments about the unfairness of the election.

The court reminded him that he sacked half the judges last year and said they would be able to consider the matter before May.

ECOWAS decided to play hard ball. The grouping sought approval by the United Nations Security Council to use force, if necessary, to move Jammeh.

Senegal, which surrounds Gambia on three sides, and Ghana, moved troops to the border to show the region’s seriousness.

If Jammeh  had any doubt of this, the ECOWAS forces crossed the frontier and deployed in the capital Banjul.

They gave Jammeh a deadline of noon last Friday to either go or be forcibly removed.

The defeated president successfully requested an extension of this deadline while he spoke to Presidents Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz of Mauritania and Alpha Conde of Guinea.

He’s been abandoned by key members of his cabinet and finally by his military commander.

The game was up for this man who took power in a bloodless coup 22 years ago.

Eventually Jammeh loaded a string of luxury cars onto a Chadian cargo plane.

Then, seen off by a small group of hardliner, he boarded a plane with President Conde and headed for Guinea.

Gambian, who could not believe their good fortune had been demonstrating their delight at Jammeh’s imminent departure for day.

They cheered ECOWAS troops patrolling the capital.

Barrow, who was inaugurated at the Gambian embassy in Senegal, says he will go home within the next week once his security can be assured.

He has his work cut out tracing the $11 million that Jammeh looted from the public purse.

He also has to get back the tourists who are vital to Gambia’s economy.

Alone with more than 46 000 Gambians, the tourists quit  the country when military action to move Jammeh looked likely.

So, chalk one up to ECOWAS’s unlinking determination to see that democracy triumphed.

Consider too the benefits of other African regional groups showing the same courage and application against the hard-to-move leaders who have cynically disregarded their constitutional limitations on power.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.