Thursday, December 29, 2016

Jammeh and the African Bar Association

Yahya Jammeh Babili Mansa
The last public rant by Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh to a group of fellows from Nigeria claiming to be the leaders of the African Bar Association (AFBA), showed just how unprepared Yahya Jammeh had been to even contemplate the possibility that he would ever lose power in The Gambia.
President Elect Adama Barrow

The African Bar Association (AFBA), which claims to be a non-governmental organization established in 1971, with the expressed purpose of uniting lawyers and national legal associations in Africa, undermined the very nature of their visit, by indirectly condemning the members of the Gambia Bar Association (GBA). The GBA had earlier called on President Jammeh to respect the election results and hand over peacefully  to the popularly elected President Elect Adama Barrow, come January 19th 2017. In the opinion of the members of AFBA,  the members of the GBA by that statement had taken sides, and by taking sides, they had compromised their neutrality as lawyers. 

What the members of the AFBA did not seem to realize was that the members of the GBA were Gambians; who were present when the elections unfolded and many of them had not only voted in the elections, but had been present on the ground to assess the fairness of the entire process. So members of the GBA were in a far better position to comment of the issue at hand than a group of external actors claiming to be  mediation experts who could not even attempt to mask their admiration of Yahya Jammeh.

Members of AFBA did not initially make their presence known to the members of the GBA until they had made a surprising appearance on national television in the company of the disgruntled beleaguered president. The proper protocol, by a body claiming to represent national legal associations on the continent, would have to firt meet the members of the GBA as the local bar association, get their opinion on the electoral conflict at hand, before appearing on national television with the president.

Another way in which members of AFBA undermined the purpose of their visit was by proceeding to shamelessly sing the praises of Yahya Jammeh on national television. Most Gambians on social media were appalled by the praises showered by the so called legal group claiming to represent African lawyers, on a man that was the very symbol of repression and violation of human and legal rights in the sub-region. 

Members of AFBA even extended an invitation to Jammeh to attend an event of theirs in Nigeria in 2017, as they considered him a true Pan African hero. To add to the pain of the Gambian people, the AFBA leaders continually referred to elections in Burundi and Gabon, two countries in which the presidents had done everything possible to hold on to power against the wishes of their people and the international community. 

AFBA was clearly not in Gambia on an impartial mission and many people still believe that they were a group of high tech hustlers looking for some way to profit from the crisis. ECOWAS had already set up a mediation committee to be headed by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. So the purpose of AFBA was amorphous at best and clearly represented an attempt by Jammeh to employ the services of skilled trouble makers, in a last minute bid to muddy the political waters of his country.

Africa is a continent full of countries with judiciaries badly in need of reform. In a lot of African countries, governments control the judiciary and use them to suppress political opposition. Just this year in the Gambia, the main opposition leader in the country,  Ousainou Darboe, was jailed for three years for leading a peaceful protest demanding answers regarding the death of a senior party official in the hands of security agents. In other African countries, justice is almost always dispensed in favor of the affluent members of society or those that are well connected, at the expense of the poor and marginalized. If there was an organization calling itself the African Bar Association, one would expect that their primary objective would be to pressure governments in the region to ensure the independence and neutrality of national judiciaries and to ensure reforms that would free them substantially from the influence of politics and money. But to have the leaders of the African Bar Association acting as cheerleaders for a political tyrant was both shameful and extremely disappointing. This behavior put a veil of suspicion over this formerly unknown group.

Of course, as one would expect from any tyrant, the praise singing from the members of AFBA just provided Jammeh the fuel he needed to go on an insane rant against almost every single perceived political opponent, real or imagined.  According to Jammeh, not only was the Gambian opposition out to get him, but the West, neocolonialists, white people, the press, the UN, ECOWAS, and every other peron in the world he could think of, were out to get him. His speech on TV was devoid of any serious content. It was the typical long and rambling statement Gambians are fed on a periodic basis by the half literate tyrant who has just found out that the respect he had commanded all these years was simply due to the people's fear of his brutal and erratic ways. They have had enough.
After an election in which the people had clearly voted for the candidate supported by a coalition of eight political parties, Jammeh wanted the whole process scrapped and redone simply because he did not win. His speech was a sad spectacle and demonstrated  lack of clear knowledge of the very laws of the country he had ruled for so long. In the Gambia like any country, there is a clear process for challenging the validity of election results. There is also a time frame for bringing any such challenge to the courts. However, President Jammeh, in his desperate bid to hold on to power, initially avoided the legal process and acted in direct contravention of the electoral laws by proceeding to single handedly nullify the results of an election that had already been declared by the Independent Electoral Commission. He had declared that he wanted a rerun before even deciding to take the matter to court. Here was the man who wanted to be the plaintiff, jury and judge. It was almost comical to hear him talking about the Gambian constitution even as he was preparing to bastardize the very constitution.

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