Most Gambians were no doubt quite taken aback when President Yahya Jammeh recently threatened to withdraw from membership of both the African Union and Ecowas, if either of the two regional blocs should be “reduced to the control of Western powers”.
President Jammeh was apparently reacting to the recent aborted attempts by Ecowas to introduce a term limit for sitting leaders of Ecowas member states, which we are told was blocked by the Gambia and Togo, the only members without a term limit. He in fact accused the West of being behind that attempt. “… Now they [West] are trying to use Ecowas. They said Yahya Jammeh cannot be changed by elections. They want to use their stooges in Ecowas to impose term limit because that is … a Western agenda. Where were the so-called Western leaders today 20 years ago when I became head of state? Let me warn Ecowas – Gambia is nobody’s colony and our development is not dependent on Ecowas that has already failed because it has been hijacked by the West. Even if the whole world introduced term limit, I will not have a term limit and let me see what you can do. Democracy is power to the people and not power to the West,” he was quoted saying in the Gambian media.
He went on to say that as a pan-Africanist he will not subscribe to any institution that is hijacked by the West and be used against Africa. “If it is the AU, I will leave AU; if it is Ecowas, I will leave Ecowas, but I will not be given lecture by any of these institutions on behalf of the West. Tell me about one electric pole here which was installed by the AU (African Union) or Ecowas or by the British or the Americans. We are not fools! Let them mind their own business.”
While there is no indication that President Jammeh is serious about carrying out such threats, but we can recall that in 2013, he unceremoniously pulled the Gambia out of the Commonwealth after accusing that organization of being a neo-colonial body. He did not even consult the National Assembly as would be expected in any country with a semblance of democracy. Therefore, it would not be a surprise to anyone if he made good his threats to withdraw from either of the two regional bodies.
However, it is hard to imagine how Gambians can handle the negative consequences of the Gambia withdrawing from Ecowas for instance. Presently, there is an Ecowas protocol which allows free movement of peoples and goods within the sub-region, which means that Gambians can travel to any of the Ecowas member states without requiring a visa. However, if the country were to withdraw from Ecowas, Gambians are not likely to continue to enjoy such a privilege.
Therefore, with virtually all foreign embassies accredited to the Gambia being based outside the country, mainly in Dakar, one can imagine the trouble that Gambians will go through if they had to travel to Dakar to apply for visa every time they intend to travel to any country within and outside the sub-region.
“Can you imagine one having to go to Dakar to apply for a visa to travel even to Guinea Bissau? That is the craziest idea that Gambians can never withstand,” said an opposition militant.
One would however tend to question whether there is something else that has made President Jammeh angry with these two regional bodies and indeed the whole world, apart from the term limit issue. Let us recall that he is presently the longest serving leader within Ecowas and the 7th longest serving ‘elected’ head of state in the whole of Africa. Yet, he has never been elected to head any of the two organisations, apparently because even his colleagues despise his usually undiplomatic behavior. It is even harder for him to stomach the fact that Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is hardly three years in office has been elected chairman of Ecowas and a despot like Robert Mugabe has been elected chairman of the AU.
Of course some people feel that President Jammeh has a point because a person like Mugabe has been in power for more than 35 years while he (Jammeh) has served only 20 of the “one billion” years he intends to remain in power. Therefore, no one would say that it is because he has stayed too long in power that is why he has not been honoured with chairmanship of these regional bodies. There must of course be another reason why his counterparts tend to avoid him like a plague.