Sunday, January 22, 2017

The price of peace

At long last, the crisis in the Gambia is over and the country seems to have avoided a potentially protracted and bloody conflict. Gambians, and everyone who followed the anxious standoff, have breathed a collective sigh of relief at seeing Jammeh boarding the plane that took him to his exile. The will of the Gambian people can now be upheld. Kudos to the African states and their leaders who were relentless in their efforts to defuse the crisis and bring it to a peaceful resolution. Many talk about what they call chronic incompetence of African institutions, but, by all accounts, this was a triumph of African diplomacy – and not for the first time. People forget that these institutions, including the African Union and regional bodies such as the ECOWAS, have been making steady progress in the last two decades, first by redefining their mandates to align with the continent’s gradual movement towards better governance and by increasingly asserting themselves to enforce those mandates.

But the most salient lesson to be learned from the crisis is the importance of prudence (or, in this case, how potentially damaging lack of prudence can be) in dealing with precarious political transitions. Jammeh’s initial acceptance of the election results, was met with bewildering statements on the part of the victorious leaders of the opposition coalition vowing to prosecute the defeated president. Those were extremely irresponsible and shortsighted pronouncements that set off the alarm in Jammeh’s already paranoid mind. What made the opposition’s declarations and prematurely triumphalist posture even more reckless was the very real risk of a conflict along ethnic lines that hung over the nation. Indeed, Jammeh didn’t waste any time to stoke those sentiments by attacking the Mandinka majority, and soon divisions started to appear in the military.

Yahya Jammeh was a brutal and deeply corrupt dictator who has amassed considerable personal wealth during his 22 years of rule, and Gambia will be a better place without him. Yet, sometimes it is best to sacrifice justice, or, at least, defer the day of reckoning, in the interest of peace.

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