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'Listen to your people' envoy tells Gambian President

By January 09, 2017 1986 0
President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia

The United States’ Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, has urged President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia to listen to his people and hand over power to President-elect Adama Barrow, who won the Dec. 1, 2016 polls.

“Listen to your people; read the handwriting on the wall and do the right thing”. This is Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s message to President Yahya Jammeh, as his term of office draws to a constitutional end on January 19.

The Gambia held its Presidential elections on December, 1 2016, with the Leader of the opposition coalition, Mr Barrow winning by 43.3 per cent, against Yahya Jammeh’s APRC.

President Jammeh, who has ruled The Gambia for the past 22 years since coming to power in a military coup, announced his concession to Mr Barrow and accepted the election results to the surprise and applause of the world and the United States.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield who has been the foremost US official in charge of Africa for the last three and half years, said her country thought The Gambia had entered into the community of democracies and the people could look forward with hope.

This good news was however short-lived, as President Jammeh announced a week later that he was questioning the election results and wanted a recount.

“Worse than that, his people went into the Electoral Commission office and have closed the office down and The Gambian people are now in a bit of distress because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

She however commended the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), headed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia for its pro-activeness in dealing with The Gambian issue.

ECOWAS has held a number of extraordinary meetings including one in Ghana on Sunday, on the side-lines of the Presidential inauguration, to discuss how to address the deteriorating situation.

“I am guardedly hopeful that ECOWAS will find a peaceful solution for The Gambia; that President Jammeh will be convinced by the leaders of ECOWAS to accept the will of the people and allow The Gambia to move forward as a country in the community of democracies,” she said.

President Jammeh has however described ECOWAS’s decision to put troops on alert for deployment in case he refuses to step down, as a declaration of war and vowed to remain in power and to defend The Gambia against what he called outside aggression.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield however hoped that this was just political posturing by Jammeh and that he will listen to the ECOWAS leaders and step down when the time comes.

“I’m hoping that that’s just political jargon, political posturing, but that actually he will listen to his partners in the West Africa Region and he will listen to the cries of the Gambian people,” she stressed.

She noted that the people of The Gambia had suffered under President Jammeh and that it was time for him to turn over the reins of power to a new leader,

“We are hopeful that he does that. He will be respected by the international community and his neighbours if he makes the right decision. If he makes the wrong decision, he will lose any possibility of any kind of legacy after 22 years of power in The Gambia”, she said.

But what happens if President Jammeh insists on staying in power?

“I am hopeful that we don’t have to answer that question. I am hopeful that the ECOWAS Presidents will convince him that he has to leave or else, and the or else, I think, remains to be seen but of most concern is the suffering of The Gambian people if does not leave.”

“It will show his leadership, it will show that he is committed to The Gambian people having a future.”

She said President-elect Barrow had indicated his desire to a kind of peace and reconciliation commission similar to that of South Africa so that Gambians could have a place where they could discuss and reconcile and forgive.

“His idea is that there will not be revenge that will not be punishment but that there will be reconciliation and I know that other countries have offered him the possibility of sanctuary if he does not feel safe in The Gambia.

“He can look at the possibility of safety and security in a neighbouring country until he’s able to return,” she said.

She said she was confident that Gambians will allow him to return as he did for former Gambian President Dawda Jawara.

Touching on her time in charge of Africa, under President Obama, Ms Thomas-Greenfield described her tenure as a ‘labour of love’ filled with both sad and discouraging days such as in the cases of South Sudan and The Gambia, and many joyous days like in Ghana on inauguration day.

“I call it a labour of love where there are days when we are jubilant and there are days when we are extraordinarily depressed and discouraged. It’s been both and I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m discouraged,” she noted.

“As I look back on my three and a half years as Assistant Secretary, I look back with a tremendous sense of pride and a tremendous sense of hope and confidence in the future of Africa, and Ghana just showed me that that confidence is not misplaced” she concluded.

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A GNA feature by Belinda Ayamgha

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