KIRUKU: Jammeh’s out, but why won’t the EAC flex its muscle too?


KIRUKU: Jammeh's out, but why won't the EAC flex its muscle too?
Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh in a file photo. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The move by West African nations to force out of power long-time Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh should be a wake-up call to our own regional leaders – and indeed the rest of the world – to take a firm stand against dictatorial regimes and respect for the rule of law in neighbouring countries.

Jammeh, who had initially accepted but later refused to accept the results of last month’s elections that he lost to Adama Barrow, finally agreed to step down and leave the country after facing a showdown with troops from Senegal. The troops had entered Gambia to enforce the results of the presidential election.

But even as he fled to Equatorial Guinea, Jammeh is said to have looted over $11 million from state coffers in the two weeks leading to his exit, leaving the country in dire straits. He is also said to have flown out luxury vehicles.

Despite this, it is commendable that the presidents of the neighbouring states of Guinea and Mauritania were proactive in negotiating and encouraging Jammeh to cede power to Barrow, something rarely seen in Africa and most parts of the world.

Probably the most recent and shameful scenario of a regional hands-off attitude to political violence was the Rwandan genocide of 1994, where over 800,000 persons – three-quarters of the Tutsi population in Rwanda – were killed even as regional leaders watched.

When President Pierre Nkurunziza declared his intention to run for a third term in office in 2015, a move that was clearly against the Arusha Accords – the premise upon which peace returned to Burundi after more than 15 years of civil war – regional leaders once again chose the path of silence as Burundians butchered each other in the streets.

It is clear that regional leaders have long given up on solving the Burundi crisis. Although the EAC Secretariat has been spearheading the Inter-Burundi peace talks, the mandate to unravel the crisis has largely been left to Western powers and other countries of goodwill. It is a shameful scenario, to say the least.

Up to date, the fruits of the Inter-Burundi Dialogue being facilitated by retired Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and mediated by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni are yet to be felt by the people of that country. Tears, agony, pain and frustration continue to afflict Burundians.

Recent investigations in Burundi by the UN human rights office has verified 564 cases of executions between April 26, 2015, and August 30, 2016. The investigators, who made two trips to Burundi and conducted 227 interviews, said that their investigations revealed evidence of rape, disappearances, mass arrests as well as torture and murder. Yet, no leader in the region came out to openly condemn these atrocities.

During the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya, all the EAC partner states remained mute as killings, mass displacement of persons, rape and destruction of property were perpetrated.

It is time the EAC learnt from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which had given Jammeh until noon on Friday 20 January to step down or be forcibly removed.

If our regional leaders through the auspices of the EAC had been courageous enough to take the approach of ECOWAS, we would not have witnessed the genocide in Rwanda, the killings in Burundi and Kenya’s implosion of 10 years ago.

It is commendable that the UN Security Council had backed the efforts by regional states to intervene militarily so as to remove Jammeh from office. It is the duty of the international community to ensure fundamental human rights are protected. Every human being is born and should remain equal in dignity and rights irrespective of race, colour, ethnicity, nationality or gender. Remaining silent as lives are lost is unacceptable.

Leaders must acknowledge that we are living in a global community, one in which instability in one country automatically precipitates instability in neighbouring countries and beyond.

The huge numbers of refugees being hosted by neighbouring countries in East Africa is primarily due to the infiltration of refugees from Somalia, South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This has posed a huge challenge to peace and security, in addition to placing huge financial and environmental constraints on host countries.

But this situation wouldn’t be so dire if regional countries had acted at the right time, militarily where necessary. But it isn’t too late to change that culture and follow the lead of the West Africans. Neighbouring countries and the international community have a role to intervene and ensure good governance and respect for the rule of law everywhere, albeit with a lot of caution.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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