OPINION: THE ROLE OF PREVENTIVE DIPLOMACY DURING THE POLITICAL IMPASSE IN THE GAMBIA.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The idea of preventive diplomacy has captivated the United Nations ever since it was first articulated by Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld nearly half a century ago. Preventive diplomacy was presaged by Article 99 of the United Nations Charter, which allowed the Secretary-General to bring to the Security Council’s attention threats to international peace and security (Ramcharan, 2011). The United Nations Organisation (UN) is best endowed to conduct preventive diplomacy (PD) by preventing disputes and conflicts arising from interstate and intrastate relationships. The UN has the means to prevent such conflicts and disputes from emerging and escalating into armed confrontation (OPIYO 2012).

The idea of preventive diplomacy under ECOWAS is aimed at operationalizing the relevant provisions of Article 58 of the Revised Treaty; Articles 3, 8-27, 31-32 of the Mechanism; and Article 36 of the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance; the objective of Preventive Diplomacy is to defuse tensions and ensure the peaceful resolution of disputes within and between Member States by means of good offices, mediation, conciliation and facilitation based on dialogue, negotiation and arbitration. Usually applied in the face of imminent crisis, preventive diplomacy shall also be applicable in the management, resolution and peace-building phases of conflict (ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework, 2008).

As a Concept –  Preventive diplomacy is a widely used term in international relations and peace matters implying the politically motivated process of engendering dialogue and negotiation to foster peace and unity in a potentially-volatile conflict-prone society presumed to de-escalate a potentially-escalated crisis to a violent one (Omotosho, 2017). The concept of preventive diplomacy has proven to be controversial (Lund 1996). However, there appears to be consensus that PD is preventive diplomatic and political action taken by sovereign states with the consent of the involved parties (OPIYO 2012).

As a process and Ideology – A brain child of the UN under Boutros Boutros-Ghali in the early 1990s, (the former SG. of the UN) to install world confidence on conflict diffusion, tension de-escalation and peace-building that involves initiated good governance process and initiatives, respect for democratic institutions and values, societal goods distributional equities and fairness and early warning system that deter wars and crises and install political certainties. He defined preventive diplomacy as “the use of diplomatic techniques to prevent disputes arising, prevent them from escalating into armed conflict and prevent the armed conflict from spreading” (OPIYO, 2012).

According to Ban Ki Moon, former United Nations Secretary General - report on Preventive Diplomacy: Delivering Results in 2011, he stated that ‘’Preventive diplomacy today is being conducted by a broader array of actors, using a wider range of tools, than ever before. This is due in part to the emergence of stronger normative frameworks in favor of international efforts to prevent violent conflict and mass atrocities and to ensure the inclusion of more voices in governance, peace and security’’.

Michael Lund defines preventive diplomacy as “actions taken in vulnerable places and times to avoid the threat or use of armed force and related forms of coercion by states or groups to settle the political disputes that can arise from destabilizing effects of economic, social, political, and international change.”

The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest countries and, unlike many of its West Africa neighbors, has enjoyed long spells of political stability after 52 years of self-rule since independence from the British on February 18th 1965, apart from a bloodily aborted coup d’état in July 1981 by Kukoi Samba Sanyang and the attempted coup on Tuesday, December 30th 2014 led by 57-year-old Texas businessman ChernoNjie (Sallah, 1990).

Today 2nd December 2017 has marked one year in the political history book of the Gambia since during the political impasse in the Gambia last year. On December 1st 2016, Gambians went to the polls to elect a new leader against the incumbent dictator Jammeh with the main Coalition opposition candidate, Adama Barrow and Mama Kandeh of Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC). However, Jammeh’s 22-year rule came to an end in 2016, when he was defeated in a shock election result by the main Coalition opposition candidate, Adama Barrow.After the election on 2nd December, 2016, situations took a U-turn when former president Jammeh surprisingly and magnanimously accepted his defeat in a televised statement and was congratulated by regional and international bodies for so doing. But on the 9th December, he reversed his position, claiming that ‘unacceptable abnormalities’ (including the IEC announcing revised results) invalidated the results. However, Jammeh threaten not to stand down until a fresh election was conducted. His statement therefore provoked a political crisis that led to thousands of Gambians fleeing the country to neighboring countries like Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry because of fear for a likelihood of a violent conflict. He has since petitioned Gambia’s Supreme Court for a re-run of the polls, in what critics have said is simply an attempt to cling to power but unfortunately there was no Supreme Court Judges by that time.

On Wednesday, 18th of January 2017, Gambia’s parliament voted to extend his term of office by 90 days (3 months) state of emergency, GRTS state television reports. Mr. Barrow was then inaugurated and sworn in as Gambian president in a ceremony held at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, capital of Senegal on Thursday, January 19 (Burke and Freeman 2017). This political crisis took an international dimension that drew in institutional-regimes’ involvements led by ECOWAS of which Gambia is membered. Under the crisis and by the consents of the UN and its Security Council, the main organ responsible for both preventive diplomatic means of conflict prevention and forcible application when the former fails, as well as the AU in Addis Ababa giving a shield to the election results put up diplomatic means to convince Jammeh to accept defeat and allow peaceful transition of power.

Preventive diplomacy in the Gambia is dated back to the first Republic under former president Jawara and former president Abdou Diouf of Senegal when both cross-border and domestically-induced policy instruments were domesticated to institute, improve, and sustain political stability and democracy that was supported by people’s welfare and viewed as people-powered government (Senegambia Confederation 1982).

However, in the last December 2016/2017, the use of this policy was intensified under the ECOWAS protocol and the AU and UN charters to abort a highly and endemic violence of monumental destruction that was conceived from a political construct and device designed by the Yahya Jammeh dictatorial regime that refused to terminated when legally and democratically (constitutionally) terminated on December 1st, 2016 when the nation’s presidential election was conducted.

Prior to the election time, preventive diplomacy was coming in the form of appeals to the Jammeh regime to sign to agreements to hold a free, fair and credible presidential election come December, 2016 where opposition figures were given equal opportunities and level playing ground to participate contrary to previous elections that oppositions used to boycott and feel unsafe, resulting in unpopular election-victories. The election observers used to come and disagree with results like the EU observes in 2011 election.

Preventive diplomacy was also coming in the form of dialogue, negotiation and mediation. Following the Decision of the Summit of the ECOWAS authority taken on 17th December 2016 in Abuja, Nigeria, Mediation efforts, including visits to Banjul, were undertaken by the Chair of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, HE former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Mediator, HE President Muhammadu Buhari and Co-Mediator on The Gambia, HE Ernest President John Dramani Mahama, along with HE President Ernest Bai Koroma to mediate on the political impasse with Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh. However, delegations led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have tried to convince Mr Jammeh to step down and relinquished power to president elect Adama Barrow but the outcome of the persuasion was not clear.  Following further mediation efforts by HE President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and HE President Alpha Conde of the Republic of Guinea Conakry with HE Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, the former President of the Republic of The Gambia, and in consultation with the Chairperson of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, the Chairperson of the African Union and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, this declaration is made with the purpose of reaching a peaceful resolution to the political situation in The Gambia (UN 2017).This however failed as Jammeh reneged on not quitting the stage and opted for war. This latest development resorted to use of force by the ECOMIG to remove him on the 19th January 2017 when his term legitimately terminated. The operation was codenamed “Operation Restore Democracy” (Daily Mail, 2017). However, this brought in the ECOMIG under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2337, 2017.Jammeh only left office after mediation by neighboring countries (Nigeria, Mauritania, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leon) and the threat of armed intervention by ECOMIG Forces (BBC News, 2017).

However, scholars have queried the sincerity of the external influence on hypocrisy that has infected the genuine process of diplomatic means for conflict resolve. Some other scholars have commended the role of preventive diplomacy as a good move to stabilize the Gambia. Others have put the blame on nasty hegemonic-institutionalism and consolidation under Jammeh for 22 years that which was ruthlessly obstinate to loosen from its grip of the country. This opinion divisions created scholarly debate into this context. No doubt, the use of preventive diplomacy suffered some challenges during the political crisis in December 2016 to 2017.

The following are considered as the main challenges:

•           Divisions among the opposition coalition on power sharing structure and reform.

•           Politics of the power-blocs within the ECOWAS, especially the primordial traditional interest of Senegal to use every means to remove Jammeh perceived as their antagonist to what is presumed ‘’Senegalese interest in the Gambia’’.

•           Low level political education and democratic practice in the Gambia and the ‘’too much fear’’ people had for Jammeh to boldly challenge or oppose him.

•           The role of some international figures like Dr Zakir Naik (the Islamic preacher), who was instigating Jammeh to stay put, using religious confusions.

•           Ethnic influences and incitements and group loyalists of Jammeh.

In conclusion, one could attest that without preventive diplomacy during the political impasse, Gambia would have been a war torn zone country. The role preventive diplomacy played during the political impasse in the Gambia cannot be over emphasized. Preventive diplomacy has played an instrumental role in preventing a likelihood of a violent conflict in the Gambia through the support of ECOWAS, the AU and the United Nations to ensure that the verdict of the people delivered at the polls of 1st December 2016 is upheld. The role played by ECOWAS has really demonstrated their stance in ensuring regional stability, peace and security.

Authors

John Louis Gomez – A senior political science student at the University of the Gambia.

Felix O. Omotosho – A senior political science lecturer at the University of the Gambia.