JOHN Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, an English Catholic historian, politician and writer, in his letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton on April 3, 1887 made the following statement which has stood the course of history: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The 130-year old treatise serves both as a warning and a guide to men and women who have been given or forcefully acquired the power to determine the affairs of others. Hiding it in the heart has helped many world leaders not to fall into self-deceit; and they ended up writing their names in gold in the history of their nations. But there are many who did otherwise and found themselves on the other side of history, their contributions to the development of their countries notwithstanding. Ex-Gambia’s president, Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, was defiantly trying to enroll himself on the latter league. He was forcing his way into the assembly of great men who ended their chapters in leadership as ‘bad men’ for the love of power.
It could be that he loved the recent stories of Laurent Gbagbo, who was the president of Côte d’Ivoire from 2000 until his arrest in April 2011 and extradition to the International Criminal Court in November the same year, becoming the first head of state to be taken into the court’s custody; and Hosni Mubarak, who served as the fourth President of Egypt for almost 30 years from 1981 but was forced out of office through the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 that lasted for 18 days, leaving him to face trial on allegations of corruption and abuse of power, which is still ongoing.
These, among many others, are the men who Jammeh was trying to toe their path. After 22 years in power as Gambia’s president, Jammeh lost the December 1, 2016 presidential elections to the opposition candidate, Adama Barrow. He had graciously conceded defeat to Barrow even before the final results were announced on December 2, 2016. But on December 9, 2016, Jammeh announced that he was rejecting the results and called for a new election, sparking a constitutional crisis. Since then, he employed all manner of tactics to keep himself in power to no avail. These included a petition to the country’s Supreme Court seeking to upturn the result of the election, which could not be heard because he had sacked several of the justices; declaration of a state of emergency across the country and an extension of his tenure for three months through the parliament. But as he was plotting all these, his key aides and political associates were deserting him. Internationally, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) were on the side of Barrow, who was sworn into office in neighbouring Senegal on January 19. ECOWAS had intervened in many ways to ensure Jammeh respected the Gambian constitution and left office gracefully but he did not give a hoot. He suddenly became a political orphan in a country he had toiled to build, and even globally. In total defiance to the omen of doom, which was all around him, he still went ahead to get himself sworn into office for another term of five years also on January 19. But as ECOWAS was about to make good its threat of forcing him out, with the backing of both the AU and UN Security Council, Jammeh discovered he lacks the gut to square up to the international community and went into hiding despite his initial braggadocio. How could he have forgotten that the voice of the people is the voice of God? And that the okra tree, no matter how tall it becomes, never ceases to bend to its planter. But it could be that his senses had taken flight because “those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”
Born on May 25, 1965, Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh was the second President of the Gambia. He joined the Gambian National Army in 1984, was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1989 and in August 1992 became commanding officer of the Military Police of Yundum Barracks. He received extensive military training in neighboring Senegal, and military police training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. On July 22, 1994, Jammeh with a group of young officers in the Gambian National Army, seized power from President Sir Dawda Jawara in a military coup.
Jammeh later founded the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction as his political party. He was elected as president in September 1996. He was re-elected in 2001, 2006 and 2011, before losing to Barrow in the 2016 presidential election.