A Reminder to Dictators: Lessons from the Gambia

See the Original Article Here at the Governance Post

(Published April 10th, 207)

In a 2011 BBC interview, the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh proudly declared “If I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will.” Six years later, on January 21st, 2017, that billion year reign was cut abruptly short as its ruler left the country in exile. The nature of his sudden departure not only highlights lessons that the West can take from African institutions, but also serves as a reminder to those with authoritarian aspirations.

Until 1994, the Gambia had been a flawed-but-young democracy, led by its popular-but-ageing incumbent president, when the young Lt. Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup. At the time, this likely did not seem out of the ordinary to an outside observer—in the previous president’s 24-year tenure, 14 other countries in Africa experienced a cumulative 35 successful coups. The behaviour of the post-coup government was equally unsurprising, featuring all the classics of an authoritarian crackdown: from violent responses to protests to armed intimidation of voters, journalists and opposition candidates.

Through the use of repression against a divided opposition, Jammeh would go on to win four terms as president of the Gambia, revealing more eccentricities with each victory. The final decade of his presidency featured the revelation of his magical cures for AIDS and infertility, the kidnapping and forced drugging of hundreds accused of witchcraft, the deaths of several children run over by his stretch Hummer motorcade, and the apparent claim to immortality featured at the start of this article.

When the 2016 election saw the opposition parties unite behind Adama Barrow, a real estate agent that called out Jammeh for being a “soulless dictator,” Gambians expected more unsurprising repression. Instead, the political outsider bested the Billion-Year-President’s vote count by nearly 4%. Though initially Jammeh conceded defeat, within a week he had second thoughts and rejected the outcome, calling for new elections under a “God-fearing and independent electoral commission.” This sparked outrage not only in the domestic opposition, but in the international community, rapidly escalating the crisis.

The day before the United States inaugurated its 45th president, Adama Barrow was sworn in as the Gambia’s new president while taking refuge in neighbouring Senegal. That same day the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) began UN sanctioned military operations against the Jammeh government, with troops from Senegal, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, and Mali entering Gambian territory with little resistance. Already, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had reported up to 26,000 refugees fleeing the country to Senegal since the election. The following day, ECOWAS troops halted their advance on the Gambian capitol as mediators tried to convince Jammeh to step down in the face of overwhelming force. One deadline passed, then a second, before finally a settlement was reached, and Jammeh’s 22-year-long presidency came to an end.

As interesting as this story is, it begs the question: why should anybody in the West care? After all, the Gambia has a smaller population than Chicago, and most people couldn’t even find it on a map. Stories from Africa, and the developing world as a whole, are frequently ignored this way – yet there are lessons to be learned there regardless.

First, African institutions and developments should not be ignored. Europe’s neighbour is often stereotyped as a heap of corrupt authoritarian states, crippled by ethnic rivalries and limited resources. There are kernels of truth from which this accusation stems: ECOWAS, and the African Union as a whole are not nearly as integrated politically or economically as the European Union, nor do their members meet the standards of democracy of which EU members claim to be shining of examples.

Yet in one regard, the African Union has surpassed all of its counterparts – the role of intervention and the Responsibility to Protect. The AU is the only regional or international organisation which has officially codified the right to militarily intervene in another state on humanitarian grounds, going against the sacrosanct norm of nonintervention established in the UN Charter. Where other democracies have shied away from the subject of intervention in recent years, African states have rose to the challenge – the ECOWAS intervention to protect Gambian democracy is only the latest of many. The African Union has had a leading role in Peacekeeping operations in Darfur since 2003, played a crucial role in Burundi peacekeeping operations from 2003-2004, and launched a successful military intervention against Comorian separatists in 2008. Not all of these military interventions have been smooth sailing, with lack of manpower seriously crippling the 2007 operations in Somalia. However, considering the serious economic, developmental and security challenges Africa faces, these operations were surprisingly successful – particularly when compared to some of the West’s recent military interventions.

The West must realise that it is not the sole protector of the liberal democratic order. While the EU and the US certainly remain the more powerful and united actors on the global stage, the anti-globalist backlash they are currently undergoing is by no means a death knell for the norms of the current world order. In spite of their own democratic deficits, African states have proven that they are willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to protecting and ensuring democracy in their local neighbourhood. The Gambia’s new president is now reversing the country’s previous plans to leave the International Criminal Court and the Commonwealth, showing that the backlash to these programs is not universal.

Events in the Gambia should also serve as a reminder to dictators, and to world leaders in general. After 22 years in the grip of a madman and under the watch of one of the most feared intelligence services in Africa, Gambians now have cause for hope. Plenty of challenges still await the country and its new president, but if the story of the rise and fall of Yahya Jammeh has any moral it is this: no matter how assured your reign may be, no matter how much control you think you have, even a billion-year presidency must come to an end one day.


Vladimir Putin's Trump Card

See the original article at The Governance Post

October 24th, 2016
The past few weeks have been anything but uneventful when it comes to US-Russian relations. September saw the ceasefire in Syria fall apart, and October has been even more eventful: Russia has moved Iskander-M nuclear missiles into Kaliningrad (violating the INF Treaty and hypothetically putting much of North Eastern Europe in range of a short range nuclear attack). This month has also seen Russia withdraw from their bilateral agreement with the US to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium stockpiles. The most significant and likely most publicized event, however, was the official accusation, leveled by the White House, that the Russian government is responsible for interfering in the US presidential election through the use of cyber-attacks.

It should not be a surprise that the Russian Federation has an interest in seeing Donald Trump be elected – the Republican nominee has praised the leadership of Putin, denied the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, suggested he would not defend a NATO members from a Russian invasion, and even threatened to pull out of the alliance altogether. Rumours of Russian interference which have been circulating since the leak of hacked DNC emails earlier this year gave trouble to the Clinton campaign. The significance of this new development, and its role inthe larger Russian strategy should not be understated: a victory for Donald Trump would be a godsend to Putin.

Trump is just the latest in a batch of populist, pro-Russian politicians that have found success across the West. In Europe, populist and eurosceptic parties (both left and right on the spectrum) have shown varying degrees of support for or openness to Russian foreign policy. UKIP’s former leader, Nigel Farage, called Vladimir Putin the leader he most admires. In France, the Front National has accepted a multi-million euro loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank, a lender with links to the Kremlin. The Front National’s leader, Marine Le Pen has also made several trips to Moscow and praised Putin repeatedly. These parties frequently tout anti-establishment, anti-NATO, and anti-EU sentiments, making them ideal allies to Putin, who sees NATO as an obstacle to his activities in Ukraine and Syria, and has an interest in diminishing the sanctions regime currently imposed on Russia by the US & EU.

Any electoral victory by these parties is a strategic and symbolic victory for Russia. Outcomes such as that of the Brexit referendum earlier this year drive wedges into the Western block, grantlegitimacy to Putin’s criticisms of European and American institutions, and pull public focus away from Russian military activities in Syria, Ukraine, and along the Baltic border. A president Trump would be in an ideal position to weaken NATO’s collective security regime as both members and rivals lose faith in America’s reliability as an ally.

Yet a Clinton victory may only serve to delay a future American retreat from NATO. While the political establishment disagrees with Trump on his stances regarding Russian aggression (to the point where Trump disavowed his running mate’s comments on the matter in the second debate), there is reason to think that might change. In France, the establishment centre-right party Les Republicains has adopted many pro-Russian stances similar to that of the Front National, with 10 French members of parliament visiting Russia in late 2015 to defend the annexation of Crimea. Though this action was controversial and disavowed by most french politicians, current Les Republicains party leader and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also said that “Crimea can’t be blamed for choosing Russia”, implying that the controversial referendum –boycotted by the Tartar minority and under the close eye of Russian soldiers – had democratic legitimacy.

US establishment politicians may also shift toward Russia in a future bid to capture the votes of non-interventionists who have similar views to Trump. According to a Pew Research Center survey from Spring 2015, only 49% of Americans hold a positive view of NATO (supporters include 56% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans). This strategy could even help a candidate capture votes across the aisle – a majority of Democrats in the survey did not support the use military force to defend a NATO ally against Russia. What does this mean for the future of the US, Europe and NATO as a whole?

If Trump wins the presidency, NATO may be weakened immeasurably. If he loses, another, more broadly appealing candidate, may still promote similar pro-Russia positions later on, under the guise of pacifism or anti-interventionism as a way to appeal to the public. If Russia is truly responsible for cyber-attacks directly interfering with this election cycle, then the likelihood of such a candidate winning either in the US or in another NATO member has increased substantially. For the sake of collective security, NATO members’ establishment parties should look to de-legitimise such candidates and parties by exposing covert or suspicious ties between them and the Kremlin. This is easier said than done, and care must be taken to protect civil society so this does not become a witch hunt or modern iteration of McCarthyism or the Red Scares.

Additionally, NATO’s European members may now have to deal with the possibility that America’s support is no longer a fixed quantity. If a “russophile” candidate such as Donald Trump wins the presidency, Europe must have a contingency in order to provide for its own security or risk facing Russia alone.

All world leaders have a handful of cards with which to work. Through the revelation of Russia’s hack of the DNC, the US may have just revealed Putin’s best card: Donald Trump.