Often the news circulating on the most read newspapers and the most watched/listened broadcasters convey the image of an extremely poor Africa: its endless civil wars, epidemics such as AIDS, ebola, malaria, etc. A continent where population growth is a threat. People constantly fleeing war or poverty by migrating to neighboring countries or to Europe, etc.
The purpose of this article is not to contradict this image conveyed by certain media, but rather to highlight the other face of Africa that is not often shown. It is an Africa in search of its own unity. An Africa that struggles to find the most appropriate solutions to its problems. We could share several initiatives in this direction, but we would rather analyze the Gambian experience as a living witness of an Africa in search of negotiated solutions, specifically in the area of conflict resolution, as described in the document of the African Union: 'Vision 2064: an Africa without the sound of weapons.’
Indeed, from December 9, 2016, to January 21, 2017, thick clouds hovered over Gambia and the whole West Africa. Gambia came close to a catastrophe, facing a wave of blindness and refusal of the law, after the victory of the new President of Gambia, Mr Adama Barrow, in the presidential election of December 1, 2016, with 43.2% votes in his favor versus 39.6% in favor of the president in office, Mr Yahya Jammeh, in power since 1994.
This serious threat of political and institutional destabilization resulting from the challenge to the outcome of the elections called by the former President, Mr Yaya Jammeh, was in particular a major concern of West African political decision-makers, but also of the African Union in general.
Should we accept the unacceptable, then? Accepting that someone who lost the elections would remain in power, although the Gambian citizens had said ‘no’ to him by their votes in the ballot boxes? ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States ) issued a categorical rejection through its emissaries. The African Union declared that the situation was unacceptable. Even the international community said its ‘no’ through the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Resolution of the Security Council on Gambia.
Several attempts at mediation have taken place, involving heads of state mandated by the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and some individual States, but still under the informal mandate of ECOWAS or the African Union. As in every crisis, several solutions have been proposed ranging from a negotiated solution to military intervention to chase the president and his team from power.
Moreover, in front of the categorical refusal of Mr. Yaya Jammeh to step back, the military solution was much more privileged compared to a negotiated solution. The sending by ECOWAS of military troops onto Gambian soil was a strong signal of this recourse to force to chase the outgoing president. We should also emphasize the strong differences between the actors in the Gambian crisis: those who favored military intervention, as in the case of Senegal, Nigeria, etc. and those who believed in dialogue even until the last minute, like Mauritania, Guinea Konacry, etc.
The peculiarity of the case of Gambia lies in the pattern adopted by the African leaders in the resolution of this conflict. Firmness, lucidity, method, and know-how, have accompanied the procedures and contacts to bring back to the reason Mr. Yaya Jammeh and the few Gambians who still supported him.
Many observers think that he had no choice but to give up because of the pressure from the international community, but such a reading is short-sighted and does not take into account the various similar experiences (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Central African Republic, etc.) where the refusal was eventually broken by a military intervention.
In the case of Gambia, the success of mediation was the fruit of concerted patience, serene intelligence, and methodical action implemented in homeopathic steps. Dialogue was preferred to force despite the radicalism shown for several weeks by the former Head of State of Gambia, Mr. Yaya Jatmmeh, who had chosen the way of refusing the law and the free choice of the Gambian people. This choice had been expressed by a clear vote, issued by the ballot boxes on December 1, 2016, but the African leaders showed their patience and will to resolve the conflicts on the continent through dialogue rather than by force, as some political actors would have preferred.
Then the former president found the courage to issue an unexpected statement on the State television: "I decided today in good conscience to give up the responsibility of the leadership of this great Nation. To all those who have supported me as well as to those who have opposed me during this recent period, I ask to place the supreme interest of our nation, Gambia, above partisan interests, and work together."
If different actors have given their contribution to the peaceful resolution of the crisis, the role played by the presidents of Guinea Conakry, Mr. Alpha Conde, and Mauritania, Mr. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, will remain engraved in the history of the Continent. They have proven that Africa no longer needs to shed blood to resolve its disputes and that Africans are willing to pay the price that is needed in terms of patience and concessions to avoid the use of force.
The negotiated solution was appreciated by the international community, for example by the African Union, the European Union, and the United States of America.
These are the words of the sposkesperson ad interim of US diplomacy, Mark Toner: "We applaud the democratic commitment and restraint shown by the Gambian people over the last few weeks (...) We appreciate Yahya Jammeh's decision to leave Gambia peacefully and we support President Barrow's appeal to the Gambians to get united and work together (...) for the future of Gambia."