Gambia – A Turning Point

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Longtime ruler initially concedes and then backtracks on acceptance of historic election result. 

The results of the recent election on December 1st saw 22-year leader Yahya Jammeh ousted and debates surrounding his prosecution have become central topics of discussion. His regime has been accused of arresting many activists, journalists and opposition members.

President-elect Adama Barrow, who heads a coalition of parties, told Al Jazeera that a truth and reconciliation commission would be established to look at human rights abuses committed during Jammeh’s rule, after which the government will file a case at the International Criminal Court (ICC). “It is a matter of justice. People should not fear. The process will be fair and will not pinpoint anyone,” he said.

The new President-Elect, however, is understandably cautious, as the country now faces a two-month transition period and rumours have abounded that Jammeh could try to force a coup in an act of self-preservation. The heads of the army and police services, however, have declared their support for the new coalition.

Jammeh is reportedly currently hiding in his villa in his hometown of Kanilai. His paramilitary hit squad known as the ‘Junglers’ is also based near Kanilai – the group is thought to be responsible for a number of high profile killings, such as of newspaper editor Deyda Hydara in 2004.

The incoming coalition has stated that it intends to compensate Gambians for their loss of lands, according to the leader of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Omar Jallow, part of the new coalition. Political prisoners were also released, with around 31 so far released from Mile 2 Central Prison near Banjul.

Among the first group freed was Ousainou Darboe, the 68-year-old leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), who founded the opposition party in 1996 and is often described as “the Mandela of the Gambia” for his two decades of struggle against Jammeh.

Another legacy of Jammeh’s rule has been divisions among ethnic groups, particularly between the Jola tribe and the Mandinka, Fulani and Wolof. Jammeh held fears that he would be toppled by the majority Mandinka, which make up around 33% of the population, and he resorted to appointing his own chiefs, reported Al Jazeera.

Gamcel sponsored poster promoting Jammeh

Gamcel sponsored poster promoting Jammeh – CC

Barrow told RFI in an exclusive interview that what was needed was “an overhaul of basically everything in the government.” According to Deutschewelle Barrow has also stated that he intends to keep Gambia in the controversial ICC. Barrow is a real estate CEO and a newcomer to the political scene, selected by a coalition of seven opposition parties.

Barrow won 54.54% while Jammeh took 36.66% of the vote. However, after the initial optimism, anxiety returned as Jammeh decided in a TV interview on December 9th, to annul the poll result citing ‘irregularities’, just over a week after conceding to the coalition.

“I accepted the results then, believing that what was presented was the will of you the Gambian people… I made it clear that I will never cheat in anything… in the same way also, I will never accept being cheated by anyone,” Jammeh said.

Jammeh, in the interview, call for a re-run, recommending new transparent elections mediated by an independent electoral commission. Meanwhile the head of the coalition team Mai Ahmed Fatty said, “We are working round the clock to restore sanity. The world is with us.”

The US State Department dismissed the reversal of President Jammeh’s concession speech as “null and void,” while urging the military and other national institutions to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, reported the East African.

Jammeh had declared the country an Islamic Republic in 2015, has been accused of a string of rights abuses, and had said that with the ‘will of God’ he could rule for a billion years, reported Deutschewelle.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

THE GAMBIA: Interior Minister Replaced
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 9, Pp. 21136C–21137A

THE GAMBIA: Darboe Jailed
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 7, Pp. 21071A–21071C

THE GAMBIA: Dozens More Arrested
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 5, Pp. 21005C–21006B

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Uganda – Opposition Leader Accused of Treason

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As the President is inaugurated for a fifth term, the opposition stages a mock ceremony in protest.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye has been under house arrest since the Presidential elections earlier in February, in which he had disputed the results that declared President Yoweri Museveni the winner.

Besigye was arrested in Kampala on May 11th after managing to escape house arrest, staging a mock ceremony where he was sworn in as President; Lawyer Erias Lukwago said that he was then taken by security forces to the town of Moroto, around 400km away.

Lukwago commented that Besigye had been denied any legal representation and was charged with treason on May 13th; he was remanded in custody for a later court appearance on May 25th, reported Al Jazeera.

Besigye has been a long-standing opponent of Museveni and has been frequently jailed, put under house arrest and accused of numerous crimes. He was Museveni’s doctor in the 1980s war that brought him to power but has since run against him in four elections.

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Besigye election campaign from 2011 – CC

Museveni has been in power for three decades and was sworn in for a fifth term on May 12th after winning the February election with 61% of the vote. During the ceremony he criticised the International Criminal Court (ICC) which prompted a walkout by US and European Union (EU) diplomats.

The EU had called the atmosphere during the elections “intimidating” as the government banned live coverage of the protests, and also stated that the electoral body lacked independence and transparency.

Reports suggested that Besigye had managed to escape from 24 hour surveillance to make a surprise appearance in Kampala. The opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) announced the alternative inauguration.

 A video emerged showing Besigye’s “swearing-in ceremony“; Besigye is seen walking up to a podium and signing an “oath of allegiance.” Besigye adds in the video that despite providing “incontrovertible evidence” showing that he won the election with 52% of the vote, the election process was not constitutional, reported the Observer.

Outgoing FDC opposition leader Philip Wafula Oguttu said, “we are casting doubt both at home and abroad on the legitimacy of Museveni’s presidency…they will see that this matter will have to be settled politically, not in Parliament or in court.”

Following the Presidential inauguration on May 12th, the East African reported that attention has now shifted to constitutional reforms, and there have been suggestions that Museveni may remove the age limit to allow him to further extend his reign, after previously extending term limits to run in the February elections.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin today:

Uganda – Besigye House Arrest Lifted
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.4, Pp.20965A–20965B

UGANDA: Post-Election Fallout
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.3, Pp.20928B–20929A

UGANDA: Museveni Wins Fifth Term
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.2, Pp. 20879A–20880C

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South Africa – ANC decide to leave the ICC

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The government decides to withdraw from the ICC, with concerns this could set a continent-wide precedent.

According to a ministerial representative for the South African government, they are planning to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), amongst growing external pressure as authorities ignored a court order to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir earlier in June.

Al-Bashir who is wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity and genocide charges in Darfur, was allowed to leave South Africa after an African Union (AU) Summit, despite a ruling by a South African court to detain him. President Jacob Zuma, according to al-Jazeera, chose loyalty to a fellow AU member rather than his commitments to the ICC.

The decision prompted wide ranging international criticism; the Economist went as far to say that “Nelson Mandela’s legacy has been soiled”. Also internally human rights organisations, executive leaders and judicial members were involved in heated debates.

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Omar al-Bashir (CC)

If South Africa leaves, it will be the first country to leave the ICC, amidst a current context of numerous accusations of an anti-African bias, from a number of leaders on the continent; particularly as the only people to be successfully tried at the court have been Africans.

When South Africa first joined the ICC in 1998, the apartheid era was just coming to an end, and they had hoped that the rest of the world would follow. Even today only 123 countries have ratified the Rome Statute, which aims to prosecute those responsible for the worst international crimes, with notable absentees including the United States (US), Russia and China.

A Deputy Minister in the South African Presidency, part of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) congress, said that the ICC has “lost its direction”, accusing powerful nations of trampling on human rights and pursuing “selfish interests”, reported UK-based the Guardian.

If the decision ends up a reality then it will embody some of the fundamental problems with international jurisprudence, particularly that the ICC is powerless to enforce its authority on its own member states.

The decision taken by South Africa is particularly poignant as it sends a signal from what is perceived by many to be one of the most advanced democracies on the continent, setting a precedent for other countries to follow suit. Earlier in 2013 a group of African states, angry at charges levelled against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, called for a continent-wide withdrawal from the ICC.

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On the other hand, ICC supporters have claimed that such narratives are using ‘pan-Africanism’ as a cover from international scrutiny and human rights law, arguing that the ICC is in fact a hugely valuable tool for “rampant legal impunity”, reported al-Jazeera.

Others have noted that the apparently disproportionate targeting of Africans by the court is explained, in part, by statistical probability. Africa accounts for 34 of the court’s member states, as well as a large percentage of the violent conflicts that produces charges pursued by the court.

Ventures Africa comment that it is important to note that in the eight African countries of which the ICC has operated, the governments of Cote D’Ivoire, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Mali and Uganda have all requested that the ICC probe crimes on their soil. Only Libya and Sudan have had their cases referred by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

However the decision would still need to be ratified by both the upper and lower houses of parliament as much of the ICC regulation has been incorporated into domestic legal procedures, reported BBC News; although the ANC does have a large majority in parliament.

Minister for International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that the government is taking the idea seriously, adding that the matter is on the agenda for the next meeting of ICC members at The Hague in November.

In regards to alternatives, RFI report that there have been murmurs of a transfer of authority for such international cases, in Africa, to the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, although current proposals have excluded charges brought against heads of state, as is currently in place with the ICC. Additionally the ongoing trial of Chadian ex President Hissène Habré, by a Senegalese court, has signalled wider financing issues, as the trial was delayed for many years due to a lack of funds.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

South Africa-Sudan-ICC
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.7, Pp.20695B

South Africa-Sudan-ICC: Arrest Row
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.6, Pp.20623B–20624C

Sudan: Damning HRW Report
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.2, Pp.20473C–20474C

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today

Gambian heads up International Criminal Court

Fatou Bensouda will be the first African to hold a top post at the ICC, based in The Hague.

Fatou Bensouda has been appointed head of the ICC (Picture: Max Koot Studio)

The Gambian’s appointment was unanimously approved at a meeting of the legislative body of the ICC, the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), in New York on December 19th – making her the future public face and chief strategist of the tribunal responsible for investigating the world’s worst atrocities.

Bensouda beat three other short-listed candidates: Andrew Cayley, the British co-prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia; Tanzania’s chief justice Mohamed Chande Othman; and Canadian war crimes specialist Robert Petit.

The African Union (AU) has been a fierce critic of outgoing ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo from Argentina, claiming he focused almost exclusively on Africa as if atrocities did not take place elsewhere and labeling it a “neocolonial tool.”

Mrs Bensouda’s manner is very different from Moreno-Ocampo’s publicity-seeking style but, having served as his deputy, she is likely to bring continuity.  In a BBC World Service interview she explains her thoughts on the African cases.  In four of them — involving the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Uganda and the Cote d’Ivoire — the governments themselves called in the court. Two cases, involving Sudan and Libya, were initiated on instructions from the United Nations Security Council. And only one case, involving six suspects linked to post-election violence in Kenya, was initiated by the prosecutor’s office. Some groups in Kenya continue to call for the trials to be held at home.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan is wanted by the court on charges that include genocide and the AU insists that its member countries ignore the court’s arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir. Charges against Colonel Gaddafy were annulled with his death.

“My origin, being an African, has nothing to do with my mandate,” said Bensouda at a news conference after her election. Gambian newspaper The Point welcomed her appointment saying it had put the small country on the international map.

Fatou Bensouda’s rise to prominence

Born 31 January 1961 in Banjul.

Studied law in Lagos, Nigeria.

Deputy Prosecutor in charge of the ICC’s prosecution division since 2004.

Bensouda has previously served as Solicitor-General of Gambia, as well as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice under President Yahya Jammeh.

She has held positions of Legal Adviser and Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Bensouda has been named by Jeune Afrique magazine as the 4th most Influential Personality in Africa in the Civil Society Category and one of the 100 most Influential African Personalities.

Find out more with the following back issues of the Africa Research Bulletin

Pre-Trial Hearings (Vol. 48 Number 10 p. 19021)

ICC Hearings begin (Vol. 48 Number 9 p. 18988)

William Ruto dismissed (Vol. 48 No.8 p. 18940)

Ocampo’s new evidence (Vol. 48 No. 8 p. 18953)

Ocampo six (Vol. 48 No. 7 p. 18913)

ICC Trials shift nearer (Vol. 48 no. 6 p. 18877)

Preliminary ICC hearings (Vol. 48 no. 4 p. 18805)

Ocampo six case to go ahead (Vol 48 no. 3 p. 1878)

Anti-ICC sentiment (Vol. 48 No. 1 pl 18701)

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