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Politics is often full of surprises, and on 5 September, the unexpected happened in Banjul. Fabakary Tombong Jatta, the secretary-general of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) , announced that an agreement had been reached with the ruling National People’s Party (NPP).
The parties of President Adama Barrow and his predecessor, Yahya Jammeh, have decided to form a coalition three months before Gambia’s next presidential election, which is scheduled for 5 December. The time when the latter had contested the former’s victory and was then forced onto a plane bound for Malabo by Ecowas troops seems to be a distant memory.
Staying in power
Should we be surprised by this? Prior to the December 2016 polls, Barrow was supported by the 2016 coalition, a bloc of eight parties led by the United Democratic Party (UDP), to which Barrow belonged to at the time. However, the UDP withdrew its support in September 2019.
This was not only due to internal quarrelling that quickly pitted Barrow against Ousseinou Darboe – a historic opponent of Jammeh and an emblematic figure of the party – but also due to the head of state’s desire to remain in power beyond the three years to which he had committed to. It was within this context that the NPP was created in December 2019.
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However, Barrow needs to strengthen his electoral base before the presidential and legislative elections, which will take place in April 2022. “The president and the NPP have sensed defeat and believe that salvation could come from a deal with the APRC,” says Amadou Scattred Janneh, a member of the UDP executive.
“This alliance is purely opportunistic. It is in Barrow’s best interest to get along with Jammeh’s party to avoid a debacle,” says someone familiar with Gambian politics, reiterating that the UDP has held a majority in the Assembly since the 2016 legislative election.
Pursuing Jammeh – or not
This alliance also raises other questions. Jatta, the APRC spokesperson, says that Jammeh’s “peaceful and dignified” return to Banjul was one of the points of the memorandum of understanding. So what will happen to the work of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).
The Commission was created in 2019 to shed light on the crimes committed during Jammeh’s presidency, from July 1994 to January 2017.
When he came to power, Barrow pledged to fight against impunity. On 30 September, the TRRC is due to present its recommendations to the head of state, who will then need to decide whether or not to prosecute Jammeh. Will he risk alienating his new ally? It is unlikely, say the human rights organisations, who recall that Jatta had said in July that he wanted “the TRRC’s final report to be thrown in the bin.”
However, according to an Afrobarometer survey that was released the day after the APRC-NPP coalition was announced, 73% of Gambians surveyed believe that “those who committed crimes and human rights violations during the Jammeh regime should be tried in a court of law.”
“I can empathise with the distress of Gambians who have been tortured, raped or lost loved ones and are now wondering if justice will ever be served,” says Reed Brody, a member of the International Commission of Jurists. He insists that “governments have a legal obligation to investigate and prosecute acts of torture and crimes against humanity, and that these crimes cannot be pardoned.”
Last May, Karim Khan tweeted that justice must be done in Gambia, just as he was about to become the new prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Gambia is still a member of the ICC, thanks in part to the efforts of Barrow, who reversed Jammeh’s decision to leave the Hague-based court in February 2017. At the time, he had made a point of ensuring that the ‘crimes’ of his predecessor were punished. It is not clear now whether this is still the case.
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