RE: “Lessons from the Gambia?” (The New Times, January 25).
International relations are governed by realpolitik, rarely, if ever, by high principle. Gambia is a one-off, and there will be little, if any, lessons to extrapolate on similar future cases where the characteristics of countries concerned are appreciably different from “Little Gambia” and (by the end) a friendless Yahya Jammeh.
As you rightly note, the difference between how the world powers (and their sub-regional counterparts) have dealt with blood-soaked Burundi—with its daily lot of state-organised murders and other repression—and the rapidity with which the same powers moved to kick out Jammeh confirm the realpolitik imperative.
Despite the extensive bloodshed, repression and hundreds of thousands of refugees arising from the obstinacy of Pierre Nkurunziza to hang on to power against his country’s constitution and the provisions of the Arusha accords that ended Burundi’s previous civil war, Nkurunziza enjoys, for their own geopolitical reasons, the overt or covert support of some regional and some extra-regional powers.
Thus, even though the fallout of his clinging on to power unconstitutionally has been infinitely more costly to the people of Burundi than Jammeh’s half-hearted attempt to do the same has been to the people of The Gambia, it is Jammeh against whom global and regional powers have mobilised their full force. Yeah, realpolitik rules.
When needed, principles can then always be trotted out rhetorically, massaged into appropriate shape, and marshaled to provide a fig-leaf to the pursuit of the narrow interests of the states or of the powerful individuals pushing for intervention.
Another lesson from The Gambia (although off-topic) is that you do not have to spend millions of dollars or even seek financial help from the West to conduct elections.
The Gambia showed fellow poor African countries that a country does not have to have those expensive ballot boxes, special ink and ballot papers to conduct elections.
They used marbles and locally made containers. To make election even cheaper, a country can even use stones instead of marbles. Yet, some African countries postpone elections for years under pretext that they do not have funds to buy materials, when they are full of stones, both precious and non-precious.
What is important in an election is to ensure that there is no cheating. The type of equipment needed to conduct election is is not that important.