12/12/2016

Faulting Dictatorship

If there is an easy thing to do, it seems, is to fault dictatorship. And dictators. Simply because they are dictators.

It is as if by virtue of them being dictators, all evil is theirs.
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Take Gambia. Yahya Jammeh.

A few days ago, Jammeh shocked the African continent. In what appeared to be a predictable election, with him as a winner, Jammeh lost. He did not only lose. He conceded defeat. Long before the Electoral Commission in the country officially declared the winner.

It was unprecedented. Both the loss and the concession. For, Jammeh in his dictatorial rants had once said that he would rule the Gambia for a billion years -- if Allah would will.

However, when the loss was in the air, he resigned to fate.

The optimists celebrated, the loss and the concession. They said Africa was slowly maturing, in its democracy. The pessimists, however, were not sure of what to make of Jammeh's loss and the concession. It seemed surreal.

Not long after, the Breaking News appeared on our Facebook timelines and their televisions: Jammeh had withdrawn his concession of the loss. He was calling for a fresh election. The reason being that he considered the election flawed. Not only did he consider that the electoral process was flawed but the Chairperson of the country's Electoral Commission had indeed accepted that there were irregularities with the process, especially the tabulation of votes.

Yes, the results did not change who the winner was but they narrowed the gap between the winner and the runner-up. Adama Barrow, for that is the name of the 'President-elect' of the Gambia was not anymore a very clear favourite over Jammeh, the runner-up.

This prompted Jammeh to take to the television waves of Gambia to annul the election, the results and his concession.

Drama. Typical of dictators.

Not long after, the public intellectuals came on Facebook. Jammeh is a dictator, they said. He is preparing a civil war in Gambia, they said. Their choruses were echoed by the international community. All those voices were merged into one: Jammeh had to do the right thing, step down for Barrow.

The way the international community and everyone has rushed to slam Jammeh would make you think it is a clear cut issue. But, personally, I think it is not as clear cut.

It is easy to fault Jammeh, more because he is a dictator; but I hold that Jammeh is not to be faulted.

If anything, the people to be faulted are the members of the Electoral Commission in Gambia who presided over the election. The callousness with which they conducted their voter tabulation is the one that has led the Gambia to where it is.

Jammeh was accepting defeat on the supposition that he was accepting defeat in a free and fair election. But was the election free and fair? I do not think so with the revelations and confessions made by the Gambian EC that they were on the wrong on vote tabulation.

That, the mistake they made at tabulation, has ripped the whole process apart. It has created room for doubts, fears and mistrust of the whole electoral process. No dictator, surely, would accept defeat in such an election. And, not just because he is a dictator but because he is human.

It needs a greater sense of statesmanship to accept the result in such a flawed election. And, Jammeh, we all know is nowhere to being near that honour. Even if he had graciously accepted such a flawed result, we know we would never have had him in the same regard as the statesmen of this world -- or the continent. He has such a dark record that could not be washed away by a simple peaceful transition of power.

I was lucky, for a stint, to have worked in an electoral support organisation. Any issue that deals with elections, to politicians, is sensitive.

We were advancing causes on electoral reforms but one could feel the mistrust from political players. To them, everything to do with election is a potential live wire, with the propensity to set the whole nation ablaze.

I do not think that is only the case in Malawi. It must be, also, in Gambia.

Considering the sensitivity of such a process, if there is anybody to be blamed in the whole Gambia fiasco, it is the Electoral Commission and the lackadaisical approach with which they did to the election.

It is easy to blame dictatorship, yes, but dictatorship usually starts and flourishes under the support of weaker institutions. In this case, Jammeh's dictatorship has been urged on by the weaker institution that is the EC.

Maybe when we move beyond faulting personalities, and start faulting institutions, can we then expect a healthy democracy. This, the case in Gambia, presents us with a better place for that: the faulting of institutions.