Photo: Reuters, retrieved

Yahya Jammeh was a piece of work. In his 22 years of eccentric authoritarian rule over The Gambia, he claimed miraculous powers to cure infertility and AIDS with herbal concoctions. After staging a coup in 1994, he spent his time persecuting journalists, harassing the gay community and ordering the execution of criminals and political opponents. Just your standard-issue whack-job dictator.

Why should Venezuelans care?

Because, on January 21, 2017, two months after losing an election he’d gone all out to rig, he stepped down down from power — reluctantly, but peacefully.

How did this happen? What lessons does this sliver of West Africa hold for us?

Since 1994, when Jammeh seized power in a coup, he ruled ruthlessly. He had two types of goons in charge of the dirty business: the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Jungulers.

NIA was an official intelligence office, which in many cases disappeared, tortured, and harassed opposition activists. The Jungulers were a paramilitary unit in charge of committing more egregious crimes. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.

Yahya Jammeh did not hesitate to eliminate his enemies or publicly threaten them. “Let me warn those evil vermin called ‘opposition,’” he once said. “If you want to destabilize this country, I will bury you nine-feet deep.”

He was that type, convinced his government would last forever –– he once said he would govern The Gambia for a billion years.

But even so, it’s the 21st century, so once every five years he had to hold elections. One was scheduled for the end of 2016.

Early in the year, protests for better voting conditions erupted, led by the political activist and leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), Solo Sandeng. The plot twist is that Solo Sandeng was arrested during these protests and taken to the NIA headquarters, where he was tortured and beaten. To death.

Just stop and try to imagine a Venezuela where SEBIN picked up Henrique Capriles at a protest and literally beat him to death.

“Let me warn those evil vermin called ‘opposition,’” he once said. “If you want to destabilize this country, I will bury you nine-feet deep.”

Protests intensified after Solo’s death, and other 90 political activists were taken into custody. Some were tortured, some imprisoned. International pressure grew by members of the Economic Community of African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU), calling upon the E.U. and the United States to draw sanctions on Yahya Jammeh and his government officials. By October 2016, the U.S. had imposed a travel ban on new visas for Gambian government officials, as well as their families.

As Election Day drew near, the opposition faced two main barriers. First, political campaigning was limited for the opposition to two weeks of equal share on airtime of state television and radio. Of course, for Yahya there were no limits.

Second, even when assurances had been made that, for example, votes would now be counted on each polling station and not at a central station, concerns remained; previously, Jammeh’s government had used the state’s machinery to mobilize voters to polling stations and to intimidate journalists and opponents. Some of this stuff sounds about as criollo as a batido de lechosa, huh?

Despite this wall of intimidation and coercion, the opposition went out to vote. On December 1, 2016, elections happened and — stop me if this sounds familiar — nobody expected anything to change. As we have learned from this little briefing, Yahya controlled everything in The Gambia, including elections. Even if he lost the vote, people were sure he’d hang on to power somehow.

Sure enough, even though he accepted defeat at first, a week after the election he claimed fraud and refused to accept the results. And the immediate response of the international community calling him to accept the results was the game changer.

His contender, Mr. Adama Barrow, pressed his case. Tension escalated, and Yahya deployed his troops on December 10. On December 13, the army occupied the offices of the Electoral Commission, and once more fear reigned, but that same day the Liberian President and Nobel Peace Laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf headed a delegation of the regional international community to find a solution to the crisis.

Facing a total meltdown, regional leaders responded to their mandate (the ECOWAS has a direct mandate to protect democracy in the region); Barrow sought refuge in Senegal amid threats to his personal integrity, but a deadline was set for Mr. Jammeh to step down before January 18th, the day Mr. Barrow ought to be sworn in.

Nobody expected anything to change. Yahya controlled everything in The Gambia, including elections. Even if he lost the vote, people were sure he’d hang on to power somehow.

As mediation failed, Yahya’s National Assembly issued a decree through which his time as president was extended 90 days, so members of the ECOWAS realized pressure needed to mount. On January 14, they met to discuss a military intervention called Operation Restore Democracy. That same day, the United Nations Security Council approved SC/RES/2237, expressing its full support for ECOWAS’s quest, without endorsing military action.

Thousand of Gambians fled the country fearing that, if Yahya Jammeh managed to cling to power, retaliation would be worse.

Barrow was sworn in as the legitimate president at Gambia’s embassy in Senegal, but even then, Yahya refused to leave. It was only when troops of Senegal and Nigeria approached Gambian territory that delegations sent to negotiate with Yahya Jammeh reached an agreement, and Mr. Jammeh left the country — in a plane full of luxury cars and cash stolen from the Central Bank.

Not one drop of blood was shed.

It was the threat of military force, and — according to Aljazeera — Mr. Jammeh’s ability to negotiate his retirement with full benefits of citizen, party leader and former head of state now living in a farm in Equatorial Guinea, what made the restoring of democratic rule possible.

Why did the International Community take on Yahya Jammeh so strongly? The Gambia is not strategic in any way; it has a population of 1.9 million citizens, and its economy is a rounding error in global statistics.

Usually, the international community is criticized for acting only in cases where interests are at stake. Not in the Gambia. So, could we expect the same for Venezuela?

Of course, we face different challenges; oil makes things more complicated, and might turn an effort like this into a caimanera regional. The ghost of Latin America’s history is still too present, too, and for several leaders this remains a significant reason not to intervene.

But wouldn’t it be nice to see our regional leaders taking the reigns of proactive diplomacy and create their own version of Operation Restore Democracy?

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28 COMMENTS

  1. Alli es donde te equivocas “Sure enough, even though he accepted defeat at first, a week after the election he claimed fraud and refused to accept the results. ”

    Estos personajes no cometeran ese error

        • Re-read Jorge Rodriguez’s televised statement/unilateral document signing claiming “agreements” reached at the DR “dialogue” meetings….Slimy is an understatement.

        • I can’t with your caradurismo anymore, man. You’ve been dead wrong for over 15 years now. Your smugness is completely unearned.

        • Indeed, Toro, chavistas are way worse than Yahya.

          They didn’t torture to death any prominent political leaders yet, only unnamed and unknown regular people (El Aviador and Brito don’t count, by the way)

          Yahya only imprisoned 90 people during a bout of protests, how many people chavismo has kidnapped and murdered during 2017 protests? Ah, yes, they butchered over 175 people and kidnapped thousands.

          To adapt a phrase said by another of these MUD influencers, Prof. Briceño, I could say that “los chavistas no le pueden ver el culo con un telescopio a Yahya” (chavistas couldn’t see Yahya’s butt with a telescope)

  2. Note that while the story “ends right” (or so we hope) for Gambians, the piece of shit dictator is now an exile in Equatorial Guinea, another dictatorship which one of the worst human right records in the world.

    And no, is not about justice, thats another thing, but well, is just that it did not end well for Equatorial Guinea.

    Yet.

    • Dont get me wrong – this would be the very best exit Venezuela could get apart from earth oppening up and swallowing every one of them

      I’m just a depressive guy always looking for the bad side.

  3. There might be room in Equatorial Guinea for the chav gang .. it’s the only Spanish speaking country in Africa. That’s where Mark Thatcher tried to finance a coup in return for preferential oil rights …

  4. I enjoyed this article but I think it under-emphasizes the importance of the military intervention by The Gambia’s neighbors. Not one drop of blood was shed, but there were Senegalese boots on the ground in The Gambia, as well as tanks on the roads and Nigerian warplanes in the air.

    The Gambia (or “The The Gambia …”) case lends credibility to Hausmann’s proposed intervention. I think it should leave out the Yankees for optics, but there is obviously no appetite for that in Colombia or Brazil. The anti-Yankee and pro-sovereignty rhetoric over the years has been ingrained. So they’re just going to set up refugee camps for when the state really fails.

    • Exactly. No small oversight, they were probably threatened to death, and their families too, by several neighbors armed to the teeth. African Style. That ain’t happening with Cubazuela’s weasel neighbors.

      Plus you can’t compare Gambia to Cubazuela. They were probably a handful of dictators, a couple families, with plenty of African countries nearby where to flee, with their families and stolen millions. In Kleptozuela, there are dozens of top Chavistas plus dozens of generals that have nowhere to go, and will eventually be pursued. Latin America is the 3rd world, but Africa is the 10th world.. much easier to hide and retire there.

      “It was the threat of military force, and — according to Aljazeera — Mr. Jammeh’s ability to negotiate his retirement with full benefits of citizen, party leader and former head of state now living in a farm in Equatorial Guinea, what made the restoring of democratic rule possible.”

      No such thing in Latam. The only Coup de Force will come from pissed-off, hungry pueblo-people and hungry military, backed by US/EU severe economic embargos. Not gun threats, from Brazil, Colombia and much less the US. An Economic strangulation is more like it, after the elections mega-fraud.

      Now why doesn’t CC evaluate the highly possible scenario of an oil/gas embargo is beyond me.. Por AHI es por donde van los tiros.

  5. They’ve stolen the regional elections by a wide margin, why do you think they are going to fail this time? They were defeated in the AN 2015, and after that they have taken all the measures to assure it will not happen again. And actually, right now, their measures and control of the electoral system is even tighter than last year.

    Remember this CNE was the one that announced that the gang got more than 8M votes less than a year ago. And surprisingly most of the poll stations were empty of voters (but not votes).

    Then the opposition leaders said that that happened because there were not witnesses, and they pulled the people to the regional elections, and they brought their witnesses. The gang won again. And everywhere.

    So don’t fool me again. And by the way, what kind of election is that where the only opposition candidates allowed to run are rosales, hra and falcon?

  6. The diaspora, and VZ intellectuals continue to dream of Unicorns.

    Stop with the could’ve, would’ve and should’ve.

    Time to take to the streets

    • This article precisely about going forward. About looking at history to understand about the plausible options and strategics related.

      Simple comment, to complex article for you.

  7. “In a landmark move to defend democracy, West African troops Thursday entered the tiny West African nation of Gambia, to oust a president who has refused to cede power after an election defeat.”

    Woops!! Forgot to mention it.

    In related news, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil have promised to send troops to Klepto-Cubazuela to overthrow Maduro after he steals the election.

  8. It would be such a sweet victory for this to happen in VZLA. Latin Americas complacency with Dictators is part of the reason why they come back over and over. Having an OAS with teeth and one that backs up and invokes its’ Democratic Charter would be a step in the right direction. In the Gambia case it could very well be argued that Force or real threats of it (boots about to cross borders) is the only thing that works. And it can happen without Bloodshed. Real Fear is a powerful weapon. And that is what that Dictator felt as he negotiated a way out real fast.

  9. Venezuelans living in Venezuela needs to stop fantasizing with the idea of the electoral way to end this crisis. The socialist had made very clear that it would take a civil war or a foreign military intervention, for them to give up their power. They are not leaving peacefully, deal with it.

  10. As Quico has told me, the main thrust of Claudia’s piece is that sometimes elections have unthought of consequences. However I just wanted to point out that the region, West Africa, has an unheralded history of intervening – You could not have picked a better example of how a region deals with its rogues. Of course it’s not perfect but it is better than most. This piece explains more http://www.roguechiefs.com/2017/democracy-gambia-crisis-west-africa-eager-intervene-regional-groups-soft-rogue-leaders/#.WIH7mlipZiE.twitter What lessons this African region has for LatAm and Venezuela ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ – but I’m sure it has some.

  11. “Just stop and try to imagine a Venezuela where SEBIN picked up Henrique Capriles at a protest and literally beat him to death.”

    Since when we have the bliss of reading such wonderful scenarios in this blog?. This had to happen long ago. Great riddance.

  12. From Chile I’d like to thank Maduro for the unspeakable disaster he has caused in Venezuela. It is a shining beacon warning us all to stay as far away as possible from socialism. We got the message loud and clear here and we voted in a brilliant Chileno who will take us to first world status.

  13. Time to dissect this article, for it’s calling to participate in the narco-electoral-farce:

    ** “The plot twist is that Solo Sandeng was arrested during these protests and taken to the NIA headquarters, where he was tortured and beaten. To death.

    Just stop and try to imagine a Venezuela where SEBIN picked up Henrique Capriles at a protest and literally beat him to death.”

    That’s why chavismo has avoided to do that to any figure with media influence, not before their monopoly on the media reduces them to “Less than 1%” (César Miguel Rondón dixit about María Corina Machado)

    ** “Let me warn those evil vermin called ‘opposition,’” he once said. “If you want to destabilize this country, I will bury you nine-feet deep.”

    The same thing that dioscrap-o pukes every minute of the day.

    ** “Protests intensified after Solo’s death…”

    On the other hand, MUD, formerly the “coordinadora democrática” sent people home after the first great butchery of chavismo, the massacre of Puente Llaguno in 2002.

    Even past year, they were urging people to stop protesting, as Chúo Torrealba was almost begging the people to stop protesting because “it would interfere with July 16”

    ** “…and other 90 political activists were taken into custody. Some were tortured, some imprisoned.”

    Here in Venezuela we had more than 3.000 political prisoners kidnapped during 2014 and 2017 protests, no one has said a peep about them, even when the tortures they face are way worse than those that the gambians might have endured.

    ** “International pressure grew by members of the Economic Community of African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU), calling upon the E.U. and the United States to draw sanctions on Yahya Jammeh and his government officials. By October 2016, the U.S. had imposed a travel ban on new visas for Gambian government officials, as well as their families.”

    Oh, surprise! Weren’t the honchos of the MUD travelling to USA to ask them to NOT TO SANCTION THE REGIME as Roberta Jacobson stated during a trial? Mmmmm… Or aren’t high profile “opposition leaders” the ones that were almost braying for “Trump to go home and take care of his messy country because venezuelans can do this alone”? High profile “oppos” like Capriles and Falcón?

    ** “As Election Day drew near, the opposition faced two main barriers. First, political campaigning was limited for the opposition to two weeks of equal share on airtime of state television and radio. Of course, for Yahya there were no limits.”

    Anyone who isn’t in the MUD-PUSV media oligopoly has ZERO time for political campaign, they’re completely banned from any way to spread their message, less than 5% of the population in Venezuela will get the message through the social networks.

    ** “Second, even when assurances had been made that, for example, votes would now be counted on each polling station and not at a central station, concerns remained; ”

    In Venezuela, the voting machine, the voting system and the votes themselves are electronic, the papers DO NOT MATTER.

    Also, they FABRICATE THE NUMBERS at the CÑE’s HQ, as it was proven with the ANC and Bolívar elections past year.

    And, chavismo has made ZERO assurances on this election, they want to keep everything as it is.

    ** “…previously, Jammeh’s government had used the state’s machinery to mobilize voters to polling stations and to intimidate journalists and opponents. Some of this stuff sounds about as criollo as a batido de lechosa, huh?”

    Doesn’t matter when a tibisay claims they got over 9 million votes that are nowhere to be found.

    ** “Despite this wall of intimidation and coercion, the opposition went out to vote. On December 1, 2016, elections happened and — stop me if this sounds familiar — nobody expected anything to change. As we have learned from this little briefing, Yahya controlled everything in The Gambia, including elections. Even if he lost the vote, people were sure he’d hang on to power somehow.”

    As far as the article went, he didn’t control everything as tight as you think.

    ** “Sure enough, even though he accepted defeat at first, ”

    Chavismo has accepted defeat in zero elections, and those wheer they “accepted”, they immediately went to turn those defeats into victories for them by wiping their butts with the election results, all while the so called opposition leadership only whined in a corner, not caring a bit that people was butchered by dozens everyday.

    ** “…a week after the election he claimed fraud and refused to accept the results. ”

    This one sounds familiar, ah, yes, the case of the AN election in 2015, where they “conceded” but the next second jorgito rodríguez made up the tin-foil conspiranoic bullshit that “opposition had made a fraud by bribing voters with 2.000 Bs to vote for their candidates”, removing the 3 Amazonas’s congressmen and effectively rendering completely null the election result by claiming that “the AN was in contempt and thus won’t be recognized”

    Ah, what was the response of the so-oppo HRA? “WE HAVE TO BEND TO NOT TO BREAK” And almost pleading for the congressmen to be replaced.

    ** “And the immediate response of the international community calling him to accept the results was the game changer.

    His contender, Mr. Adama Barrow, pressed his case. ”

    THIS, IS, THE, TWIST.

    The “opposition” unified to screech “Leave Venezuela alone! We can do this by ourselves by voting until the stars stop burning!”

    ** “Tension escalated, and Yahya deployed his troops on December 10. On December 13, the army occupied the offices of the Electoral Commission, and once more fear reigned, but that same day the Liberian President and Nobel Peace Laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf headed a delegation of the regional international community to find a solution to the crisis.”

    Again, the opposition in Gambia didn’t went out of their way to “kick out the evil transnational invaders because sovereignity is more important than anything!” just to please Yahya.

    ** “Yahya refused to leave. It was only when troops of Senegal and Nigeria approached Gambian territory that delegations sent to negotiate with Yahya Jammeh reached an agreement, and Mr. Jammeh left the country — in a plane full of luxury cars and cash stolen from the Central Bank.

    Not one drop of blood was shed.

    It was the threat of military force”

    There, you said it yourself, IT WAS THE THREAT OF FORCE.

    The belief that Maduro & company will have a magical change of heart and leave power just because they “lost an election” is rubbish, or worse, it’s AN OPEN COLLUSION WITH THE NARCO-CUBAN CHAVISTA REGIME.

    The people will NOT lend themselves to this disgusting farce, LESS THAN 5% will actually vote, the only way out is by pressuring them with street protests not that the sanctions have weakened their potential to replenish the regime’s potential for repression.

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