Rumble in the Gambia
The Gambia shouldn't be at the centre of global attention. But it is. Thanks to the intransigence of a man who has been in power for too long, the tiny African country is in the spotlight.
At stake is the future of democracy in the Gambia and the refusal of Yahya Jammeh, one of the parties in the just concluded election to accept the verdict of the people.
There is equally the bruised ego of West African leaders whose spirited attempt to remedy the situation through diplomacy hit the rock.
This is in addition to what is seen as the interest of the international community over the future of that small African country and the safety of their nationals who reside or do business within those boundaries.
The Economic Community for West Africa came to be as a result of Nigeria's quest to promote the unity as well as socio-political and economic ties of member countries.Within the west coast, tremendous progress is being recorded by democratic forces. In Nigeria and Ghana where multi-party democracy exists for instance, power has shifted from parties in power to parties in opposition.
Most West Africans as well as their counterparts all over the world see this evolving trend as a healthy development. This would further explain why ECOWAS nations, irked by an attempt to thwart the outcome of a popular election, are on the verge of employing force to throw out a despotic regime.Yahya Jammeh was expected to step aside on January 19th. To have done so, would mean in part that he had elected to comply with the dictates of his country's constitution.
By yesterday, Senegalese troops had amassed at the border with the Gambia while elite Nigerian troops were airlifted to join the effort to safeguard the future of democracy in that part of the West African region. Ghana and other West African countries are expected to make similar contributions to the ECOMIG force.
Interestingly, Nigeria which is the spearhead of ECOWAS is providing both sea and air power required to execute the peace enforcement plan.
From a historic standpoint, this is not the first time that Nigerian troops would be called upon to act in any part of the sub region, Africa or the world. Our troops have been in Lebanon. Our troops have served in Liberia. They have indeed been everywhere that Nigeria has been required to fulfill regional, continental and international obligations.
Now, they are out there in the Gambia as part of an ECOWAS plan to ensure that people like Yahya Jammeh and those who collaborate with them are not in any position to halt sweeping changes that democracy bringing across the world, especially in the face of growing globalisation.
The outgoing Gambian leader who is increasingly being isolated could have left office a hero if he had stuck to his earlier posture to accept the outcome of the elections.
Like most despots do, he chose rather to renege on his own words and shunned the flurry of diplomatic activity that was designed to give him a soft landing.
Yahya's options, as things are at the moment, are narrowing as the clock ticks. He either has the chance to blink now, save his own life and quit gracefully, or face bullets and the deadly resolve of ECOWAS states.
Should he be captured when all this over, Jammeh would become a criminal to be tried under the laws of the Gambia or under international law for acts against humanity.
Students of foreign relations would most certainly agree that Nigeria is once again offering leadership in the sub continent through an articulated foreign policy perspective.
There was a time that our foreign relations objectives was second to none in Africa. Those were the days when our diplomacy guaranteed the freedom of Zimbabwe, Angola and South Africa.
They were days when we sent clear signals to those who collaborated with forces that were desirous to put down Africa that Nigeria as an emerging power would stop at nothing to safeguard the dignity of the black man.
Through the exhibition of mature diplomacy at this time, Nigeria is once again being looked upon to provide appropriate frameworks for joint action in solving African problems.
For President Mohammadu Buhari, Nigeria's Commander-in-Chief who is certainly making these decisions, it is not easy to contemplate placing Nigeria troops in harm's way.
When viewed in terms of efforts to protect the nation's sphere of influence, and ensure the restoration of our battered image within the comity of nations, the decision taken by the C-in-C, the federal cabinet and the military high command is not in any way misplaced.
As the world waits to see what will happen, it is instructive to note that a message is clearly being sent that the will of the people as expressed through the ballot box remains the only respectable way by which any leader in West Africa or Africa can lay claim to power.
While we hope that Jammeh would give peace a chance and avoid a bloodbath, our heart is with our troops at this time.
We pray for their safe return at the end of a glorious outing which we hope would make the west coast politically and economically stable.
Ogbonna Nwuke sent in this piece from Port Harcourt, Rivers State