YAHYA JAMMEH, who ruled Gambia from 1994 to 2017, claimed he could cure people of HIV with his bare hands. The probability of such faith-healing working is zero. Today the law is trying to lay hands on Mr Jammeh. At first glance, the chance of it succeeding is only slightly higher.
In January 2017, two months after losing an election, he agreed to step down, having been warned by fellow west African leaders that he would be removed by force if he clung to power any longer. In return for going without a fight, he was given asylum in Equatorial Guinea, an even worse African dictatorship. Teodoro Obiang, its president for the past 38 years, has never signed up to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which means that Mr Jammeh (pictured) cannot be extradited for trial. He passes his time farming on one of Mr Obiang’s grace-and-favour estates.
For those who were beaten with metal pipes or had plastic bags put over their heads by Mr Jammeh’s goons, the only hope for justice is either to persuade Mr Obiang to hand him back, or to wait for a more human-rights-friendly government to take over in Equatorial Guinea. Neither seems likely. However, campaigners such as Amadou Scattred Janneh, who was once jailed by Mr Jammeh for printing T-shirts calling for his downfall, argue that all is not lost. Where international justice is concerned, good things can come to those who wait.
In 2016 Chad’s ex-despot, Hissène Habré, was jailed for life by a court in Senegal for the murder of perhaps 40,000 people in the 1980s. Again, the case was beset by political obstacles, not least from the Senegalese government, which arrested Habré in 2000 but then dragged its feet. Senegal’s then president, Abdoulaye Wade, heeded other African politicians, who whispered that prosecuting Mr Habré would set an unwelcome precedent that people like themselves could be held accountable. However, in 2012 Mr Wade was replaced by Macky Sall, who thought that setting such a precedent was an excellent idea.
Some of Mr Habré’s victims, who had campaigned relentlessly to prevent the world from forgetting about his crimes, are now advising Mr Jammeh’s victims, who have formed their own campaign group and are gathering evidence. “We know it’s not going to be easy, but we are ready for a long struggle,” says Mr Janneh. Meanwhile, Gambian police have opened 35 investigations into alleged killings by Mr Jammeh’s regime, one of which has already reached court.
Separately, a special commission into Mr Jammeh’s financial dealings has uncovered further evidence that he embezzled on a massive scale. Staff from the Gambian Central Bank and the National Petroleum Corporation have told how he used the organisations as if they were his personal cash machines, withdrawing up to $2m at a time. A watertight criminal case against Mr Jammeh, though, will not be enough to get him in the dock. A convincing political case will have to be made, too.
Under the new presidency of Adama Barrow, Gambia has already rejoined the ICC, from which his predecessor had withdrawn. But if he were prosecuted, Mr Jammeh, like Mr Habré, would probably go before a specially convened local court, in order to make justice look African.
Setting up such a tribunal is costly. Moreover, before it went ahead, fellow African leaders would first have to lean heavily on Mr Obiang to hand Mr Jammeh over. Right now, there is little sign of any of them wanting to do so. Sources within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the main regional power bloc, say that prosecuting Mr Jammeh is not a priority. Nor is it one for Mr Barrow’s government, which fears the risk of ructions from Mr Jammeh’s old supporters.
Still, the victims’ groups may be able to cultivate a few powerful allies. Mr Sall, Senegal’s president, is no friend of Mr Jammeh, who sheltered armed separatists from Senegal’s Casamance region. Likewise, Ghana is under pressure to bring justice for 44 Ghanaian migrants allegedly murdered in 2005 by Mr Jammeh’s security forces (who mistook them for mercenaries). If enough people with enough scores to settle get together, this may one day ensure that Mr Jammeh, the dictator-turned-farmer, finally reaps what he sowed.
Source : The Economist