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God Sets Term Limits, Not the Constitution, Says Longtime Gambian President Jammeh


Gambian President Yahya Jammeh with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in 2012. In Taiwan, presidents can't hold office for longer than two four-year terms, unlike The Gambia. Photo by Flickr user 總統府. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Last month, The Gambia and Togo vetoed efforts at the Economic Community of West African States to introduce a two-presidential-term limits across the region. The two countries are the only ones in the region without term limits and forced the 15-member bloc, which operates on consensus, to drop the idea.

While his counterpart may be silent, President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia has taken up the responsibility to explain why his country does not support term limits. “How long can one stay in power? It is only God who determines how long you can stay in power. It is not a human being who is responsible for making sure you stay in power,” he told New African magazine.

President Jammeh has ruled the tiny West African state since 1994 following a military coup, and in 2011 told the BBC that he will rule for “one billion years”, if God wills. He is widely criticised for human rights violations, especially against journalists, political opponents and the LGBT community.

Last month, he threatened gay people, saying: “If you do it here I will slit your throat… no-one will ever set eyes on you again.” A few days ago, a statement from the presidency said Jammeh should now be known as “His Excellency, Sheikh, Professor, Alhaji, Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh, Babili Mansa”. His latest addition, Babili Mansa, is a Mandinka phrase that means bridge building king; it was dropped in 2014.

Barely two weeks ago Jammeh threatened to pull out of both the Economic Community of West African States (ECWAS) and the African Union (AU) if the institutions are reduced to Western control:

They want to use their stooges in Ecowas to impose term limit because that is … a Western agenda. I am a pan-Africanist, but I will not subscribe to any institution that is hijacked by the West and be used against Africa. If it is the AU, I will leave AU; if it is Ecowas, I will leave Ecowas, but I will not be given lecture by any of these institutions on behalf of the West.

Jammeh was speaking at a political rally as part of activities marking his annual countrywide tour. In October 2013, the soldier-turn-civilian president pulled out of the Commonwealth describing it as a neo-colonial institution.

D A Jawo, a regular online commentator on Gambian affairs, said it is hard to imagine how Gambians can handle the negative consequences of the Gambia withdrawing from the economic community. Citizens of ECOWAS move “freely” within the region without requiring visas thanks to its protocol on the free movement of goods and services:

Therefore, with virtually all foreign embassies accredited to the Gambia being based outside the country, mainly in Dakar, one can imagine the trouble that Gambians will go through if they had to travel to Dakar to apply for visa every time they intend to travel to any country within and outside the sub-region,” Jawo noted.

Commenting on the subject on Facebook, Amadou Scattred Janneh said:

It has never been about ‪#‎Gambia‬ under Jammeh

He added:

@ChangeGambia: Dictator #Jammeh talking nonsense, again. “In next 5 yrs we are going to change our official language from English to a Gambia-n language.”

Frédéric Tendeng said:

This is absolute madness in action. The brain of this psychotic must be fully boiling with huge negative thinking traffic jam !!!

Demba A. Jawo expressed his fears:

I wonder whether Gambians can really stand the prospects of having to get a visa to travel to any country in the sub-region, which is what would happen if the Gambia leaves Ecowas or the AU. It is quite a scary

In the same thread, however, Surahata Fatty supported President Jammeh:

Please this is not madness, let gambia get out of all international organization. Who will suffer ?

Nyanchor Sanneh claimed that he is not a politician but a revolutionary because of Jammeh's tyrannical presidency:

In the mean time, I don't see myself as a politician for I have no one to engage politically as far as that DESPOTIC TYRANT is VOWING to TAKE the LAND with him to HELL. I am facing a Killer so I am a REVOLUTIONARY, married to the fight to liberate my self and help free my people. Being a revolutionary is not a sexy business It requires total commitment, a total plunge into the unknown, where friends and enemies are difficult to distinguish, lovers and haters use words with synonyms, dance to similar tones but different rhythms. It is to listen to the noise of your making, the noise of the enemy and the NOISE of the Concrete jungle where you found yourself….. This is our struggle, It is a Noble course of a selfless service, painful it is but YES to me the GAMBIA is WORTH the PAIN and MY LIFE TOO.”

It is difficult if not impossible to predict The Gambia's political and or diplomatic moves, but over the past two years, the country's autocratic leader continue to surprise the world. Whether it was the severing of diplomatic ties with long time allies such as Iran in 2010 and Taiwan in 2013 or the recent expulsion of European Union representative, Jammeh's political maneuvering remain largely unpredictable.

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