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The Torrent, NG

The West African regional bloc’s no-nonsense stand against former Gambian despot Yahya Jammeh is admirable. But there are a few other places where ECOWAS has not performed well. For one, the bloc needs to devise ways by which citizens of a misruled nation can get back their money from a fleeing tyrant – and justice.

Kudos to ECOWAS – to be able to get rid of a conscienceless bulldog of a power junkie like Yahya Jammeh without firing a single shot should count as one of the greatest achievements of that body.

ECOWAS was formed in 1975 – a good twelve years after the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) – now the AU – came into existence. But its record in contributing to serious crises in the sub-region, taking the ghastly troubles in Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast into account, is something to be proud of.

However, a few sore thumbs still stick out in West Africa – for example Togo, where Gnassinge Eyadema was not only allowed to reign as an absolute despot for 38 years but was also accorded the privilege of ruling whilst deceased – through his son, Faure Gnassingbe. Faure has already ruled for 12 years, and there is little reason to suppose that if he gets his way, he won't eat further into the 22 years that Jammeh allotted to himself before ECOWAS cried “Enough!”

The strategy used by ECOWAS on Jammeh was superb. It used a military threat to coerce him into leaving, without actually executing the death-blow the threat was meant to signal to him.

But Jammeh was clever enough to call the bluff of ECOWAS, by twice ignoring the deadline ECOWAS had set for him. In doing so, he nearly derailed the ECOWAS strategy. He importuned two heads of state – Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania and Alpha Condé – to intervene and keep “talking peace” to him, so that he could stay in State House at Banjul even when the ECOWAS force had crossed into The Gambia from Senegal.

The funny thing is that Mauritania is not even a member of ECOWAS, having left the organisation in the year 2,000! Why did ECOWAS allow the Mauritanian president to negotiate on its behalf, then? The “trade union” instinct of African heads of state, condemned decades ago by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, had, of course, kicked into action as soon as Jammeh became vulnerable to an unseemly end.

Out of respect for Guinea and Mauritania, the ECOWAS heads of state held their fire. But Jammeh, on his part, had little respect for them. Indeed, he tried to split their ranks by pretending that although President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia (the current chair of ECOWAS) was leading them, he, Jammeh was privately in contact with her behind their backs! He did this by making a telephone call to President Sirleaf whist she was in her car, and then broadcasting the call on Gambian TV without her knowledge.

However, if Jammeh had hoped that the call would embarrass Mrs Sirleaf and render her ineffective, vis-a-vis the other ECOWAS negotiators (President Muhammad Buhari of Nigeria and ex-President John Mahama of Ghana), he was wrong.

Mrs Sirleaf unusually went on the BBC to reaffirm that the ECOWAS position had not changed and that Jammeh was broadcasting the conversation with her without even having had the courtesy of informing her that he intended to do so.

Despite this faux pas by Jammeh, the presidents of Guinea and Mauritania were not deterred from continuing to plead for more time for him, as the deadlines given by ECOWAS expired.

Why did Jammeh need so much time? He was apparently using the “extra time” to facilitate the transfer of funds from The Gambia's treasury into his private accounts overseas. A member of the new Gambian administration has claimed that the transfers totaled $11 million.

Jammeh's manner of departure was also cloaked in mystery. Some reports said he flew out of Banjul in the private executive jet of a Nigerian politician, accompanied by his mother and the Guinea President, Alpha Conde. Another report said Jammeh separately airfreighted several luxury cars by a cargo plane chartered from Chad. Eh? The destination? Equatorial Guinea!

If he has indeed decided to make Equatorial Guinea his permanent abode in exile, then Jammeh will no doubt have great company there. For that country's Vice-President, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue (nicknamed Teodorín) is one of the most notorious practitioners of “larceny by statecraft” in Africa. A son of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea, he served for years as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry in his father's government.

He was then appointed as Second Vice-President in charge of defence and security in May 2012. He was promoted to First Vice-President in June 2016. According to Wikipedia,

“Teodorin, as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, …. was a rap music entrepreneur and bon vivant, fond of Lamborghinis and long trips to Hollywood and Rio de Janeiro.... [He once hired] a Superyacht, the Tatoosh, for $600,000 for a Christmas cruise [to entertain the] rap singer, Eve....[He also spent] close to R10,000,000 over a weekend in South Africa on champagne, property renovations, a Bentley Arnage, a Bentley Continental R ... and a 2005 Lamborghini Murcielago....

“[He owns] two houses in South Africa, worth a combined R50,000,000, a $31,000,000 compound in Malibu, California, and a 5,000 square feet home on Avenue Foch in the affluent 16th arrondissement of Paris... In 2008, he owned one of the 30 models of the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 sports car [ever built] estimated at 1,100,000 € and a Maserati MC 12 at 700,000 €. He went on to purchase another Bugatti Veyron, and tried to purchase a third.

“In late 2011, both Veyrons, as well as 9 other cars he owned, were seized by French police investigating corruption. … In October 2011.... the US Justice Department went to court to seize $70 million (£44m) of Nguema’s US assets, which included a Gulfstream jet, yachts, cars and Michael Jackson memorabilia....

On 11 June 2012, the US Department of Justice filed an amended complaint against Obiang...[for] corruption. The revised complaint stated that Obiang spent $315 million on properties and luxury goods between 2004 and 2011. According to the complaint, Obiang, while Minister of Forestry, levied personal "taxes" against local and foreign timber companies for licenses to operate and export timber., such as a $28.80 tax for every log exported, to fund his lavish lifestyle. ...

“In February 2012, a Parisian mansion belonging to Obiang, worth around € 100 million, was raided by French police and they discovered luxury goods inside worth millions of euros. In July 2012, an arrest warrant was issued for Obiang. The mansion was seized by French authorities in August 2012. He was later indicted by the French justice [department] on several counts of corruption, money-laundering, etc...

“In September 2016, the District Attorneys Roger Le Loire and Charlotte Bilger referred him to the Criminal Court of Paris, and issued an arrest warrant through Interpol. This procedure was validated by the International Court of Justice in December, 2016.”

Many Gambians, already suspicious of the money-grabbing tendencies of Jammeh, may want to get some of their country's money back. But how can the Government of Equatorial Guinea pay any attention to them, when its own house is stinking to high heaven with the corruption allegations alleged against Teodorin?

Another interesting question is: are the presidents of Guinea and Mauritania fully aware of what they might have assisted Jammeh to achieve, by facilitating his escape from the ECOWAS forces?

I think ECOWAS is entitled to put the question to them – on behalf of the people of The Gambia. Meanwhile, ECOWAS had better think of ways of protecting the public funds of member countries, from the Yahya Jammehs of this world. They need to be shown that stealing of pubic funds does not pay – in the end.

*Cameron Duodu is a veteran Ghanaian journalist and author.



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