The Military and 'Democratisation' in The Gambia
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This book provides an account of significant political developments in a small West African country, The Gambia, about which such information is not readily available. It is a robustly written account of the very fluid politics of The Gambia over the last ten years since the coup that ousted President Dawda Jawara. The author is able to bring an enviable amount of first-hand understanding to the case at hand. He was a newspaper editor in The Gambia and also a correspondent there for the BBC. The book addresses a subject of much current interest in the wider development and policy-related literatures and much of the information makes an original contribution to knowledge in the area of democracy and military rule in The Gambia. The study thus constitutes an original contribution to the growing scholarship on The Gambia. It also makes a contribution to the existing literature on democratisation and the military in West Africa.
The book undertakes the much needed research into recent political developments in The Gambia, and sets this in the wider context of West African politics. It provides an in-depth study of events in The Gambia prior to and post 1994 and examines The Gambian case in a theoretical context pertaining to Africa in general, and the West African sub-region in particular.
The fundamental concern of this book is to determine whether it is possible for a nation to democratise under 'military' rule. Following the 1994 coup d'etat, The Gambia had military rule until 1997. After two Presidential elections, it remained under 'quasi-military' rule, the military having merely been thinly disguised in civilian clothes. The central argument of this book is that in the case of The Gambia, it has not been possible to democratise under either 'military' or 'quasi-military' rule. The country is far from being democratic and the democratisation process has barely begun. The Gambia operates under an authoritarian regime with strong military overtones.
The 1994 coup d'etat in The Gambia took place at a time when most of Africa was moving towards democratisation. At the same time, The Gambia moved away from democratisation and into military dictatorship. This Gambian "exceptionalism" in recent regional, continental and global political development is explained and analysed in the book. The study presents a conceptual and empirical analysis of the recent "democratisation" processes under the military and military-turned civilian regimes in The Gambia. It uses conceptual or analytical insights, drawn from the general literature on military regimes in Africa, to inform understanding of the case study. The book raises a number of very pertinent questions concerning the place of the military in a modern African polity, and the varied contexts and contested nature of this role.
The book sets out to assess the military regime that seized power in The Gambia in July 1994, and which remains in power to the present day - having formally converted itself into an "elected" civilian regime through managed elections from which the military leader emerged victorious. It is broadly concerned with four themes: a) pre-independence politics in The Gambia, the Jawara years and the causes of his overthrow; b) the coup d'etat that brought the military regime to power on 22 July 1994; c) the subsequent conduct of the military regime, with particular concern for its attempt to legitimise itself through elections; and d) the question of whether The Gambia can be regarded as a democracy, to which the author has returned a decided negative.
Four main questions are posed. What were the causes of the military coup in The Gambia? What were the various phases of military rule? How has the military performed in office? Has The Gambia returned to a functioning democratic state following the 1996 and 2001 elections? The findings indicate that the military intervention was prompted by a combination of political, economic and social problems in the country. The 1994 coup d'etat in The Gambia is best seen as the outcome of two main variables: the societal/economic/political factors which made military intervention a possibility, set against the motivations of junior officers of the Gambia National Army to intervene in the government of The Gambia because of their own dissatisfactions and possible personal aspirations. Direct military rule was in two phases and the military's leadership performance was poor in respect of human and civil rights in both phases, although there were some modest gains in socio-economic terms. Despite the holding of elections, The Gambia remains undemocratic.
The study is based on newspaper reports, interviews and the author's own experiences as a journalist in The Gambia until his departure from the country in 1996, together with published sources. The empirical element in the book is accompanied by a survey of literature in the field, notably relating to military regimes in general, and especially in Africa. The treatment of empirical developments and academic sources in the book is both descriptive and conceptual.
The ten chapters (including a general conclusion) which make up the book are logically structured; general aims and objectives, which are clearly identified in the introductory chapter, are pursued in a sustained way in the subsequent discussion. Early presentations of approach, objectives and strategy combine with overviews of pre-1994 politics and economics in the opening two chapters. Along with the summary of the circumstances surrounding the military's intervention in politics in 1994 (Chapter 3), these serve as a prelude to the detailed evaluation of the military's performance in government; and the circumstances, processes and consequences of the army's transformation into a "democratic" civilian (in reality a "quasi-military") regime, which constitutes the middle third, and core, of the book.
The final third of the book focuses on the fortunes of both democracy and politics under a quasi-military regime, and tries to draw lessons from this experience for a serious consideration of the role of the military in democratic politics. The penultimate chapter offers recommendations for deterring future coups in The Gambia and elsewhere in Africa, while a general conclusion presents a cogent summary of the principal findings and conclusions.
The accumulated literature on the military and the process of democratisation in Africa is substantial and the subject has generated considerable interest amongst scholars. Robin Luckham has documented the various issues and debates in his excellent review article, ‘The Military, Militarization and Democratization in Africa: a Survey of the Literature and Issues’ in African Studies Review 37 (2), 1994: pp. 13-75. This exhaustive article has become an invaluable resource for research on the military in Africa, and provides an overview and assessment of the issues, theories and conclusions of a wide range of studies. Another major source book for students of civil-military relations in Africa is Ebou Hutchful and Abdoulaye Bathily’s The Military and Militarism in Africa (Dakar, Senegal, CODESRIA, 1998). The book is a compilation of articles, papers and essays with a connecting theme of civil-military relations. The contributors are some of the leaders in their chosen fields. Also worth mentioning is Dr. Chuka Onwumechili’s book, African Democratisation and Military Coups (Westport CT & London, Praeger, 1998), which concludes that the militarism of the post-colonial period did not reflect indigenous African culture: Onwumechili argues that democracy is indeed indigenous to Africa, as also are degrees of militarism in the continent’s history.
The abundance of military interventions during the 1960s through the 1980s has meant that much of the available literature focuses on the causes of military rule and its consequences. The earlier studies of Decalo (1976, 1990, 1998) and Huntington (1957, 1962, 1968, 1991) remain pertinent to the present day. However, the 1990s saw a diminution in the power of military elites, and tentative moves towards democratisation and multi-party politics. As a result, scholars, while still analysing the causes of military takeovers, are giving more emphasis to analyses of democratisation and the military’s role in the democratisation process, as well as to the increasing extrication of the military from the political framework, and the role of the military itself in promoting democracy throughout Africa. They are also looking at the effects that the ending of the Cold War has had on African states. The works of scholars such as Clapham (1993, 1996), Luckham (1994, 1995), Chazan (1998), Ottaway (1997), and Diamond (1988) and Ake (1990) have been particularly useful for this book.
Interestingly, members of the military themselves have contributed their particular perspectives in order to add to our awareness and increasing comprehension of civil-military relations. For instance, two Nigerian generals have contributed very usefully to the debate on the military and democratisation in Africa. In his book The Military, Law and Society: Reflections of a General (Ibadan, Spectrum Books Ltd, 1998), General D.M. Jemibewon demonstrated how a military minded person viewed political and policy issues. His viewpoints give an understanding of the dynamics between the military and the civil, from a military point of view. President Obasanjo of Nigeria, himself a retired General, also offers his own perspectives in his book, Not My Will (Ibadan, Ibadan University Press, 1990). His book exemplifies how the few military officers who do believe in democracy, may counter autocratic military behaviour and help to facilitate a transition to elected civilian rule.
More recently, scholars such as Jeffrey Herbst (2000), Patrick Chabal (1999) and Jean Pascal Daloz (1999), have offered new insights into and thoughts about the political, social and economic crises currently gripping Africa. In Africa Works (International Africa Institute with Oxford, UK, James Currey & Indiana University Press, 1999) Chabal and Daloz examine what is happening in Africa today, offering original interpretations of the continent’s precarious condition. They offer new and different outlooks on the issues confronting present-day Africa, and alternative suggestions for how Africa might move forward into the future. Scholars such as Claude Ake (1996), Wamba dia Wamba (1992), Marina Ottaway (1995, 1997), Naomi Chazan (1988) and Jean Francois Bayart (1993) are also making significant contributions to the African perspective as the continent settles into the twenty-first century. Clapham (1996) and Harbeson & Rothchild (2000) have added considerably to the body of literature on international systems and African states. Clapham in his ground-breaking study, Africa and the International System (1996) has demonstrated how a supportive international setting has actually become an increasingly threatening one for many African states, in part because of political, economic and social mismanagement within those African states, and in part because of the nature of global developments over which the states had no control. Clapham argues that many African leaders have appropriated and subverted international conventions for their own ends, and that African states have been undermined by guerrilla insurgencies and the use of international relations to serve private ends. In Clapham’s view, the encounter between African and Western conceptions of statehood have been at least awkward, and at worse, tragic.
The waves of democratisation which have swept through the African continent following independence have attracted a wealth of scholarly interest. Since the 1990s, this interest has increasingly focused on the role of elections and the multi-party state in fostering democracy on the continent. As Hayward points out, “elections in Africa have played a much more significant role than has commonly been recognised, and in spite of problems, elections are an important part of African contemporary political life”. According to Hayward, African elections provide one of the few instruments of political action open to civil society. In an early study, Chazan suggested a typology which characterises electoral systems: non-competitive elections which serve to confirm the status of current office holders without any competition; semi-competitive elections which provide for competition for legislative office but not for control of government or the regime in power; and competitive elections which have the possibility of changing both office holders and the regime in power. In the case of The Gambia, it will be argued that the two presidential elections held since 1994 come within Chazan’s category of non-competitive elections There is a general consensus that elections in Africa have played a more significant role than has commonly been recognised, and that in spite of problems and countervailing pressures, they remain an important part of African contemporary political life. Wiseman noted that “by the end of the 1980s, Africa’s military regimes and single party states were looking increasingly anachronistic in the light of changes elsewhere in the world, and the international environment provided a less supportive context for authoritarianism.” The work of scholars such as Joseph (1999), Diamond (1996), Crawford Young (1997), Bratton (1995), Linz, Stepan, Daniel and Southall (1988) provides a broader African context within which this book examines the elections of both 1996 and 2001 in The Gambia. The book will demonstrate that recent elections in The Gambia have been merely the “democratic window-dressing” of an authoritarian regime.
There has been a dearth of research specifically focusing on The Gambia, whose political history since Independence in 1965 has been substantially different from many African nations. From thirty years of multi-partyism, The Gambia was a late arrival on the military coup stage. It was in the mid-1990s, when many African nations were moving away from military rule in a process of ‘democratisation’, that The Gambia paradoxically was catapulted into military dictatorship. As such, The Gambia provides
Dr Ebrima Jogomai Ceesay was born in The Gambia in 1966, where he was a prominent Journalist working for the Daily Observer, one of the most important newspapers operating in The Gambia during the period of military rule there. In his roles as the Editor of the Daily Observer newspaper and also as the BBC correspondent in The Gambia, from 1994 to 1996, Dr Ceesay spearheaded a strong opposition to the military regime in The Gambia for two years and more. However, after several threats on his life, he moved to the United Kingdom in late 1996, where he now calls "my second home." Dr Ceesay is a naturalised British citizen.
In 2001, Mr Ceesay achieved a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) Degree in African Studies and then went on to complete his PhD in Political Science and Development Studies in October 2004. He studied at the University of Birmingham's prestigious Centre of West African Studies. He is acknowledged as "an expert on Gambian matters" in the UK and further afield.
He has, since 1994, been an ardent protagonist of democracy in West Africa and he has remained fervent and committed to the cause of re-establishing full democracy in The Gambia. Mr Ceesay has been vociferous in his opposition to the military government in the Gambia, and a fierce critic of the human rights abuses which characterise Gambian politics and everyday life. He has continued to be active in political debates about the future of the Gambia since he left that country in 1996, not least through his articles on the Internet.
Dr Ceesay is a Social Science Researcher and Media Consultant. His research interests are in conflict and peace studies, civil military relations in Africa, the military in African politics, democratic transitions in Africa, defence planning, regional security, light weapons proliferation, security sector reform, leadership issues in Africa, human rights and development issues in Africa, Pan Africanism, Black Britain, the impact of globalisation on third world countries, American foreign policy, international cooperation, political economy, structural adjustment and privatisation in Africa. He lives in the United Kingdom.
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