What Does West Africa Have that South America Doesn’t?

Posted on 13. Feb, 2017 by in beyond LatAm

Something worthy of note happened in West Africa last month. At least three neighboring countries sent troops to compel the resignation – I’m tempted to say “depose” – of former President Yahya Jammeh in Gambia.

It’s nothing short of amazing to us observers of Latin American politics, where “sovereignty” is a sacred cow unquestionable even today as Venezuela enters a full-blown humanitarian crisis. Entire hordes of leftist pundits in the region led by Chavez-created talking bloc, UNASUR, call “dialog” to solve what they call a “complex situation.”

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So where strongmen consolidating power finds moral support in Latin America – at least in the case of leftist strongmen – they apparently face invasions in West Africa. Last month Gambia’s president for 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, refused to turn over power and losing an election. From NYT:

President Yahya Jammeh once predicted that his rule could last a billion years.

Now, the fate of his nation is hanging on one more anxiety-filled day.

After acknowledging defeat in an election last month, Mr. Jammeh abruptly changed his mind, refusing to step aside for the inauguration of the new president scheduled for Thursday and threatening to drag the nation into a bloody standoff.

Mr. Jammeh, who has long been criticized for human rights abuses and grandiose claims like being able to cure AIDS with little more than prayer and a banana, has insisted on a do-over election. He declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, warning the nation not to engage in any “acts of disobedience.”

Where Latin American talking heads would have called for dialog, West African nations sent in their own militaries in what could be called a “foreign-backed coup,” according to the LA Times:

In a landmark move to defend democracy, West African troops Thursday entered the tiny West African nation of Gambia, to oust a president who has refused to cede power after an election defeat.

Senegalese troops entered Gambia hours after the incoming president, Adama Barrow, was sworn into office in neighboring Senegal. His predecessor, Yahya Jammeh, has refused to step down despite intense diplomatic pressure and threats of military intervention by other West African nations …

Jammeh was reportedly holed up in Gambia’s state house, the presidential residence, after he declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, enabling him to rule by decree. Parliament extended his term for 90 days on Wednesday, but Jammeh has been deserted by a raft of government ministers and officials, including Deputy President Isatou Njie-Saidy, who had been in power since 1997.

West African leaders refused to accept Jammeh’s efforts to cling to power. In a region where democracy has taken root more deeply than elsewhere in Africa, several presidents are now in office thanks to peaceful elections …

The West African intervention force involved troops from Senegal and Ghana as well as Nigerian air force special forces.

Nigerian warplanes were reported to be flying over Gambia, ramping up the pressure on the former president.

ECOWAS has decided, as a result of the refusal of President Yahya Jammeh to accept the verdict of the Gambian people in the elections of December 1, 2016, to deploy troops from its member states to The Gambia with immediate effect,” Eugene Arhin, a Ghanaian presidential spokesman, said in a statement Thursday. “The objective is to create an enabling environment of the rule of law and in accordance with the Constitution of The Gambia, facilitate the inauguration of the President-Elect, Adama Barrow, on Thursday, January 19, 2017.”

From the Post:

The Senegalese operation — conducted with the support of nations across West Africa — is a rare instance of an African regional military coalition responding with force to a leader’s refusal to step down after an election. In recent years, many African heads of state have changed their countries’ constitutions or rigged elections to remain in power, with limited opposition.

“That a regional bloc is willing to go beyond mere rhetoric, and defend the will and democratic aspirations of an entire people, speaks volumes and will undoubtedly resonate well beyond the Gambia,” said Jeffrey Smith, founding director of Washington-based Vanguard Africa, a nonprofit organization that has worked closely with the Gambian opposition …

The military action reflects the region’s dissatisfaction with what leaders view as unhinged leadership by Jammeh. It was also aimed at forestalling “hostilities or breakdown of law and order that may result from the current political impasse in Gambia,” the Nigerian government, a member of ECOWAS, said in a statement.

Nicolas Maduro has probably gone farther than Jammeh, he doesn’t even hold elections anymore. In a slow-motion self-coup, he has effectively shuttered the opposition-controlled congress. Gubernatorial elections were due in December, and there is no hint of a reschedule. Now he’s moving to ban some political parties.

Imagine South American nations banding together against Nicolas Maduro’s regime. Granted, Venezuela is not a tiny nation of 1.9 million. On the other hand, its neighbors are a little stronger than Senegal. Most of Venezuela is bordered by Brazil and Colombia, the former being the regional powerhouse and the latter having the most battle-hardened military on the continent. Both are already bearing the costs of Venezuela’s crisis, and both have more to lose if shit really hits the fan.

What would a Brazilian-Colombian intervention look like?

Jammeh won 37% of the vote, which is probably double the support Maduro currently has in Venezuela. Most Venezuelans would welcome regime change. However, Hugo Chavez had the insight to foresee a day when his party lost at the ballot box and armed the aforementioned colectivos to defend the revolution. I think a Brazilian-Colombian invasion would see armed resistance from these gangs, more than from the military.

Francisco Toro often writes about the Venezuelan regime’s monopoly on violence through police, the military and armed paramilitary gangs. The people are increasingly afraid to protest because it could mean death. But if tanks from Brazil and Colombia rolled in, that dynamic changes.

When the starving masses in every neighborhood see the monopoly has been broken, they very may well turn on the colectivos themselves. Now that they have a chance to win.

I’m not calling for foreign intervention in Venezuela. This is just a thought experiment.

What does West Africa have that South America doesn’t?

My guess: West Africa doesn’t have this deep-rooted, knee-jerk need to be anti-Yankee.

In a find stranger than fiction, here’s a propaganda piece from last year about the marvelous new cooperation between Venezuela and Gambia.

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2 Responses to “What Does West Africa Have that South America Doesn’t?”

  1. Luis

    16. Feb, 2017

    interesting thought experiment. it should not be forgotten that colombians are really tired of armed conflicts and invading Venezuela just after a long peace process with the guerillas probalbly wouldnt get public support. Brazil have a really unstable government and are burdened with terrible public finances and i highly doubt there is any room in the budget for increased military spending. Venezuela still have a few allies in the region with Bolivia their biggest supporter. Brazil is a huge importer of Bolivian gas something they might take into account. Evo and Mas might however not even last until the elections in a few years which would leave Nicaragua as the only venezulean ally.

  2. Colin

    18. Feb, 2017

    Luis — while I don’t discount how unlikely it is that Colombia or Brazil will intervene militarily, I would like to point out what I observed first-hand in Colombia and continue to observe from the Colombian friends I had in the military. They are, without a doubt, the most hardline and vocal right-wing Uribistas in the country. They will never forget Chavez’s support for the FARC, and I don’t think they’d oppose taking him down. Also keep in mind how much both countries are losing already just by sharing borders with a country going through a humanitarian crisis. Links coming in a sec…

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