West Africa: Jammeh - ECOWAS Hopeful of Smooth Polls in Bissau

The president of the Republic has asserted that it is the hope of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that this time around polls in the Portuguese-speaking country of Guinea Bissau will be conducted smoothly. He noted that all hands are on deck as far as the polls are concerned given that ECOWAS has put in money to make sure that elections are held in that country.

His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Jammeh was speaking early Saturday morning at the Banjul International Airport upon his return from the 44th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS heads of state and government summit in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast.

The fast-approaching presidential and parliamentary elections in Guinea Bissau has since heated up the polity in that country, with the key political actors trying to deploy all means possible to avert another setback for long-delayed polls that have been postponed for two consecutive times.

Campaigning has since begun ahead of April 13 polls, the outcome of which will see the country end a two-year transition following an April 2012 military coup that disrupted a second round run-off presidential race.

But the Gambian leader, who in 2012 hosted the ECOWAS Contact Group on Guinea Bissau consultative forum to defuse a political stalemate, said: "Having elections is one thing but what happens after the election is more important."

"We believe that they will conduct elections and those of us who spoke about Mali and Bissau at the summit expressed the fact that it is not just enough to have elections but we have to watch what happens also after the elections because even after the polls, they would be in a transition period," he further stated, referring to Guinea Bissau. Mali

On the issue of Mali, the Gambian leader indicated that they had discussed the developments in that landlocked country, whose newly elected president, Abubacarr Keita, he said, raised some issues especially regarding the Tauregs. He continued: "He [President Keita] complained because they want direct negotiation with them [the Tauregs], but unfortunately they do not want to meet the government and for him [the Malian leader], the entire territory of Mali is an integral part of Mali and there will be no way they would allow any part of it to break away. And my opinion on that is, if we all commit ourselves as heads of state, rebels would not have any position to challenge a government."

Jammeh further told reporters that the Malian president also informed the summit that the Tauregs are not only refusing to talk to them, but they are also arming themselves. This, according to the Gambian leader is a "worrisome" situation because in his view, "if any ethnic group or tribe wants to break away it would be unfortunate for Africa". Jammeh went on to stress the need for an end to what he called the myriad of proxy wars on the continent, while also urging the need for the genesis of these conflicts to be understood.

"We Africans must understand the genesis of all these problems especially West Africa, because wherever you hear problems, it is happening around a resource-rich part of Africa. I hope that we would wake up to the realities that the more we fight the more backward we become, and so whilst everybody is moving forward, we are left behind slapping each other," he cautioned.

The EPA

The Gambian leader also stated that despite the fact that the Yamoussoukro summit went on very smoothly, however there were some areas they [leaders] had divergent of views, notably on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between West Africa and the European Union. This, he stressed, needs further scrutiny.

"You cannot tell me start your building and once you reach at the last levels; I will decide whether I should give you more assistance. In the first place the foundation of the building is in itself defective because we are dealing with the EU whilst Africa is divided into economic zones when we should have just deal with them as a bloc like EU and AU. It is the continuation of this divide and rule policies which are unacceptable and even within ECOWAS they have given some countries a deadline which they must meet to sign with them," he noted.

The president said it should have been further studied first before they propose it, arguing "why didn't they put it to the AU?" "It was unfortunate that we accepted as a sub-regional institution but should really look at it carefully because the idea of continuing to export the continent's materials as raw is a non-starter for The Gambia. Any economic relationship with any bloc be it East or West, must be premised on Africans processing their raw materials into finished products and then send it because in that way we Africans can fix our own prices," he stressed.

At the summit

Central on their agenda during the 44th Ordinary Session of ECOWAS heads of state and government was the finalisation of the Economic Partnership Agreement between the 15-member bloc and the European Union on the basis of a report made by the Ministerial Monitoring Committee; and the activities of Boko Haram, a group in Nigeria.

Arrival ceremonies in Banjul

The Gambian leader was earlier received on arrival by the vice president and minister of Women's Affairs, Her Excellency Aja Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy; the speaker of the National Assembly, Hon. Abdoulie Bojang; the chief justice, Ali Nawaz Chowhan; the Nigerian ambassador to The Gambia and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Esther John Audu; service chiefs, National Assembly members, heads of various institutions, cultural troupes and a cross-section of Gambians.

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