After the coup fails…

There was an extensive exploration of the failed coup in The Gambia that happened at the beginning of the year in The Guardian today.

See it here

A long read, but it gives you an insight into the desperation of members of the Gambian diaspora for change in their homeland. The story is at times tragic, at times comic, at times it reads like something out of a Graham Greene novel. You have to remind yourself that this is a reality that effects nearly 2 million people in ways far more tragic than comic.

Jammeh has shrouded himself in the absurd.

His portrayal of himself as a caricature of the African despot makes him seem unreal to those who read of him from afar. His proclamations and antics can appear benign; people consider them as a case of fiction; treat them as strange anecdotes from an unknown and exotic land. Kosovo has a near identical population to The Gambia. If Jammeh ruled there would the US be locking up Kosovans who had tried to overthrow him? Doubtful. But then Kosovans are white.


The part that angers me most about this story is the US State Departments response. “We are not interested in regime change in the Gambia,” the highest-ranking US diplomat in the country recently told a local newspaper. By not being interested in regime change they are openly endorsing Jammeh. Whilst I do not support a Gambian Bay of Pigs, it is not simply a choice between sending in the CIA or standing back. The US needs to demonstrate it has a backbone. By all means say that the coup plotters were foolish, but don’t condone Jammeh’s actions in doing so. State that this was not the wisest coup attempt but also state that Jammeh is a dictator who doesn’t share the values that Americans hold so dearly, at least in theory, of freedom, justice and liberty and has no place leading a country in 2015.

What I don’t understand about the US response to Jammeh is its lack of self interest. Why would you support an openly hostile Islamic fanatic dictator in a small country with barely any natural resources?

What is in it for the US?

Jammeh has supposedly been cooperative over anti-terrorist efforts, but the US’s support of him makes Gambia a much greater threat to US security, through the fermenting of anti-US sentiment, than the neighboring democratic Senegal. The lack of accountability and corruption that inevitably arise in a despotic system also make The Gambia a safe haven for organized criminals, which is not in US interests.

US policy towards Jammeh and The Gambia is constructed out of laziness; out of a disinclination to rock the boat. The theory goes that the situation in The Gambia could be a lot worse, and that if there was regime change things could get chaotic. So let’s support the dictator and keep things rolling along smoothly in this backwater that no one in the US really cares about. You cannot construct policy without a basic moral underpinning. Foreign policy is a house of cards, if you are not consistent in your moral  foundations it will come crashing down. Jammeh’s regime will come crashing down at some point and it is in the US’s interests that they support this inevitability in a moral and principled way.

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