The world did not intervene to stop Jean-Bedel Bokassa or Idi Amin or a dozen other despots in sub-Saharan Africa. The West did not intervene to prevent the deaths of more than 2 million Christian black Africans in the southern Sudan over several decades. Nor has it intervened to prevent or halt the murder, by the same northern Muslims (who call themselves "Arabs") to murder or drive out a million or more black Africans in Darfur. After the attacks on Christians in northern Nigeria, when the independent state of Biafra was declared in response to the "jihad" (Col. Ojukwu's words in the Ahiara Declaration of July 1969), the West not only extended no aid to the Christian side (while Egyptian pilots in Egyptian Migs gaily strafed Ibo villages, killing tens of thousands of helpless villagers), but took the side of the Muslims. According to the Scott Report, the government of Great Britain gave twelve times as much military aid to the Nigerian government's troops as had been given before the Biafra War.
It was not black Africa, but rather two Western powers, former colonial rulers, that started the anti-Gbagbo ball rolling. The French have not always played a malevolent role as colonial powers, but in West Africa, both France and Great Britain always favored the local Muslims. Many Ibo and Christian Hausa resent how, when it came time for Nigeria's independence, Great Britain turned power over mostly to northern Muslims. And the indigenous peoples of French West Africa know how the French favored local Muslims, perceiving (and misperceiving) them as steadier local enforcers of colonial authority.
Black Africans merely followed suit. But among the Christians in Nigeria, in Togo, in Benin, in other countries in West Africa -- and especially among the Christians in distant Angola (a country whose administrators are keenly aware of the Muslim threat in black Africa) there is not great hostility to Gbagbo, and even (as in Angola) support that has simply not been reported in the Western press. It is as if the Western governments decided that the worry, by the Christians, that they were being demographically swamped, and electorally having their own country taken away from them (if they could not vote in much of the country, and if illegal Muslim immigrants could, surely that means their country is being taken away from them), had no validity. They do not dare to take the side of the Christians, as they did not in the case of Biafra, or in the case of the Sudan. The pusillanimity, and geopolitical heedlessness, combine to create what may not be yet, but may well be down the line, a disaster for black African Christians and for Western interests, rightly understood.
One of the African neighbors now so indignant about Laurent Gbagbo is The Gambia. Why should the ruler of The Gambia care about the well-justified fears, among the Christians who built the Cote d'Ivoire, that their country is being taken over by Muslims who have held the north, and allowed in still more illegal Muslim immigrants to swell their ranks and to intimidate Christians in the rebel-held territory and, still more important, tilting -- through their intimidating tactics and their fiddling with voting -- the recent elections to the Muslim side.
Here's a bit more about the Gambian president, possibly king, perhaps someday, if he plays all his cards right, the Emperor of All Gambia And Of Ice Cream, to boot:
Nov 08, 2010
Gambia's president once claimed to have developed a cure for AIDS that involved an herbal body rub and bananas. His administration rounded up nearly 1,000 people last year in a witch hunt. And now he may soon have a new title in this tiny West African nation: His majesty.
Tribal chieftains are touring the country to rally support for President Yahya Jammeh's coronation.
"The president has brought development to the country, and for that he deserves to be crowned King of The Gambia," said Junkung Camara, chief of the western region of Foni Brefet. "This is the only way the Gambian people can express our gratitude to a leader who has done a lot for his country."
Like many rulers in this part of Africa, Jammeh, 45, came to power in the wake of a coup. He was elected president [what kind of free and fair election do you think that was?]two years later, and is currently serving his third elected term in the tiny country surrounded on three sides by Senegal.
If he were crowned king, he could dispense with the formality of elections altogether.
For a ruler who likes to be called His Excellency the President Sheik Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya Jammeh — identifying himself as a doctor, scholar, and elder, among other honorifics — "king" would suit him well.
"It's image construction," said Abdoulaye Saine, professor of political science at Miami University in Ohio who specializes in Gambian politics. "He's not a scholar, he's not a doctor, he's not a professor. But he covets these titles."
Saine says Jammeh's coronation would give him a new title but would not change anything politically.
"Jammeh is already king," Saine said. "He practically owns the country of Gambia. He controls the press, the opposition, the clergy, and the coffers of the state."
While sub-Saharan Africa has just one remaining absolute monarchy — in the southern African nation of Swaziland — other leaders have tried to similarly solidify their role. Idi Amin, the brutal dictator who ruled Uganda during the 1970s, titled himself His Excellency President for Life. And Central African Republic's Jean-Bedel Bokassa crowned himself emperor in 1977.
The call for Jammeh's coronation is the latest in a series of controversial events that have marked his presidency. In 2007, the ruler claimed to have developed a cure for AIDS and insisted that patients stop taking their antiretroviral medications so his cure could have an effect.
More recently, Jammeh's administration rounded up nearly 1,000 people last year in a witch hunt that spanned the nation of 2 million. Authorities forced the supposed witches to drink a hallucinogen that caused diarrhea and vomiting. The unidentified liquid led to serious kidney problems, and two people died after the forced treatment, according to international rights group Amnesty International.
Sam Sarr, editor of the main opposition newspaper Foroyaa, says Jammeh's move to be crowned king will never work.
"It's unconstitutional," Sarr said. "According to the constitution, his position is an elected position. Sovereignty resides in the people."
Not that making Jammeh king would change much.
"The presidency is already like a monarchy," Sarr said. "As far as power is concerned, he has absolute power."