Regime change: Donald Trump and Adama Barrow
DONALD Trump and Gambia’s president- elect Adama Barrow share an unlikely predicament; both are facing the unforgiving consequences of threatening the establishment. In third world political parlance, a threat or attempt to dismantle the prevailing establishment is often given the ugly-sounding yet accurate description of ‘regime change’.
Regime change is distinct from a mere change of government; it is a total upending of the established order. When establishments are threatened in this way, they fight back, naturally.
Western democracies have all this while appeared mature and ready to accept any democratic outcome but the recent Brexit and Trump populist victories have tested this commitment. It is all a façade.
The Western establishment was so powerful (or so it seemed) that one could not gain power without paying homage to the powers that be. The surprise election of Trump, a brash outsider who challenged the Republican establishment to clinch the nomination and went on to defy the media and political establishment to win the White House has exposed that the establishment, no matter how seemingly polite and well-mannered, will try to fight a democratic outcome that threatens it.
Barrow’s trouble was triggered by a foolish and entirely unnecessary public proclamation by his coalition partners that the incumbent semi-lunatic Yahya Jammeh would be prosecuted for crimes allegedly committed while in office. Barrow himself did little to calm the establishment when he told the media that the law would be allowed to take its course, a statement that suggested he believed Jammeh had a case to answer.
You cannot insult the hippo before crossing the river.
Jammeh and those who assisted him in the commission of these alleged crimes were clearly listening. A few days later, he announced in a dramatic about turn that he was challenging the results of the election. The head of the military was following close behind and soon pledged loyalty to the incumbent.
Trump faces a more nuanced problem. It is not possible for the establishment to resort to Jammeh’s brutish tactics to deny him the presidency. Instead, there is a concerted attempt to delegitimise him. Claims that Russians interfered in the election to help Trump win and insinuations that they are blackmailing Trump with videos of him consorting with Moscow prostitutes are coming from the highest level of US government.
To the outsider, these allegations are thin on evidence and demonstrate increasing desperation on the part of the American establishment. But that the ordinarily dignified and seemingly perfect democratic system in the United States is suffering these contradictions has lessons for Africa and those seeking to replace long serving establishments. Rocking the boat too hard can cause it to sink.
A good example is Zimbabwe which has been governed by Zanu PF for the past 36 years. The ruling class has knowledge of and deep links with the security services.
Threats to prosecute or dispossess them actually pose a security threat. If you threaten a man with imprisonment, loss of prestige and loss of income, what does that man have to lose?
Their only logical choice is to fight with all they have got.
When such people have resources to induce the cooperation of rogue officers in the security services, you run a very real risk of the country descending into chaos.
If politics becomes a zero-sum game where the losers end up in jail and without an income, we create an environment that motivates the incumbent to do everything within their power to resist a peaceful transfer of power.