Two Inaugurations A World Apart

There were two inaugurations that took place in our world last week. On Friday, January 20 Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of the United States. The solemnity and the pomp of the event was carried forth in a dignified and amicable way and brought great honor to the office of the Presidency.

Say what you will about the rancor of the current political environment … and I have yet to meet one individual who thought the last presidential campaign was anything but horrible … there was something wonderful and actually nice to witness the peaceful transfer of power from the Obama administration to the Trump administration that happened in our nation’s capital last week.

To see President Obama and his wife Michelle embracing and greeting the members of the Trump family warmed my heart. To see President-elect Trump graciously responding in kind was encouraging. To see former Senator and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the dais, seated next to and exchanging what appeared to be kind words with former President George W. Bush, gave me hope.

It was a rare glimpse of the bigger picture of the American dream. Despite our differences, we are all Americans and we love our country. Maybe we are not as divided as everyone thinks. Maybe the warring political factions can find common ground after all.

No matter what side of the political spectrum we ascribe to, every American should take pride that the elected officials of United States follow the rule of law when it comes to our democratic institutions. And whether we like the outcome of our elections or not, we honor the Constitution and faithfully embrace the power of the ballot box.

 

ANOTHER INAUGURATION, A WORLD AWAY

Last week, on the other hand, on the other side of the world, in a country called The Gambia, located on western coast of Africa, another “peaceful inauguration” was also supposed to occur last Thursday, January 19th. But, in this case, things didn’t work out the way they were planned. Rather than being inaugurated in The Gambia in a public ceremony before the people who elected him, President-elect of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, was sworn into office in a private ceremony in neighboring Senegal.

The need to change the venue of Barrow’s inauguration was because Yahya Jammeh, the ruling President of The Gambia for the past 22 years, refused to relinquish power after losing a peaceful election held in December. Observers of the election were astonished by Barrow’s decisive victory, but no one was more surprised with the outcome than Jammeh himself.

Jammeh had ruled the small “river” country…made famous as the ancestral home of Roots author Alex Haley … for the past two decades with an iron fist and a whimsical insanity that most of his constituents simply dismissed. He once believed he held the cure to AIDS and pompously proclaimed that he would rule The Gambia for “one billion years if Allah willed.”

Those who opposed his regime were surreptitiously imprisoned and tortured. Journalists who wrote unfavorably about him, mysteriously disappeared. His tenure as The Gambian president was one of intimidation and vengeance.

I traveled to The Gambia several times during his rule to render medical care to the poor of that country and felt the palpable power of Jammeh’s oppressive rule first-hand. I have witnessed his heavily armed motorcades flying down the country’s narrow roads at warp-speed. Gambians only spoke of him in hushed tones for fear of being overheard. For the past 22 years, Yahya Jammeh has been a fearful force to be reckoned with in The Gambia.

So last Thursday, when the time came for Jammeh to step down, instead of fulfilling his promise to recognize the country’s new leader, he refused to leave, citing “irregularities” in the voting process. After following Jammeh’s political career for the past twenty years, I was not surprised by his intransigence.

But the surrounding African countries, to their credit, didn’t buy it. Jammeh had lost by a landslide and everyone knew it. Led by The Gambia’s neighbor Senegal, soldiers from several western African countries invaded The Gambia the day after Barrow’s Senegalese inauguration to dethrone Jammeh. Finally, under pressure and seeing the proverbial handwriting on the wall, Jammeh ceded his office and has been escorted out of the country.

The shift in power from one administration to another in any country is a period that is always laden with uncertainly and emotion. Almost by definition, it’s a rocky time. This is especially true for many of the emerging democracies of the Third World.

But the contrast in the transfer of power that happened in the United States and the transfer of power that occurred in The Gambia last week, could not have been more vivid. May we, as Americans, never take for granted the profundity of this unique and orderly institution.

Robert C. Hamilton, M.D. is a Santa Monic