With the swearing in of President Adama Barrow yesterday in Dakar, Senegal, The Gambia now has an internationally recognized leader. Analysts say the event signalled the end of the presidency of Yahya Jammeh. He is now effectively a rebel leader and all efforts are being made to persuade him to vacate the State House in Banjul and leave the country.
A last-ditch diplomatic effort is being made by President Alpha Condé of Guinea who is due to arrive Banjul today [Friday, 20 January] to persuade the belligerent Jammeh to finally leave the country with his family.
According to diplomatic sources, the message President Condé will take to Jammeh today is that he should save his family and hundreds of innocent lives who could perish in case it comes to a military confrontation by peacefully leaving the State House and allowing the conclusion of the transition process which has irreversibly begun in Dakar yesterday with the inauguration of President Barrow.
The swearing-in ceremony, which was held at the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, was attended by the representatives of the United Nations, African Union and ECOWAS not to talk of the presence of the ambassadors of leading Western countries such as US, UK and France. That event, diplomatic circles say, has effectively brought Jammeh’s 22-year rule in The Gambia to an end.
If the last-ditch effort of Condé fails today, ECOWAS troops, who entered The Gambia yesterday without any resistance by the Gambian army, have vowed to move on to Banjul and dislodge Jammeh from the seat of power.
“If by midday, he [Jammeh] doesn’t agree to leave The Gambia under the banner of President Condé, we really will intervene militarily,” the chairman of the ECOWAS commission, Marcel Alain de Souza, has said.
West African troops backed by heavy artillery yesterday crossed from Senegal into The Gambia as part of “Operation Restore Democracy” of the ECOWAS Intervention Group to ensure President Barrow assumes power as the country’s new leader, according to the Senegalese army, which is leading the military operation. The forces encountered no resistance after entering The Gambia and were even said to have been welcomed by jubilant villagers.
Most officers and men of the Gambian army are also said to be unwilling to fight for Jammeh. However, a special unit called the Gambian National Guard consisting almost exclusively of soldiers from Jammeh’s Jola ethnic group, is said to be fiercely loyal to the former president and could put up a fight. No reliable figures are available on the number of soldiers that Jammeh commands but most analysts estimate them to be about 2,500 out of whom only 500 may fight for him.
Nigerian air force plane is reported to have flown several times over Banjul yesterday while the country’s war ship NNS UNITY is presently on its way to the Gambian waters. With the show of force, ECOWAS heads of state do not want to leave Jammeh and his circle of loyalists in any doubt that they were determined to make good their threat to remove the recalcitrant dictator by force if he refuses to go peacefully.
The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously voted yesterday to back the action of ECOWAS, although the council stressed that a political solution should be the priority. Diplomats say the council’s support is no longer necessary since Barrow is now the internationally-recognised president and he could request help from ECOWAS.
Meanwhile the news of Barrow’s inauguration sparked celebrations in the Gambian capital Banjul yesterday. Video footages have emerged in the social media showing Jammeh’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Ousman Badjie, in the midst of people celebrating in the street. He is quoted to have said that he loves his soldiers and they won’t fight any “stupid war” with fellow ECOWAS forces.
“This is a day no Gambian will ever forget in a lifetime,” Barrow (51) said after the swearing-in ceremony, which was broadcast live on Senegalese television. He was forced to cancel earlier plans to hold the event at the Independence Stadium, Bakau, after Jammeh declared a state of emergency.
And in the absence of the Chief Justice of the Gambia, the president of the Gambia Bar Association, Sheriff Tambedou, was drafted in to swear in the former property developer.
Barrow called on the Gambian security forces to “remain loyal to the constitution” and stay in their barracks. Soldiers found outside with firearms would be considered rebels, he said.
“From today on I am the president of The Gambia regardless of whether you voted for me or not,” he said.
Barrow appealed to the African Union and the UN to support the government and people of Gambia to restore their sovereignty and legitimacy.
As expected, Jammeh’s Information minister, Seedy SK Njie, has dismissed Barrow’s inauguration and maintained that Jammeh is still the “legitimate president” of The Gambia.
“As far as we are concerned, there are laws governing this country and the due process of the law must be followed. There is peace in the country and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of The Gambia should be respected,” he said.
Jammeh (51) initially conceded defeat at the 1 December election to Barrow only to make a u-turn a week later, rejecting the result and calling for a new vote. Despite all diplomatic efforts made to persuade him to rescind his arbitrary and unconstitutional decision he has since failed to step down.