Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has warned that any troop deployment by ECOWAS members would constitute “a declaration of war”. In a New Year’s message broadcast on Saturday, Jammeh said the “blatant and one-sided” approach of the regional body, “disqualified it from providing mediation services”.
“Let me make very clear, we are ready to defend this country against any aggression,” Jammeh said, adding that if ECOWAS did not back down “the impasse will continue with the risk of escalation into a military confrontation”.
He added, “What we are simply and rightfully asking for is to return to the polls and allow the Gambians to elect who they want to be their president in a free and fair election.”
After more than two decades in power, Jammeh, 51, lost a 1 December election to Adama Barrow, the candidate of a 7-party opposition coalition.
After initially accepting the result, Jammeh later rejected it, alleging irregularities, and filed a petition to the Supreme Court, which is due to sit on the case on 10 January.
Barrow has insisted he will take office on 19 January, as planned, with ECOWAS leaders set to attend the ceremony.
The African Union and UN Security Council have called on Jammeh to “fully respect” the election results and ensure Barrow’s safety.
The electoral commission said Barrow obtained 222,708 votes (43.3 percent) compared with Jammeh’s 208,487 (39.6 percent).
Jammeh has questioned the validity of the count after the Independent Electoral Commission changed some results, even though it insists the outcome was not affected.
On 17 December, the heads of state of ECOWAS named a mediation committee headed by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari with Ghana President John Dramani Mahama as deputy, to engage Jammeh diplomatically and find a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Regional leaders have however warned that they would not hesitate to send troops to Banjul, if Jammeh fails to step down.
Senegal, which surrounds much of The Gambia, has been designated to lead the proposed military intervention, president of the ECOWAS commission, Marcel de Souza, has said.
“The deadline is January 19 when the mandate of Jammeh ends,” de Souza said. “If he doesn’t go, we have a force that is already on alert, and this force will intervene to restore the will of the people.”