Any hopes that the lingering Gambian election crisis could peacefully be resolved have now vanished as President Yahya Jammeh yesterday [17 January] declared a 90-day state of emergency.
In a TV address to the nation, the embattled leader whose term of office expires at midnight on Wednesday, 18 January said the measure was necessary to avoid a power vacuum, insisting that he would not vacate office until the resolution of his election petition by the country’s Supreme Court.
The court, which has not been able to sit due to a lack of judges, could hear the case at the earliest in May. Normally, Jammeh is supposed to hand over power to President-elect Adama Barrow, who defeated him at the election according to the result of the Independent Election Commission, while he continues his legal battle at the court. The latest action by the long-time dictator means that he has unilaterally and extra-constitutionally extended his tenure.
Observers said Jammeh’s latest move clearly signalled his rejection of further international mediation efforts and his intention to rule notwithstanding the views of the international community. Like a Nigerian journalist and global affairs analyst said, “Jammeh has now switched to a full confrontation mode”.
Barrow who won the country’s presidential election on 1 December is supposed to be sworn on Thursday, 19 November. The chances of that taking place are very remote. Barrow, who is in temporary exile in neighbouring Senegal, has condemned the declaration of emergency and reiterated the position of the 7-party coalition which sponsored his election that Jammeh would be regarded as a rebel leader as from 19 January.
The United Nations, African Union (AU) and ECOWAS have all asked Jammeh to step down and have warned of dire consequences if he does not give up power peacefully. The AU has also said that it would no longer recognise Jammeh as president as from 19 January.
ECOWAS, which has vowed to intervene militarily to ensure that the will of Gambians prevail, is now left with no other option than to forcibly remove Jammeh, who has ruled Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years.
ECOWAS has not officially reacted to the declaration of emergency. Observers say the member states would need to widely consult among themselves and with the AU and the UN before announcing their next step.
Meanwhile, a Nigerian naval war ship, NNS UNITY, is already on its way to the Gambia as ECOWAS defence chiefs are said to be planning their next move. Nigerian troops, who are being airlifted by the country’s Air Force, are also expected to start arriving at an ECOWAS military base in Senegal today, 18 January as the regional body prepares to use military to force Jammeh out of power.
On Saturday, Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin, hosted his colleagues from other West African countries as part of the preparation for the inauguration of an ECOWAS Military Intervention Group (ECOMIG).
Among those who attended the meeting were the Chairperson of ECOWAS Chiefs of Defence Staff, Brig Gen Daniel Ziankahn (Liberia); CH Gueye of Senegal; the Ghanaian Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Michael Samson-Oje; and the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Hajiya Salamatu.
ECOWAS is reportedly seeking the UN Security Council’s authorisation to undertake military action if Barrow’s inauguration on Thursday is blocked.
Reports say tension is high in the Gambian capital, Banjul, over concerns that the political conflict will continue to escalate. Checkpoints across the city are said to being manned by heavily armed security forces. Thousands of Gambians have for the past days been fleeing the country for fear of violence amidst the political impasse.
In a sign that the days of his regime are numbered, the embattled president is losing more of his allies.
Four ministers have resigned from Jammeh’s government this week, including Foreign Minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, Finance Minister Abdou Kolley and Trade Minister Abdou Jobe.
Last week the Communication Minister Sheriff Bojang and Sports Minister Alieu Jammeh had resigned.
In a sad event, Habibu Barrow, the eight-year-old son of President-elect Barrow, died on Sunday after being bitten by a dog. The boy was reported to have died while he was being taken to a hospital after he was mauled by a dog in the neighbourhood where he lived with his aunt.
Barrow could not attend his son’s funeral, as he was advised to remain in Senegal for his safety.