Heads of State of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have issued a 19 January deadline for the resolution of the Gambian political crisis.
The leaders made the decision on the Gambian political crisis at the weekend where they met at the fringes of the 27th Africa-France summit in Mali’s capital Bamako. They repeated their calls on President Yahya Jammeh to go voluntarily.
President-elect Adama Barrow, who was also in Bamako, has vowed to take power on 19 January, despite Jammeh not accepting his defeat in the 1 December election.
Jammeh, who has ruled the small West African nation for 22 years with an iron fist, has filed a petition to challenge the election result at the Supreme Court. He insists the election he lost to Barrow, the candidate of a 7-party opposition coalition, was rigged.
However it would take until May before the court could adjudicate on the case because of lack of judges.
Instead of handing over power as is the convention in the country while he continues to pursue his case in court, the embattled Jammeh has vowed to stay in office until his case is decided. His party has filed a motion with the Supreme Court to prevent Barrow from being sworn into office on 19 January.
Barrow attended the Africa-France summit bringing together French President Francois Hollande and more than 30 African leaders, while Jammeh was absent.
“The choice of Gambian voters in favour of Adama Barrow must be respected,” Hollande said at the summit.
Barrow had arrived in Bamako with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who had met both him and Jammeh in the Gambian capital Banjul on Friday.
The last-ditch efforts by the Buhari-led delegation, which also included President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and former Ghanaian President John Mahama, failed to persuade Jammeh to hand over and ensured a peaceful transition of power.
Last Friday’s visit to Banjul was the second undertaken by West African leaders since the beginning of the crisis.
Meanwhile, Barrow is now in neighbouring Senegal and will remain there at the request of ECOWAS leaders until his planned inauguration on Thursday, 19 January, the official Senegalese news agency APS said on Sunday.
“Senegalese President Macky Sall accepted on Saturday in Bamako to welcome Gambian president-elect Adama Barrow in Dakar until his inauguration,” the official APS agency said.
The African Union announced on Friday that it will no longer recognise Yahya Jammeh as President of The Gambia, as from 19 January. The continental body would in principle turn to Adama Barrow as the country’s leader for official relations.
ECOWAS’s pledge to send troops if Jammeh refused to step down will be carried out was given a boost when the chiefs of defence staff of Ghana, Senegal, Liberia and Nigeria met in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital on Saturday.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, said on Friday that ECOWAS would ask the Security Council to approve the deployment of troops to Gambia if Jammeh refuses to cede power.
Jammeh’s term ends on Wednesday, 18 January and regional powers are threatening to remove him by force if he doesn’t step down.
Critics say Jammeh is holding on to power to keep his presidential immunity and avoid facing trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
A sign that the countdown to the showdown has begun is Jammeh’s closure of the country’s border with Senegal on Saturday.
The border closure followed reports of massive exodus of Gambians fleeing the country due to the feared invasion of ECOWAS intervention forces to remove the Jammeh regime.
Analysts are still hoping that a violent military confrontation could still be avoided if a credible offer of amnesty and asylum is offered to Jammeh.
Diplomatic sources say Jammeh is wary of the offers he has received so far from ECOWAS leaders because of the experience of former Liberia leader Charles Taylor who was offered asylum by Nigeria in 2003 only to be turned over three years later to the ICC.
Veteran Senegalese journalist Adama Gama said a Middle Eastern country like Qatar could play a useful role by offering Jammeh asylum, which the Gambian leader is most likely to accept. Speaking to Aljazeera, Gama added that Jammeh would accept a diplomatic solution only if ECOWAS kept the threat of a military intervention real.
The 51-year-old Jammeh seized power as a junior army officer in 1994 and turned himself to a civilian leader two years later. He has been accused of human rights abuses, although he has held regular elections.