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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who served two terms as President of Liberia from 2006 to 2017, is the fifth recipient of the Ibrahim Prize, which recognises and celebrates excellence in African leadership. / Photo: NDAA

Gambia: ECOWAS softens on Jammeh, says it still prefers peaceful mediation to military intervention

West African leaders are not ready yet to send troops as they negotiate with President Jammeh to relinquish power, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has announced.

The crisis in The Gambia is becoming more complex as the 19 January handover date approaches.

In a surprise development, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told reporters on Saturday in Accra that ECOWAS leaders were still pursuing mediation to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in The Gambia where President Yahya Jammeh still refuses to accept defeat in the election held on 1 December.

“We are committed to a peaceful mediation and a peaceful transfer of power in The Gambia. We will continue to pursue that for now,” said Sirleaf, who chairs the 15-member body.

Asked if the regional group would deploy a standby force soon, she said “no”, adding that ECOWAS was closely monitoring proceedings in The Gambia’s Supreme Court, where Jammeh is challenging the poll result.

Sirleaf’s statement followed a meeting of ECOWAS leaders who were in Accra to attend the inauguration ceremony of President Nana Akufo-Addo.

President Jammeh (right) and the immediate former president of Ghana, John Mahama, who is the deputy chairman of the ECOWAS mediation team. There is nothing yet to show for the efforts of the mediation team, chaired by Nigeria’s President Buhari, as Jammeh has been talking tough, boasting that nobody can remove him and warning ECOWAS to steer clear of the country’s election dispute / Photo: CDN

The Liberian leader’s utterances came as an anti-climax to an eventful week which saw the chairman of Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission, Alieu Momarr Njai, fleeing the country for fear for his life and fake news of the assassination of the President-elect, Adama Barrow, going viral. Moreover, there were rumours that Jammeh was busy recruiting mercenaries from Liberia and Sierra Leone – rebel soldiers who fought during their country’s civil war.

Gambia’s army chief, General Ousman Badjie, publicly pledged his loyalty to Jammeh during the week. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari had also announced on New Year Day that he was working hard to ensure that the inauguration of Barrow, winner of the December election, takes place as scheduled.

Analysts optimistically believe that the latest development means that ECOWAS wants to allow the Gambian Supreme Court to make the final decision on the crisis and that might just be a way to help Jammeh save face.

Legal experts in West Africa say there is no way the court, which will continue sitting on the case on 10 January, could conclude proceedings and reach a verdict by 19 January.

“After the 2011 polls, the losing candidate, Ousainou Darboe, filed a petition to challenge the result but Jammeh was sworn before it had been heard,” writes Gambian journalist and long-time BBC correspondent Sheriff Bojang.

“So there is a precedent for Barrow to be sworn in while Mr Jammeh is still going to court but it is unlikely that the strongman would agree.” With pressure from regional leaders, analysts hope that the embattled president will relinquish power while continuing to fight his case judicially.

What the Court will decide on 10 January is still anybody’s guess as tension continues to mount in The Gambia with the whole country gripped with fear.

Ken Kamara

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