- By Ross Parker
Gambia Crisis reaches boiling point
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The Gambia is facing the very real possibility of a multinational West-African military intervention.
Adama Barrow, who won The Gambia’s recent presidential election says he will be sworn in as president at the country’s embassy in surrounding Senegal.
The message, posted on Barrow’s social media accounts, invited the general public to attend the ceremony.
Last-ditch efforts by regional leaders to convince Yahya Jammeh, the outgoing President, to step down failed overnight, as the final deadlines came and passed without any indication of his intent to cooperate.
Jammeh lost the election last month, but wants the results annulled citing errors in the electoral process. Jammeh’s calls for an annulment have not been recognised by the international community whom have recognised the legitimacy of the electoral results.
Joint West African military forces, stationed at the border, are ready to enforce a transfer of power in The Gambia, a very popular tourist destination among European holidaymakers.
UN Security Council backing for intervention is being sought by Senegal and the regional bloc Ecowas.
Diplomats have confirmed however that if Barrow requested help after his inauguration such UN approval for military intervention would not be needed under international laws.
It is eerily quiet in Gambia’s capital, Banjul today. Most streets are deserted. Shops, petrol stations and banks are all closed. People are mostly staying home uncertain about what might happen as European tourists continue to leave their hotels and be evacuated by their respective governments.
Men stand on the roadsides, arms crossed or looking worriedly at their phones. Some told us they were waiting for President Jammeh to go and would take to the streets once President Barrow was sworn in this afternoon.
They say they want West African troops to come in as soon as possible. Many told international reporters they were worried about Jammeh’s actions should there be an offensive against him. So far there is little presence of Jammeh’s security forces in the city.
The chances of an actual armed conflict remain small.
The Gambia’s army chief, previously seen as a close ally of Jammeh, seems wary of any action. “This is a political dispute. I am not going to involve my soldiers in a stupid fight. I love my men.” the AFP news agency quotes Ousman Badjie as saying.
However, Badjie has little influence over the elite unit of Presidential fighters, called the Gambia National Guard, who may opt to fight even if vastly outnumbered by the Senegalese and Nigerian forces. The Gambia National Guard are largely comprised of fighters from the same ethnic group as Jammeh. The remainder of The Gambia’s armed forces is said to number only 2’500.
One key question is how ordinary Gambian civilians will see the Senegalese troops if they do cross the border. The Gambia and Senegal are made up of the same ethnic groups which were divided by colonial borders. Senegalese and Gambians speak the same languages and share the same culture.
However, a fierce rivalry has developed between the two nations, with many Gambians feeling they are looked down on by their more numerous neighbours. The official primary language of Senegal is French following European colonisation and division.
While supporters of Barrow will presumably see any intervention favourably, there is also a danger that it could be seen as a foreign invasion force, by a similar, more numerous and surrounding, larger more powerful, rival nation.
Barrow, a property developer by trade, has never held public office before. Barrow has been in Senegal since the weekend following an invitation to attend a summit of African leaders who back his victory.
President-elect, Barrow, did not even go back home when his eight-year-old son died after being mauled by a dog. He missed the funeral on Monday as he was advised to remain in Senegal for his safety.
The President-elect tweeted and posted on Facebook that his inauguration would take place at 16:00 GMT at the embassy in the capital, Dakar.
Barrow has joined at least 26’000 Gambians, fearful of violence, who have sought refuge in Senegal. His spokesman says Barrow’s team is keen for a peaceful resolution, but accepts military intervention may be inevitable.
“Ecowas is on the side of President Barrow and if he’s sworn in obviously he has to be at the State House. If the other side refused then you are simply talking about a state of war.” Halifa Sallah told the BBC’s Newshour programme.
Sallah said that outgoing President Jammeh had been given a letter promising that he would be given the same rights and privileges as Dawda Jawara, The Gambia’s only other ex-president.
Jammeh himself, first came to power in a bloodless coup 22 years ago. Jammeh initially accepted defeat in the current election, but later reversed his position.
The electoral commission has accepted that some of the results it initially published contained errors, but said they would not have affected Barrow’s overall victory.
Jammeh’s legal challenge to have the overall vote annulled cannot be heard by the Supreme Court until May because of a lack of judges, so parliament has stepped in and extended his term in office by 90 days and imposed a three month state of emergency.
Human rights groups accuse Jammeh, who has in the past claimed he can cure Aids and infertility, of repression.
Retaining power would also ensure he was not prosecuted in The Gambia for alleged abuses committed during his rule.
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