Fourteen West African leaders have announced they will travel to the Gambia in January for the inauguration of Adama Barrow despite the incumbent president Yahya Jammeh trying to cling to power.
The regional West African bloc also agreed to take ‘all necessary actions’ to uphold Barrow’s victory, leaving the door open for military intervention, as it met to discuss Jammeh’s refusal to accept the election result
A delegation of four African presidents from members of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) had flown to the Gambia capital, , Banjul, last week but failed to convince the country’s autocratic leader to change his mind.
It came as a surprise to many Gambians when Jammeh conceded defeat on television after the 1 December election after ruling the tiny west African nation for 22 years. A week later, however, he took to the airwaves again and reversed his position, saying that the electoral commission, handpicked by him, was not independent.
Ecowas has no standing army, but could ask member states to send in troops, as it did in Guinea-Bissau in May 2012 after there was a military coup. Marcel de Souza, the head of the Ecowas commission, has said sending in troops was “a possible solution”.
Macky Sall, president of the Gambia’s only contiguous neighbour, Senegal, told French television that the use of force should be a “last resort”.
“There were certainly crimes. But if we engage in a showdown, it is clear that the consequences will be much more dramatic,” Sall said. “If it is necessary to dialogue and find a way out for Jammeh to be protected, why not? I am for dialogue and allowing him to leave quietly.”
Jammeh is becoming more isolated not just from other countries in the region but within the Gambia, as unions and civil society organisations have demanded he respect the vote and leave.
The bar association said that his volte-face was “tantamount to treason”, the teachers’ union said it was “a recipe for chaos and disorder which undoubtedly endangers the lives of all Gambians particularly our children”, and the press union, the medical association and the university added their voices to the clamour of condemnation.
On Sunday, the Supreme Islamic Council, formerly a strong ally of Jammeh’s, came out in favour of Barrow after meeting the president-elect, saying they were ready to work with him.
This was a significant departure for a president who last year declared his country an Islamic republic: now, it appears that only his ministers and the military remain on Jammeh’s side.
The head of the armed forces, Ousman Badjie, last week told the Guardian that Jammeh paid his salary and was the commander-in-chief and so he answered to him. It was not clear where his loyalty would lie after 19 January, when Barrow is sworn in as the new president. In the past two weeks, more soldiers have been posted to the streets of Banjul, rigging up camouflage shelters and balancing machine guns on sandbags.
Concerns remain over Barrow’s safety after Jammeh’s government put pressure on him to get rid of the Senegalese private security firm he had hired to protect him, and one of the main points on the Ecowas statement was an exhortation to guarantee his safety. It also called for support from the African Union and the United Nations, including “technical assistance”.