Long-time Gambian President Jammeh goes into exile after month of uncertainty

Background

The 2016 Gambian Election

On the 2nd of December, 2016, elections were held in The Gambia. Contending the incumbent president Yahya Jammeh were Adama Barrow and Mama Kandeh.

Already in power for 22 years after taking power in a coup, it was widely expected the Jammeh would be able to hold on to power in the election. In a surprise result, however, Barrow took 45% of the vote, with Jammeh finishing second with 36.7%.

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Gambian President Adama Barrow (BBC)

Jammeh later conceded the election in yet another surprise, acknowledging his defeat and even offering Barrow his support in ensuring a smooth transition.

The Transition Process

Initial reception to the election results were positive. Celebrations broke out across the capital of Banjul, and several political prisoners, members of the opposition, were released from prison.

Barrow spoke to his country in a press conference, expressing his optimism for his country’s future, saying,

“I know Gambians are in hurry but not everything is going to be achieved in one day. I would therefore appeal to all Gambians and friends of the Gambia to join us and help move this great country forward. I don’t want this change of regime to be a mere change. I want it to be felt and seen in the wellbeing of the country and all Gambians. So we are calling on all Gambians and friends of the Gambia to help us make the Gambia great again.”

– President Adama Barrow of The Gambia

Problems arose  later that week, when on December 9th, the chair of the opposition  Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang held a press conference. Jallow-Tambajang promised that following the transfer of power, investigations would be launched into the affairs of Jammeh and several senior generals and politicians, into everything from financial affairs, to possible human rights infractions, going so far as to say Jammeh would be prosecuted within a year.

That same day, Jammeh spoke again to the nation, saying he had withdrawn his concession. Citing electoral irregularities and possible fraud, he said he would not allow Barrow to assume control of the presidency on January 19th, as was scheduled. He cited voters voting multiple times, as well as dead people voting among the reasons for his rejection of the results.

On December 1oth, the Gambian army was deployed in Banjul and across the country, and military checkpoints set up.

As a member state of the Economic Council of West African States (ECOWAS), Gambia saw its crisis get other members involved. President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was to meet with Jammeh to discuss the transition, but her plane was not allowed to land, forcing her to turn back. Likewise, Jammeh refused the advice of international leaders, as near all of them spoke in support of Barrow’s presidency.

Jammeh then went to the Supreme Court of the Gambia to call for reelections, but since only one Justice is present, the rest having been imprisoned or driven out by Jammeh, no verdict could be passed without the appointment of four new Justices.

On the 13th of December, the Gambian army stormed the electoral commission’s headquarters, barring the head of the commission entry into the building. By the end of December the occupation had been lifted, and the staff allowed to return.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS leaders continued to meet with Jammeh, pressuring him privately and on the diplomatic stage to step aside for Barrow. Jammeh rejected their advice, stating that is twas inappropriate and went against the charter of the organization to get involved in other states’ internal politics.

The UN and the US condemned the actions of Jammeh, as Senegal called for an emergency Security Council meeting, in which it was unanimously declared that Jammeh must peacefully hand over power to Barrow.

Inside Gambia, legal organizations denounced Jammeh’s efforts, saying it was illegal, as Barrow announced his inauguration would proceed regardless of whether or not Jammeh cooperated.

On December 23rd ECOWAS leaders warned Jammeh of a possible military intervention if the issue was not resolved as rumors surfaced of Jammeh’s appointing of several Supreme Court Justices in secret, hoping for their consideration of his case. Despite this, it was announced that the case could not be hear before May of 2017., due to the absence of some Justices.

State of Emergency

In the early days of 2017 Jammeh began shutting down private radio stations, as reports surfaced that the head of the electoral commission had left the country, fearing for his life.

On January 17th, two days before the inauguration of Barrow, Jammeh declared a 90 state of emergency, which would allow him to stay in power and delaying Barrow’s installation. This 90 day period was then further extended to July of 2017, allowing Jammeh to stay in power until the verdict of the Supreme Court delivered its verdict.

On January 18th, in response to the state of emergency, Senegal deployed its army to the Gambian border as Nigerian airplanes and warships were being deployed nearby.

Fearing an invasion, Gambians had in the week before begun escaping across the border to Senegal, with an estimated 26,000 Gambian refugees escaping their homes before the resolution of the conflict. At the same time, tourists, among them many British and Dutch visitors, were being flown home as travel advisories were being placed on the country.

The same day as the deployment of the ECOWAS troops, the Gambian Vice-President and eight senior cabinet members resigned, as Barrow fled across the border to Senegal.

Although his inauguration was to take place in Gambia, Barrow was relocated to the Gambian embassy in Senegal, where he would later be sworn in as president, as concerns for his and his family’s safety rose.

The Gambian Intervention

The Inauguration of Adama Barrow and the ECOWAS Deadlines

On the 19th of January, countries began declaring their recognition of Barrow as the legitimate President of The Gambia, with international organizations stating that they would henceforth communicate strictly with Barrow.

As Barrow was being sworn into office in the Gambian embassy, ECOWAS issued an ultimatum to Jammeh, stating that at midnight that night, if Jammeh did not recognize Barrow as President of The Gambia, ECOWAS forces would enter the country.

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Location of The Gambia (orange) in ECOWAS (green). Senegal encompasses Gambia as its sole land border.

The Chief of the Gambia’s army publicly stated he would not order his troops into combat with ECOWAS forces, saying that a political issue should be solved between politicians and not soldiers.

Jammeh refused the demands of the organization, and Senegalese, Nigerian, and Ghanaian troops entered Gambia shortly after midnight.

The Invasion of Gambia

As Senegal’s troops advanced further in to Gambia, Jammeh sacked the remainder of his cabinet, as the Security Council passed a motion backing the military intervention.

ECOWAS forces halted their advance several hours later in order to try to negotiate a peaceful solution again. Jammeh refused to give up power yet again, even as the deadline was extended.

Several leaders spoke with Jammeh to convince him to step down, including the President of Mauritania. It was only after the Army Chief pledged his support for Barrow that Jammeh agreed to step aside and leave the country, making way for Barrow to become the Gambia’s 3rd president.

Jammeh has since fled the Gambia, and has gone into exile in Equatorial Guinea.

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