Log in

West African states prepare to invade Gambia to force Yahya Jammeh to hand power to president-elect Adama Barrow

  • Written by Adrian Blomfield, nairobi
  • Published in News
  • 0 comments
Gambian president-elect Adama Barrow CREDIT: AFOLABI SOTUNDE/REUTERS Gambian president-elect Adama Barrow

 

Thousands of people have begun fleeing Gambia amid growing signs that West African states could invade the former British colony within days.

Regional leaders have signalled their determination to mount a rare African defence of democratic principle by using force to ensure that Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s president of 22 years, gives up power following his defeat in an election last month.

Nigeria has reportedly asked British military advisers to assist in planning a “rapid reaction” military incursion into Gambia in order to install Adama Barrow, the election’s surprise winner, as the country’s new president. 

 

Mr Barrow, a former real estate agent who briefly worked as a security guard at an Argos catalogue store while studying in London, was supposed to have been sworn in on Thursday — but Mr Jammeh, having initially conceded defeat, later reversed course and is refusing to stand down.

Mr Barrow left Gambia for neighbouring Senegal at the weekend at the advice of regional leaders, and will not return home until his inauguration until Thursday - perhaps under the escort of West African troops. 

The president-elect's inauguration plans were struck by tragedy after his son Habibu, who was eight, died on the way to hospital on Sunday after being bitten by a dog the previous evening near the capital Banjul, according to the BBC and postings by Gambians on Twitter.

Mr Barrow was unable to return for his son's funeral, which took place almost immediately, as required by Islamic rite. Pictures posted on Twitter showed what appeared to be Habibu's casket, covered in a black cotton shroud, being carried through a grove by mourners.

Habibu Barrow is survived by four siblings.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh holds a copy of the Quran while speaking to a poll worker at a polling station during the presidential election in Banjul, Gambia
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh holds a copy of the Quran while speaking to a poll worker at a polling station during the presidential election in Banjul, Gambia CREDIT:THIERRY GOUEGNON/ REUTERS

With time for a diplomatic solution rapidly running out leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-state regional bloc, have authorised a military response that has the unofficial blessing of the United Nations Security Council.

Although the proposed mission is likely to be headed by Senegal, Nigerian troops are likely to make up the bulk of the force. The Nigerian government last week authorised generals to mobilise an 800-strong battalion to spearhead the mission. 

President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh (C) welcoming President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari (R) and President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (L) for talks at the State House in Banjul, Gambia, 13 January 2017
President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh (C) welcoming President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari (R) and President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (L) for talks at the State House in Banjul, Gambia, 13 January 2017 CREDIT:  EPA

In a sign of its dwindling diplomatic clout among its former African colonies, Britain has played little role so far in the crisis. Instead, Francois Hollande, the French president, took advantage of Britain’s diminished ambitions to meet with Mr Barrow over the weekend.

However, British officers training the Nigerian army in counter-terrorism operations against the Islamist Boko Haram group have been asked to give logistical and planning support to the mission, regional officials say. It is unclear if the request has been granted.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

In Banjul, The Gambia, on the ECOWAS Mediation Mission. We met with President Yahya Jammeh and Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy

It is hoped that a military operation could be fairly swift. Mr Jammeh’s army has just 900 soldiers, some of whom were seen partying in the streets after he lost the election.

Regional presidents continue to urge Mr Jammeh, who ousted his internationally-respected predecessor Sir Dawda Jawara in a coup in 1994, to leave office. 

“I dare to hope that African wisdom will convince our brother [to] understand the greater good for the Gambia, which does not need a bloodbath,” said Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the president of Mali.

Adama Barrow greets supporters on the last day of the presidential campaign in Gambia
Adama Barrow greets supporters on the last day of the presidential campaign in Gambia CREDIT: MARCO LONGARI/AFP

But Mr Jammeh, seen by critics as a serial human-rights abuser who once vowed to “rule for a billion years with the help of Allah", has shrugged off the calls. He has instead shut independent radio stations, arrested activists and sent soldiers to storm the electoral commission.

Fearing just such a bloodbath, hundreds of people have begun thronging ferry terminals on the River Gambia every day hoping for safe passage into Senegal. The United Nations refugee agency says it is assessing the situation.

Last modified onThursday, 19 January 2017 22:42

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.

71°F

Oakland

Sunny

Humidity: 41%

Wind: 18 mph

  • 28 Mar 2017 70°F 47°F
  • 29 Mar 2017 69°F 53°F