Gambians across the country celebrated on Sunday 22 January after a West African regional military force entered the capital city Banjul and took control of the presidential palace. Former President Yahya Jammeh, who was in power for 22 years, had refused to accept defeat to opposition challenger Adama Barrow, who won the 1 December 2016 presidential election. He flew out of Banjul late on Saturday en route to Equatorial Guinea as the regional force was poised to remove him.
The regional military operation was first launched late on 19 January after President Barrow was sworn in as president at Gambia’s embassy in neighbouring Senegal. The operation however was halted hours later in a bid to give the former leader one last chance to leave peacefully. His departure followed two days of negotiations, which were led by Guinea President Alpha Conde and Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. This had prompted speculation over what, if any, terms were agreed upon to convince him to step down.
Hundreds of residents of the capital city assembled outside State House on Sunday after soldiers, who deployed on Sunday to secure the country, moved in to secure the compound. Senegalese army officials disclosed that the force, which also includes troops from Nigeria, Ghana and Mali, met no resistance as they advanced on Sunday.
However amidst the celebrations, troubling details of the former president’s departure began to emerge.
Speaking to radio station RFM in Senegal, where he is waiting to return to Gambia, President Barros stated that, upon initial inspection, it appeared that Jammeh had looted stat resources. The President stated, “according to information we received, there is no money in the coffers…It’s what we have been told, but the day we actually take office, we will clarify all of it.” During a news conference later in the day, Mai Ahmad Fatty, adviser to President Barrow, stated that 500 million dalasis (US $11.45 million) had been withdrawn by the former president in the past two weeks. Reports have also indicated that luxury cars and other items were reportedly loaded on to a Chadian cargo plane as Jammeh left the country.
The new president also disclosed that Jammeh had “…wanted to stay in Gambia,” adding “we said we couldn’t guarantee his security and said that he should leave.” President Barrow also denied that Jammeh had been offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for leaving the country.
Earlier in the day, the African Union (AU) and United Nations published a document on behalf of these two organizations and regional bloc ECOWAS. In it, they pledged, among other things, to protect Jammeh’s rights “as a citizen, a party leader and a former Head of state,” to prevent the seizure of property belonging to him and his allies, and to ensure he can eventually return to Gambia. President Barrow has since disclosed that the document had not been singed and did not constitute a binding agreement. He also stated that he planed to return to Gambia soon, however he did not disclose when.
Rights groups have accused Jammeh of jailing, torturing and killing his political opponents while acquiring a vast fortune, which includes luxury cars and an estate in the United States, as most of his people remained impoverished. Thousands of Gambians sought asylum abroad over the years. According to the United Nations, an additional 45,000 people fled to neighbouring Senegal amidst growing fears of unrest in the wake of last month’s presidential election. On Sunday, hundreds of Gambians carrying sacks, suitcases and cooking pots began returning by ferry from Senegals’ Casamance region.
In a shocking move, Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh on 9 December rejected the result of the presidential election held earlier this month, a week after he admitted defeat. He has called for new elections to be held and the ruling party has announced that it will challenge the results of the 1 December election at the Supreme Court. They have until 13 December to submit a challenge to the court.
The announcement, which was made on state television, throws the future of the West African country into doubt after the unexpected election result ended Jammeh’s 22-year rule. Last week, he had conceded defeat on state TV, in a move that resulted in celebrations over the defeat of a government that human rights groups accused of detaining, torturing and killing opponents during the president’s rule. Opposition leader Adama Barrow had been announced as the winner of the election by the country’s electoral commission. However on Saturday Jammeh has since stated that “after a thorough investigation, I have decided to reject the outcome of the recent election. I lament serious and unacceptable abnormalities, which have reportedly transpired during the electoral process,” adding, “I recommend fresh and transparent elections, which will be officiated by a god-fearing and independent electoral commission.” On the ground sources have reported that overnight the capital city Banjul remained quiet, however there was a particular nervousness about the president’s statement that he would deal harshly with any troublemakers who took to the streets.
International reaction to his statement has also been swift, with the United States State Department saying in a statement that Jammeh’s rejection of the results was an egregious attempt to undermine a credible election and remain illegitimately in power. Meanwhile Senegal’s foreign minister disclosed on Saturday that Gambian authorities have refused entry to the chair of regional body Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, in a move that has dampened hopes for a political solution after President Yahya Jammeh rejected the results of the election he lost on 1 December. Sirleaf Johnson had hoped to put back on track Gambia’s first democratic transition to power in over fifty years, however those plans appeared thwarted on Saturday when her plane was denied landing access at Banjul. Senegalese foreign minister Mankeur Ndiaye disclosed “Johnson Sirleaf was supposed to fly in today, but Jammeh said ‘not at the moment.’” It was not clear if the plane had already taken off. Also on Saturday the African Union (AU) weighed in on Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to accept the 1 December presidential election results, calling his statement “null and void.” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma disclosed that “the Chairperson of the Commission strongly urges President Yahya Jammeh to facilitate a peaceful and orderly transition and transfer of power.” She also called on Gambia’s security forces to remain neutral. The United Nations Security Council on Saturday condemned Gambia President Yahya Jammeh’s rejection of election results announced last week that saw him lose power after 22 years. The Council has urged all parties to refrain from violence. In a statement, the Council disclosed “(Security Council members) called on him to respect the choice of the sovereign People of The Gambia, as he did on 2 December 2016, and to transfer, without condition and undue delay, power to the President-elect, Mr Adama Barrow.”
The head of Barrow’s transition team has disclosed that the president-elect and his staff members are safe. Mai Ahmad Fatty went on to say “we are consulting on what to do, but as far as we are concerned, the people have voted,” adding “we will maintain peace and stability and not let anyone provoke us into violence.” What is certain is that Jammeh’s shock announcement will present an unexpected and severe challenge to the incoming Barrow administration, which is already grappling with how to take the reins of power and deal with an army that for the past two decades has been loyal to the same present. While last week, army chief General Ousman Badjie had called Barrow in order to pledge his allegiance, diplomatic sources have disclosed that they expect a faction from Jammeh’s Jola ethnic group to remain loyal to him.
Official election results from the electoral commission gave Barow 45.5 percent of the vote against Jammeh’s 36.7 percent. The Independent Electoral Commission however later corrected the results to give Barrow a slimmer lead with 43.3 percent of votes, or fewer than 20,000 more than Jammeh.
The Gambia this month announced that it will be leaving the International Criminal Court (ICC) after Burundi and South Africa launched their own similar petitions in October to leave the court, which has been criticized by a number of African countries.
On Tuesday, 26 October the Gambian government announced that it is withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing the world body of ignoring the “war crimes” of Western nations and seeking only to prosecute Africans. Speaking on state television, Information Minister Sheriff Bojang disclosed that “this action is warranted by the fact that the ICC, despite being called the International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans.” The statement from Gambia, whose citizens make up disproportionately high proportion of the African migrant flow to Europe, further disclosed that it had sought to bring the European Union (EU) before the ICC over the deaths of migrants however it had received no response. It disclosed, “there are many Western countries, at least 30, that have committed heinous war crimes against independent sovereign states and their citizens since the creation of the ICC and not a single Western war criminal has been indicted.”
The decision by The Gambia comes just days after South Africa also announced that it was quitting The Hague-based tribunal. The ICC has yet to comment on the move, however coming soon after South Africa’s announcement, Gambia’s decision to also quit the court has added to pressure on the world’s first permanent war crimes court. Burundi has already said that it is planning to leave while Kenya’s parliament has disclosed that it is considering following suit. The ICC has had to fight off allegations that it is pursuing a neo-colonial agenda in Africa, where all but one of its ten investigations have been based.
The World Heath Organization (WHO) on Thursday called for “drastic action” in order to fight the deadliest Ebola outbreak on record, and announced an 11-nation meeting to address the growing crisis.
As of Sunday 22 June, 635 cases of hemorrhagic fever, most confirmed to be Ebola, including 399 deaths, have been reported across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This effectively makes the outbreak the largest ever “in terms of the number of cases and deaths as well as geographical spread.” A statement released by the UN agency stressed that “drastic action is needed,” and warned of the danger that the virus could jump to other countries. The WHO’s call for drastic action comes just days after medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) indicated that the virus was now “out of control.’
Since the deadly epidemic emerged in Guinea in January, WHO has deployed more than 150 experts in a bid to tackle the crisis. However despite its efforts, and the efforts of other medical charities, over the past three weeks there has been a “significant increase” in the number of cases and deaths reported each day. According to WHO’s regional director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, the agency is now “gravely concerned by the on-going cross-border transmission into neighboring countries as well as the potential for further international spread,” adding “this is no longer a country specific outbreak but a sub-regional crisis that requires firm action by governments and partners.”
WHO’s top Ebola specials Pierre Formenty warned last week that the recent surge in cases had likely come in part because efforts to contain the virus had been relaxed too quickly after the outbreak appeared to have slowed down in April. In order to address the on going crisis, officials at the WHO announced Thursday that they will convene a meeting of the health ministers from 11 countries in Accra, Ghana on July 2 – 3 in order “to discuss the best way of tackling the crisis collectively as well as develop a comprehensive inter-country operation response plan.” Ministers from Guinea, where nearly 400 confirmed, suspected and probably cases have surfaced so far, including 280 deaths; and Liberia, which has 63 cases and 41 deaths, will take part in the meeting. Ministers from Sierra Leone will also be present. Additionally, neighboring countries, including Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal, and countries as far afield as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have also been invited. The meeting will also include a range of UN agencies and other aid organizations including MSF and the Red Cross as well as the Western African, British, EU and US centers for disease control.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, officials from the WHO announced that, at the request of the Sierra Leonean government, they were changing the way it reports fatalities from the Ebola outbreak in the country.
Previously, probable and suspected deaths from Ebola were included in the count however from now on, only laboratory confirmed cases will be reported. Therefore this reduces the death toll in Sierra Leone from 58 to 34 as of 24 June 2014. According to WHO spokeswoman Fadel Chaib, the way that deaths are reported in Guinea and Liberia, which are the other two countries affected by the deadly outbreak, will remain unchanged.
The change comes after Sierra Leone’s press had criticized the government for reporting lower death rates than those reported by the WHO. The changes however now bring the WHO figures inline with those released by the Sierra Leone government. The latest Ebola outbreak has now been named by international organizations as the worst Ebola epidemic ever with 635 cases and 399 fatalities occurring in dozens of sites across the three countries, including in major cities and remote areas. Officials from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have described the outbreak as “out of control,” adding that it had reports of cases in more than 60 sites and that its resources were now stretched to the limit. In light of the on going outbreak, which has worsened in recent weeks, the European Commission announced Tuesday that it was committing an additional 500,000 euros in funding in order to combat the outbreak. This latest funding brings its total contribution to 1.9 million euros.