West African states have a long history of sending their military forces to intervene in neighbouring countries, under the umbrella of a regional cooperation bloc.
Created in 1975, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) focuses mainly on resolving regional conflicts. The group has fifteen members, of which eight are francophone (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo); five are Anglophone (The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone); and two are Portuguese speaking (Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau). The organization is dominated politically and economically by regional powerhouse Nigeria.
In the case of The Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh has refused to stand down after losing the 1 December 2016 presidential election, the bloc has thrown its support behind the new President Adama Barrow.
Here is a look at the five main foreign interventions that have been carried out since 1990:
On 11 January 2013, following a United Nations Security Council resolution, the bloc authorises the immediate deployment of an intervention force that aims to help Mali retake its Islamist-controlled north. On the same day, the French military launched Operation Serval to back the Malian army and drive back the Islamists, who are pushing south towards the capital, Bamako. The West African force comprises of 6,300 men, including 2,000 from Chad, which is not an ECOWAS member. The Chadian soldiers were on the frontline alongside French soldiers in fighting the insurgents. On 1 July 2013, the ECOWAS force is absorbed by the UN’s MINUSMA stabilization force in Mali, which is currently 13,000 strong.
West African troops deployed to Guinea-Bissau in May 2012 in order to help the political transition after one of the country’s many coups. They have since served with a mandate to protect public figures and institutions. The force consists of more than 600 police officers and paramilitary gendarmes from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal and Togo. Already in February 1999, a lightly armed ECOWAS force was deployed to the country in a bid to help resolve the crisis. The force however withdrew several months later after failing to prevent a resumption of fighting and the overthrow of the head of state.
In August 1990, ECOWAS deployed a force of several hundred men to Liberia to intervene in a civil war that had ignited eight months earlier. The ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) quickly grew to nearly 20,000 soldiers. Although it was generally described as a peacekeeping force, ECOMOG was soon called on to take more responsibilities for maintaining order. In early 1997, more than seven years after the war began, ECOMOG carried out a major disarmament operation, which effectively paved the way for multi-party elections that were held in July of that year. The last ECOMOG soldiers left Liberia in October 1999.
In August 2003, a new ECOWAS mission, known as ECOMIL, was deployed to the capital Monrovia, which had been under siege by rebels for three months. The force, which was restricted to some 3,500 soldiers, was unable to deploy across the whole of the country, resulting it in transferring its contingent to the United Nations.
ECOMOG’s Nigerian contingent drives a 1998 – 1998 military junta, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), from Freetown and reinstates President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. On 6 January 1999, the RUF invaded Freetown. IT was expelled two weeks later by ECOMOG troops. The West African intervention force, which has up to 11,000 men stationed in Sierra Leone, officially winds up its mission in May 2000 and is replace by the UN peacekeeping force, which was formed to guarantee the Lome peace accord of July 1999, which ended the civil war.
A 1,300-strong West African force is deployed in January 2003 after a military rebellion, which effectively cuts Ivory Coast in two. In 2004, the soldiers are integrated into the UN’s mission in the country.
The incumbent President, Yahya Jammeh, continues to contest the 1 December 2016 preidential election results at the Supreme Court. Th President-elect, Mr Adama Barrow, has lft the country and is currently in neighboring Senegal. The Economic Community ofWest African States (ECOWAS) has stated that it may intervene, including possible military action, if President Jammeh does not step down on the scheduled handover date of 19 January 2017. Increasing international pressure to step down has resulted in President Jammeh declaring a state of emergency on 17 January. The following day, the National Assembly announced that the president could remain in office for a further three months.
The Gambian government is divided over this issue, and in recent days a number of ministers have resigned. There have also been reports of restrictive measures being imposed, including the shutting down of opposition radio stations and politically motivated arrests.
Tensions remain high across the country and the ongoing political deadlock could lead to unrest. Due to the deteriorating political situation and potential military intervention following MS risk advises against all but essential travel to The Gambia. If you are currently in The Gambia, we advise that you should leave by commercial means if you have no essential need to remain. The potential for military intervention and civil disturbances remains high and this could result in Banjul International Airport being closed at short notice.
- Have a weeks supply of food and water as well as fuel
- Monitor travel advise and social media updates
- Avoid large crowds as they may turn violent with little notice
- Avoid discussing politically sensitive topics in public
- You should expect to see increased government forces traffic and presence if tensions increase
- If you are a visitor, remain in contact with your airline/tour operator and insurer.
- If you are visiting and staying in a hotel, identify the emergency procedures in place
MS Risk continues to closely monitor the situation in The Gambia and we will issue further bulletins as more information becomes available.