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in the day, Mai Ahmad Fatty, adviser to President Barrow, stated that 500 million dalasis (US $11.45 million) had been withdrawn by the former president in the past two weeks.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.
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.
In a shocking move on Friday, 2 December, the country’s electoral commission announced Gambian President Yahya Jammeh conceded defeat to the opposition, effectively brining a dramatic end to his twenty-two years in power. Security forces were deployed heavily around the capital on Friday amidst growing tensions over whether Jammeh would accept a ballot box defeat.
Jammeh was attempting to win a fifth term in power with his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party. He has been defeated by opposition leader Adama Barrow (51), a previously unknown businessman who was chosen as the opposition flag barer by a group of political parties who have joined forces for the first time and won unprecedented popular support. Early on Friday, results were positive for Barrow as he took the capital Banjul, which was a traditional Jammeh stronghold. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Barrow won nearly 50 percent of the vote in the capital city’s three constituencies, compared to 43 percent for Jammeh. During the early morning hours, military and police set up checkpoints every few hundred metres on the outskirts of the capital city. The United States has indicated that turnout in Thursday’s election appears to be high and that the vote took place in “generally peaceful conditions.” The IEC meanwhile has hailed the vote as “a very successful election.”
If the concession is confirmed, then Barrow will likely decide to serve a three-year term at the head of a transition reform government. Jammeh’s campaign manager Yankuba Colley has stated that he was not aware of the electoral commission chairman’s statement, adding however that he believed the president would step down if the Gambian people wanted it. Barrow’s camp has confirmed the IEC statement
The presidential election, which was held on Thursday 1 December, was marked by an Internet blackout that sparked condemnation from rights groups and the United States. There were also some claims of voter intimidation. A Senegalese security source also confirmed that The Gambia had closed the borders on Thursday, which is a common occurrence during elections in West Africa. Diplomats have confirmed that no professional international observers were on the ground for the vote, however a small team of African Union (AU) experts monitored events along with Banjul-based US and European delegations that were already present in the country.
Jammeh seized power in a 1994 coup and had, until now, survived multiple attempts to remove him from the presidency.