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.
On Sunday, 20 March, voters in five African countries cast their ballots, including four presidential elections and a constitutional referendum. Incumbents in Niger and Republic of Congo are expected to sail to re-election, while Benin’s presidential election run-off vote is less certain.
Below is a look at the contests:
Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi is stepping down after the maximum of two terms in office, effectively enhancing the West African country’s democratic credentials. Sunday’s election was between the current Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou and businessman Patrice Talon, who was once accused of trying to poison the outgoing president, an allegation he denies. Prime Minister Zinsou, who quit his job as the head of one of Europe’s biggest investment banks when he was nominated prime minister last year, is the leading contender. The 61-year-old candidate for Boni Yayi’s Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) has the support of the majority of lawmakers in parliament via the backing of two main opposition groups. During the first round of voting, on 6 March, Zinsou won 27.1 percent of the vote, with Talon, a 57-year-old entrepreneur who made his money in cotton and running Cotonou’s port, coming in second with 23.5 percent. However since then, 24 of the 32 other candidates who stood in the first round of the election have come out in support of Talon, including third-placed Sebastien Ajavon, who won 22 percent of votes.
Polls opened at 7:00 AM (0600 GMT), with 4.7 million people eligible to cast their ballots. Voting was to close at 4:00 PM (1500 GMT). Voting on Sunday passed off calmly, with no major incidents reported.
On Monday, 21 March, Benin Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou conceded defeat to businessman Patrice Talon in the presidential elections. He conceded after early results overnight indicated that Talon won 64.8 percent of the vote, against 35.2 for Zinsou.
- Youth Unemployment – The 15 – 34 age group makes up some 60 percent of the country’s working population. Officially, the unemployment rate is under 4.0 percent, however with 85 percent of works in the informal sector of the jobs market, the figure does not reflect reality. With few jobs available, many university graduates end up driving motorbike-taxis that are increasingly found everywhere in the West African country. Zinsou has promised to create 350,000 jobs by 2021, especially for the young and women, while Talon has pledged to take steps in order to encourage job creation in the private sector.
- Corruption – When President Boni Yayi first took office in 2006, he had vowed to stop endemic corruption in several key sectors, including in the port in Benin’s commercial hub, Cotonou, and the cotton industry. However his two terms in office have been marked by several embezzlement and bribery scandals. In 2010, the head of state ws implicated in a major savings scandal in which thousands of Beninese lost money. The construction of a new national assembly building in the administrative capital Port Novo has also taken millions of dollars however it has never been finished. Furthermore, last year, the Netherlands suspended aid to Benin after four million euros, which were earmarked for drinking water schemes, disappeared.
- Health and Education – Benin, which has a population of 10.6 million, is considered by the World Bank to be a low-income country with poor ratings in both the health and education indicators. Free primary school education has been seen as a positive from Boni Yayi’s presidency, even if subsidies do not always reach schools. Furthermore, President Boni Yayi also created a universal scheme to open up access to healthcare to the poorest in society via an average monthly subscription of 1,000 CFA francs (1.5 euros). The scheme however is not yet up and running. Prime Minister Zinsou has promised that he will make development a key priority, including helping the 100,000 poorest families and improving medical infrastructure.
- Major Port in Benin – The port accounts for almost half of the country’s tax receipts and more than 80 percent of customs tariffs. It handles some 90 percent of the country’s overseas businesses and sells itself as a transit port for neighbouring Nigeria to the east and surrounding countries, such as Burkina Faso and Niger. Major infrastructure work has been carried out, including the construction of a new quay, which allows it to handle twice as many containers in 2014 as it did in 2008. A computerized management system of truck arrivals and departures has also been put in place as well as a single counter to handle all transactions, effectively helping to streamline procedures and cut graft. However waiting times remain long due to a lack of available space and the new checks. Accoridng to sources, ships often wait up to a week before offloading, with some opting to go to Lome in neighbouring Togo, brining in the containers by lorry, which is quicker. The port of Tema, in Ghana, is also a main competitor for business.
The election in Niger effectively pits incumbent president Mahamadou Issoufou against opposition figure Hama Amadou, who has been in prison since November 2015 on charges, which critics say are politically motivated. President Issoufou is campaigning on his credentials in the fight against Islamic militancy. His opponent left the country late last week to seek medical treatment in France for an unspecified ailment.
Voting on Sunday ended in Niger with President Mahamadou Issoufou the likely winner of the election. Throughout the day, security forces were posted at polling stations. They also patrolled the streets of Niamey and monitored the city’s main intersection. As polling stations closed in the early evening and elections workers began counting ballots, observers disclosed that there were no major incidents that had been reported, adding that voter turnout had been low. Provisional results are due to be released in the next few days.
Republic of Congo
President Denis Sassou N’Guesso, 72, who has been in power for more than 30 years, is seeking another term in office after he organized a constitutional referendum that effectively removed the an age limit that would have disqualified him from running again. The run-up to the October referendum was marred by violence, and mobile phone service was blocked in the country.
On 19 March, authorities in Republic of Congo announced a 48-hour communications blackout for Sunday’s presidential election. On Saturday, a government source disclosed that all communications would be cut on Sunday and Monday, by order of the authorities in order to avoid “illegal publication” of the results. A letter from interior minister Raymond Mboulou to the country’s phone companies disclosed that “for reasons of national security, please block all communications including SMSs from March 20 and 21.” The government source added that the move would not affect the voting process and would “in no way hinder the opposition’s access to the results.”
On Sunday, voting began under a media blackout, in a tense ballot that is expected to see President Denis Sassou Nguesso prolong his 32-year rule. Polling stations opened promptly at 7:00 AM (0600 GMT), with on the ground sources reporting that voters lined up quietly outside in the capital Brazzaville. The polls closed at 6:00 PM (1700 GMT). Tensions later broke out with riot police using tear gas to disperse 200 opposition supporters who were trying to get into a polling station. According to on the ground sources, dozens of heavily armed police fired tear gas at the supporters of opposition candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas and chased them away from the polling station in the south of the capital Brazzaville.
Senegal is voting on a constitutional referendum, which proposes fifteen reforms that would make sweeping changes. In contrast with many African leaders, Senegalese President Macky Sall is asking voters to shorten the country’s presidential term from seven years to five. The proposed changes also call for a strengthened National Assembly, better representation for Senegalese abroad, and greater rights for the opposition in national elections.
Voting began on Sunday at 0800 GMT and ended at 1800 GMT, with up to five million Senegalese voting in the election. Technical problems with producing voter ID cards however will prevent 200,000 from exercising their democratic rights. According to Doudou Ndir, the head of the country’s election watchdog, turnout was slow early on, with only 10 percent of votes cast by 11 AM. Activity however was likely to pick up in the afternoon. The results are no expected to be released until later this week.
Voters are casing ballots in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. The opposition parties have called for a boycott of the election. Zanzibar’s vote is a re-run of an October ballot, which the main opposition parties say runs counter to Zanzibar’s electoral laws.
On Sunday, voting began with tight security. Polling stations opened on time at 7:00 AM (0400 GMT), with votes lining up peacefully. Turnout however was expected to be low in opposition strongholds after the Civic United Front (CUF) urged its supporters not to participate. The Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC) indicated that there had been no delays in the delivery of ballot boxes and papers and said both local and African observers were in place, although those from the EU had stayed away. Polls closed at 4:00 PM (1300 GMT) with results expected as early as Monday.
On Monday (8 February), African forces began a US-led counter-terrorism training programme in Senegal, which is aimed at what a US commander said were rising signs of collaboration between Islamist groups across northern Africa and the Sahel region.
The annual “Flintlock” exercises began only weeks after an attack in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou, which left thirty people dead. The assault on the hotel used by foreigners raised concerns that militants were expanding from a stronghold in northern Mali, towards stable, Western allies, such as Senegal. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters claimed responsibility for the attack, which is just one of several increasingly bold regional strikes that have occurred in the Sahel region. Speaking to reporters on Monday, US Commander for Special Operations Command Africa Brigadier General Donald Bolduc indicated that increased collaboration between militant groups effectively meant that they have been able to strengthen and strike harder in the region. According to General Bolduc, “we have watched that collaboration manifest itself with ISIS becoming more effective in North Africa, Boko Haram becoming more deadly in the Lake Chad Basin (and) AQIM adopting asymmetrical attacks…against urban infrastructure.” He further noted that cooperation has increased as the so-called Islamic State (IS/ISIS) group exploited a power vacuum in Libya to expand its self-declared caliphate, which takes up large areas in Syria and Iraq. He added that “we know in Libya that they (AQIM and ISIS) are working more closely together. Its more than just influence, they (AQIM) are really taking direction from them.” He also stressed the importance of regional cooperation and intelligence-sharing, adding that the United States would help Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria set up a joint intelligence center by the middle of next year. The US already supports a regional task force against Nigerian-based terrorist group Boko Haram. However not all security experts agree that there are emerging alliances between Islamist militant groups, with some arguing that competition between groups has led o more attacks.
This year’s programme, which opened on a dusty airstrip in Senegal’s central city of Thies, involves around 1,700 mostly African special operation forces. Western partners are also participating in the programme, including forces from France and Germany, which are amongst more than thirty countries that are participating. The attacks in Ouagadougou, coupled with a hotel attack in the Malian capital of Bamako in November 2015, have led to a greater emphasis on preparing for urban attacks this year through training to increase cooperation between police and military forces. At the request of African partners, this year’s exercises will also include anti-Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) training. The programme, which has been an annual event since 2005, will run from 8 February until 29. Some exercises will also be held in Mauritania.
On Tuesday, the ambassadors of France and the United States issued separate statements calling for tighter regional and global cooperation to fight the threat of jihadist attacks in Senegal and the broader West Africa region. In the wake of two successive attacks in the past few weeks, which saw the capitals of Mali and Burkina Faso being targeted, Senegal’s Interior Minister Abdoulay Daouda Diallo disclosed that “the surge of terrorist groups shows the international community must fight terrorism everywhere with the same combativity.”
Speaking at talks on a four-year French funding plan against terrorism, he added that the only way forward was to “strengthen our cooperation” and “share our means.” France’s ambassador to Senegal, Jean-Felix Paganon, who attended the meeting, stated that cooperation in the fight against the Islamist threat “calls for regional and international cooperation.” Meanwhile in a separate meeting with the media, US ambassador James Zumwalt stated that “the Senegalese are very eager to partner with us and work with us because they obviously are concerned about the possibilities of terrorist incidents and also worried about radical extremism here in Senegal.” He added that “the threat is no greater now than it was before the attack in Burkina Faso, it’s the same thereat. And the Senegalese capability is the same capability that they had before.” The US ambassador also indicated that “there’s more awareness now about those threats and we clearly want to work very closely with Senegal to help them increase their capacity to respond, either pre or post attack, to a terrorist incident.” An upcoming three-week joint military exercise between Africa, US and European troops, known as Flintlock and due to begin in Senegal and Mauritania next week, will aim to help a country respond to an Islamist attack. Senegal, like Mali and Burkina Faso – which were hit by deadly Islamist attacks in November and January respectively – is a majority Muslim nation however it has so far been free of extremist jihadist attacks. However a Senegalese security source has disclosed that in November, around a dozen people, including several Muslim preachers, were arrested in the country for “links to AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and Islamic State.”
On 15 January, gunmen launched an attack on two hotels and a café popular with foreigners in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou, leaving thirty, mostly foreigners, dead. In November, militants launched a similar attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali. Both attacks were claimed by AQIM.
On 15 January, Sierra Leone officials confirmed a death of Ebola, just hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the latest West Africa outbreak over.
According to an Ebola test centre spokesman, tests on a person who died in northern Sierra Leone proved positive. Sidi Yahya Tunis disclosed that the death occurred earlier this week and that the patient had died in the Tonkolili district, adding he had travelled there from Kambia, which is located close to the border with Guinea. The victim was a 22-year-old female student. According to district medical officer Augustine Junisa, “the victims was taken ill when she was on holidays in Bamoi Luma and was taken to Magburaka, where her relatives took her to the government hospital for medical attention…Three days later she died at home and her death was reported to the hospital officials and initial swap test was taken which proved positive.” Sources have reported that health officials are now urgently seeking those who had come into contact with the victim.
Sierra Leone was declared free of the virus on 7 November 2015, and the region as a whole was cleared when Liberia was pronounced Ebola-free on 14 January. While the WHO has warned that flare-ups are expected, Friday’s announcement of a new case in the region is a setback for the area. Already, ten other flare-ups have taken place in areas where the spread of Ebola was thought to have ended, effectively raising new questions about WHO procedures in assessing whether the epidemic was really over. On Friday, the UN Health agency reported that Sierra Leone’s government was moving rapidly in order to contain the new threat, noting however that it was not immediately clear how the 22-year-old woman may have contracted Ebola as all known transmission chains in that country were halted in November.
Timeline of Ebola Epidemic in West Africa
Below are key dates in the latest Ebola epidemic, which is the worst outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever, which first surfaced in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to the latest toll released by the WHO, the epidemic has left more than 11,300 dead, mainly in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Almost 29,000 cases were reported during the outbreak.
Epidemic Starts in Guinea:
- December 2013: A one-year-old baby dies in southern Guinea and is later identified as “patient zero.” The virus remains localized until February 2014, when a care worker in a neighbouring province dies.
Ebola Begins to Spread in West Africa:
- 31 March 2014 – Two cases are confirmed by the WHO in Liberia, while on 26 May, Sierra Leone confirms its first case, to be followed in late July by Nigeria, in August by Senegal and in October by Mali. Senegal and Nigeria are declared free of Ebola in October 2014 while Mali is declared Ebola-free in January 2015.
Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone Cut Off From The World:
- 30 May 2015 – According to the aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola is “out of control.” The three worst-hit countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – declare measures that include states of emergency and quarantines. Many neighbouring states close their borders with the affected countries.
A ‘Public Health Emergency’:
- 8 August 2014 – The WHO declares Ebola a “public health emergency of international concern.” Four days later, it authorizes the use of experimental drugs in order to fight Ebola after an ethical debate. That day, a Spanish missionary infected in Liberia dies in Madrid, becoming the first European fatality.
Death in the US:
- 30 September 2014 – A Liberian man is hospitalized in the US state of Texas, effectively becoming the first Ebola infection to be diagnosed outside of Africa. He dies on 8 October.
- 6 October 2014 – A Spanish nurse in a Madrid hospital becomes the first person to be infected outside Africa. She is treated and released on 19 October.
Ebola Begins a Halting Retreat:
- 22 February 2015 – Liberia says it is lifting nationwide curfews and re-opening borders, as the epidemic begins to retreat.
- 26 February 2015 – The US ends its military mission in West Africa, where it deployed 2,800 soldiers in order to fight against Ebola. Soldiers were mainly deployed to Liberia.
Closing in on a Vaccine:
- 10 July 2015 – International donors pledge US $3.4 billion in order to help stamp out Ebola.
- 31 July 2015 – The WHO says an Ebola vaccine provided 100-percent protection in a field trial in Guinea, suggesting that the world is “on the verge of an effective Ebola vaccine.”
Hardest-hit Countries Emerge from the Epidemic:
- 9 May and 3 September 2015 – Liberia is declared Ebola-free by the WHO after no new cases were recorded for 42 days. However the declarations are followed by a resurgence of the virus. On 4 December, Liberia releases from hospital its last two known Ebola cases.
- 7 November 2015 – Sierra Leone is declared free of the outbreak by the WHO.
- 29 December – The WHO declares Guinea’s Ebola outbreak over, six weeks after the recovery of its last known patient, a three-week old girl who was born with the virus.