The joint military forces of West Africa’s nations are massing on the borders of Gambia, threatening to cross the boundary if Gambian President Yahya Jammeh does not vacate his office. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has given Jammeh until midnight.
The country’s recent elections saw Jammeh, president for 22 years, ousted in favor of opposition challenger Adama Barrow. According to The New York Times, Jammeh originally accepted the decision, “I told you, Gambians, that I will not question the outcome of the results and will accept it,” he said. “I did not wish to contest or find out why they did not vote for me. I leave that with God.”
Then, according to The Washington Post, charges emerged that suggested that Yahya Jammeh might face criminal charges for his rule, which has been characterized as bloodthirsty and dictatorial. Adama Barrow himself, soon to be president, was originally a security guard at a London department store and later a real estate agent, he was thrust into the spotlight only after all the other members of his party were arrested or had died in prison earlier in the year.
Jammeh suddenly turned against the election results. According to the New York Times, he cited voter irregularities and condemned the results. He immediately began seeking a recount, and the legislature granted him a three-month extension on power.
Barrow, meanwhile, fled to Senegal for his own safety. ECOWAS mediators have stressed the danger to Barrow of being in or returning to Gambia as long as Yahya Jammeh, who has made a habit of imprisoning, torturing, and killing adversaries, remains in power. Barrow was even forced to remain in Senegal instead of attending the funeral of his seven year-old son, who died after being mauled by a dog.
In response, the ECOWAS nations have been mobilizing. According to NPR, the Nigerian air force has announced that 200 men and air assets have been deployed to Senegal. The statement by the Nigerian Air Force said that the contingent contains “fighter jets, transport aircraft, light utility helicopters, as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft.”
It will both seek to enforce ECOWAS’s mandate in Gambia, as well as “forestall hostilities or breakdown of law and order that may result from the current political impasse in The Gambia.”
A Nigerian warship has been deployed off of Gambia for “training.” The Telegraph reported that, last week, the Nigerian government authorized generals to mobilize an 800-strong battalion for the operation.
Senegal and Ghana have also pledged military forces. Ghana’s forces have been a major source of U.N. peacekeepers since the 60s, and have been involved in peacekeeping operations in the region of years.
Yahya Jammeh’s own cabinet has been seeing defections. His information, finance, tourism, health, and social welfare ministers have resigned. Formerly, the information minister was one of Jammeh’s own staunchest supporters. When the finance minister resigned, his replacement resigned a day later.
Sheikh Omar Faye, Gambia’s ambassador to the United States, was recalled after he urged Jammeh to leave office. Meanwhile, at least 26,000 Gambians have fled into Senegal, and food prices in the Gambian capital of Banjul have skyrocketed, tripling, in some instances.
According to The Telegraph, Jammeh has shrugged off all these signs. Soldiers have stormed the electoral commission on his orders and independent radio stations have been shut down. Jammeh once predicted he’d “rule for a billion years,” and it seems like he’ll try and keep that promise.
What do you think about Jammeh’s response to the elections and ECOWAS’s threat to invade? Should Yahya Jammeh have accepted the results? Should ECOWAS be threatening military intervention quite so soon? Who’s responsible if Gambia falls into civil war like Sierra Leone and Liberia did? Sound off in the comments and tell us what you think!
By James Mayfield