Gambia Updates – One Week Out from Inauguration Day

The electoral crisis in Gambia has continued. President Yahya Jammeh continues to reject the results of the December 1 election. For background, he initially accepted his loss and conceded before reversing himself, likely partly out of fear that the new administration would hold him legally accountable for human rights violations and financial crimes.

The countdown to inauguration day, January 19, continues. Jammeh’s procedural maneuvers for blocking the transition appear to be failing. On January 10, Gambia’s Supreme Court declined to rule on Jammeh’s legal suit connected to the election. The Court says it cannot decide on the case until May, or even November, due to the absence of a quorum – several members of the court are foreigners who say that they cannot travel to Gambia until May at the earliest.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on behind the scenes with the Court, but the possibilities are intriguing. The quorum issue may be a clever political maneuver by Nigeria, whose President Muhammadu Buhari is the lead regional negotiator in the Gambia crisis. From the Nigerian press:

When the case came up for hearing on Tuesday, the court, which required five judges before it can adjudicate on matters brought before it, had only one judge – the country’s Chief Judge, Emmanuel Fagbenle, a Nigerian.

Mr. Fagbenle said Tuesday’s sitting was for “housekeeping purposes.”

He announced that the court could not constitute the required quorum to hear the petition because Nigeria and Sierra Leone declined Gambia’s request to send judges to adjudicate on the petition.

The Gambia relies on judges and other judicial officials from other West African countries due to shortage of qualified officials in its judiciary.

Mr. Fagbenle said the country made a request for judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone since last August, but that the countries’ judicial authorities said they could not send judges outside the usual May and November judicial sessions as they did not anticipate the rescheduled January session.

[…]

Stating that there was no foreseeable judicial means of resolving the dispute before the January 19 inauguration of the President-elect, Mr. Fagbenle advised the contesting parties to look towards the ongoing mediation by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as a viable alternative to resolving the dispute.

An ECOWAS team is scheduled to visit Gambia and meet Jammeh this Friday (January 13), but Jammeh appears defiant and unwilling to step down.

As the Court rebuffs Jammeh, other institutions are protecting themselves from Jammeh in less subtle ways – the head of the Independent Electoral Commission,Alieu Momar Njai, fled the country on January 3.

With the possibility of overturning the election in the courts or through the commission blocked, Jammeh may resort to a coup. The head of Gambia’s armed forces, General Ousman Badjie, has publicly pledged his support to Jammeh. Jammeh has already moved to clamp down on dissent, for example by shutting radio stations.

Nevertheless, President-Elect Adama Barrow has stated that he will take office on January 19, that is, next Thursday. It promises to be a hectic week for the Gambia.

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