The Situation in Gambia on Inauguration Eve

Tomorrow is the Gambia’s inauguration day, and it is clear that incumbent President Yahya Jammeh has no plans to step down. Jammeh initially recognized the results of the December 1 election and conceded to opposition candidate Adama Barrow, but then reversed himself, generating the present crisis.

Barrow remains in Senegal under official protection from the national gendarmerie (French). Plans to inaugurate Barrow are proceeding, but the inauguration may take place at a Gambian embassy (likely the one in Senegal), which is technically Gambian territory. Here is Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama explaining:

An embassy is a territory of a particular country that that embassy represents. The constitution provides for a swearing-in by a judge of a superior court and there are a number of those that are available.

The inauguration will, in the eyes of other West African leaders, the African Union, and most of the international community, make Barrow the recognized president of the Gambia. Enforcing that recognition is another matter. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is openly talking about a military intervention in the Gambia to remove Jammeh, but it is unclear how seriously and quickly West African leaders would move to launch such an intervention. Nigeria’s decision to send a warship to the Gambia could be one sign of seriousness.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS continues to urge Jammeh to step down peacefully and accept asylum in the region, possibly in Nigeria.

Inside the Gambia, Jammeh is attempting to forcefully assert his rule, notably by declaring a 90-day state of emergency on January 17. Jammeh has already begun to clamp down on dissent, shutting down radio stations and harassing Barrow’s supporters – one of whom, the mayor of the capital Banjul, has fled to Senegal.

Jammeh’s crackdown and refusal to leave power, however, are beginning to produce major dissent from within his own government. At least five ministers – communications, foreign affairs, finance, trade, and environment – have resigned from Jammeh’s cabinet. (You can read the foreign affairs minister’s letter to Jammeh here.) Their departures represent a real loss of confidence in Jammeh, and suggest that many Gambian elites feel he will eventually lose his struggle against Barrow and ECOWAS. Meanwhile, other institutions are also bucking Jammeh’s authority – the head of the Independent Electoral Commission remains outside the country, and the Supreme Court is refusing to hear Jammeh’s petition to overturn the election results. In a sense, the Court’s decision gives Jammeh a pretext for staying in power – he says that he must wait until the Court rules, which might not be until May – but in another sense the Court’s posture shows that it is unwilling to help him in any legal maneuvering.

The crackdown is making ordinary Gambians fearful, and many are reportedly fleeing for Senegal.

Tomorrow, then, may bring Barrow’s inauguration abroad, and Jammeh’s refusal to step down. It will be ECOWAS’ move then.

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