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.

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.

Gambia: Yahya Jammeh’s Conditions?

Gambia held elections on December 1, and opposition candidate Adama Barrow won; long-time head of state Yahya Jammeh publicly conceded. That should have been the end of the story,* but it is not, for Jammeh soon reversed himself and demand a re-run of the election. The ensuing crisis has lasted up to the present.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is mediating in the Gambia crisis, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and outgoing Ghanaian President John Mahama as Co-Mediators. ECOWAS is working to solve the crisis before January 19, the constitutionally-mandated day when the presidential inauguration must take place. ECOWAS has suggested that if diplomacy fails, a military intervention is possible.

Jammeh is widely considered to be at least partly insane, and so some will chalk his erratic behavior up to psychological factors. But there is a rational explanation for at least some of his behavior: he wants guarantees of immunity before he agrees to step down.

Indeed, some of the opposition’s/transition team’s rhetoric may have frightened him in the days after the election, prompting the public reversal. Jammeh seems to fear what many would-be “presidents-for-life” fear: that he will be punished for crimes committed in office, and stripped of ill-gotten gains.

Barrow has publicly promised that Jammeh will not be prosecuted, and that Jammeh can remain in Gambia, and the opposition has told ECOWAS that it does not plan to prosecute Jammeh, but perhaps Jammeh disbelieves such promises.

Given all that, I was struck by a report (French) on the Senegalese news aggregation platform Seneweb. The reporter claims to know Jammeh’s secret demands to ECOWAS, which are allegedly two-fold:

  • Judicial immunity for Jammeh, his family, and up to 400 associates
  • Financial immunity for Jammeh and his family for at least 20 years

The reporter goes on to say that ECOWAS’ offer to Jammeh is exile in a friendly country, where he would be expected to keep a low profile.

Who knows if any of this is true, especially the specifics. But I can certainly give credence to the general notion that Jammeh is negotiating, behind the scenes, for his and his associates’ immunity.

There also remains the possibility of a coup by military officers who fear that the transition, even if Jammeh secures his own protection, would leave them in the cold. Presumably ECOWAS is well aware of that possibility, and would react swiftly to a coup.

 

*My initial take on the election, I fear, was too rosy, but you can read it here.

Headlines out of Today’s ECOWAS Summit

Between May 15 and 19 (today), Ghana has hosted three important meetings for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): (1) an Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers from May 15-16; (2) a Session of the Mediation and Security Council on May 17; and (3) a Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on May 19.

The Council of Ministers is made up of member states’ Ministers in charge of ECOWAS Affairs, while the Mediation and Security Council is composed of member states’ Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense. More details about the agendas for these meetings can be found here, with additional information on the Heads of State summit here. I should note also that Ghana’s President John Mahama has been the ECOWAS Chairman since 2014.

Here are some key takeaways, readouts, and headlines from the meetings:

  • Term limits: “West African leaders on Tuesday rejected a proposal to impose a region-wide limit to the number of terms presidents can serve, after opposition to the idea from Togo and Gambia, Ghana’s foreign minister said.”
  • Mahama’s remarks/Jonathan’s farewell: Reiterating his earlier praise for Nigeria’s “historic elections,” Chairman Mahama lauded President Goodluck Jonathan for his “mature statesmanship” in conceding defeat, and “salute[d]” President-elect Muhammadu Buhari for his victory. You can read Jonathan’s remarks at the summit here.
  • Youth Employment: Mahama also urged greater focus on job creation for youth, saying, “considering the fact that we have the fastest growing youth population; young people are coming out of school at every level of the educational system in the hope of finding jobs, it’s going to be a major hurdle for us.”
  • Common External Tariff: “Regarding the [ECOWAS Common External Tariff or CET], which entered into force in January this year, the Commission indicated that as at 30 April 2015, only eight Member States had started the implementation, namely, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, with the remaining seven countries, lagging behind due to various reasons, such as legal requirements, public health and other technical considerations. Council commended the eight Member States and urged the remaining seven to take the necessary steps to ensure effective implementation of the CET before the end of the year in accordance with the decision of the Authority of Heads of State and Government.”

In West Africa and Paris, Chad’s President Idriss Deby Calls for Clarity on Military Intervention in Mali

Chadian President Idriss Deby has made several forceful calls recently for clarity on plans for a possible military intervention in Mali. Deby’s met Tuesday with Boni Yayi, President of Benin (and Chairman of the AU), and Malian Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra. Deby told reporters:

“It’s up to the Malians to tell us as clearly as possible what kind of support they expect from Africa, beyond what has been done by [the Economic Community of West African States, of which Chad is not a member], and what kind of contribution they expect of Chad.”

He and the AU called formally for the UN to authorize a military intervention in Mali (see a timeline of steps toward intervention in Mali here).

On Wednesday, Deby met with French President Francois Hollande in Paris. A military intervention in Mali was one of the central subjects they discussed. This was the first time the two men had met face to face, but not the first time they had discussed Mali: on July 5, the Presidents had a telephone conversation on the topic. Jeune Afrique (French) reported that at the time Deby gave his conditional support to the idea. But he recommended that the framework of the intervention be broadened beyond ECOWAS to include the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN), with Western powers’ logistical support. “Under these conditions, Chad could participate,” he reportedly said. Since that time, the AU has signed on, and some Western powers (including France) have indicated they would support an intervention logistically, but the UN Security Council has yet to approve the force.

On Wednesday, following his meeting with Hollande, Deby spoke (French) of “total confusion” on the issue of Mali coming from ECOWAS, the UN, and Mali itself, confusion concerning the military option as well as the option of negotiations. Nonetheless he reaffirmed Chad’s intention to work “alongside the Malians so that Mali may recover its territorial integrity.” Deby’s statements in Paris tracked closely with his remarks the preceding day.

Steps Toward External Military Intervention in Mali: A Timeline

Yesterday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon formally “recommended that the Security Council approve an African Union peace enforcement mission be deployed to combat Islamist extremists in northern Mali, but did not offer financial support from the world body.” Some observers expect that the Security Council will, as Ban urges, provide a mandate for an intervention in Mali led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Paul Melly is an Associate Fellow with the Africa Programme at Chatham House in London. He says that, because the recovery of territorial integrity is at stake, the UN is expected to hand down a fairly robust mandate, endorsing the ECOWAS intervention.

“The UN mandate will be more one of providing UN support and political authority for this intervention. So it’s not quite like a UN peacekeeping mission with a specific mandate laying down what forces can or cannot do, as you would have, for example, with the MONUSCO force in Congo,” he said.

I imagine we will be discussing and debating the merits and prospects of intervention in the months to come, but in this post I simply want to review the steps that the intervention’s architects have taken in recent months. ECOWAS, of course, has been deeply concerned by the crises in Mali since the conflict in the north began in January, and especially since the March 22 coup in Bamako. But non-African partners, through the spring and summer, expressed some doubts about ECOWAS’ intervention plans. The US and others have worried that the plans lack specificity, both in terms of means and ends. The current process is in large part an effort to address those concerns and secure international support.

Here are some steps taken so far:

  1. On October 12, the UNSC “called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, at once, military and security planners to [ECOWAS], the African Union (AU) and other partners to help frame a response to a request by Mali’s transitional authorities for such a force, and to report back within 45 days.”
  2. In early November, international military experts met in Bamako to draft a plan to retake northern Mali. They submitted the plan to ECOWAS on November 6.
  3. On November 11, heads of state from ECOWAS approved the plan at a summit in Abuja, Nigeria.
  4. On November 13, the AU approved the plan.
  5. On November 15, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal Poland, and Spain signaled their willingness to provide training for Malian forces. (Statement here, .pdf.)

Events still to come:

  1. On December 7, international envoys will meet in Rome “to coordinate strategy on Mali…focus[ing] on coordinating positions against terrorism, humanitarian issues, encouraging dialogue, and reinforcing political structures so that elections could eventually be held.”
  2. I assume that the ECOWAS/AU plan was formally presented to the UNSC by the deadline of November 26, but I have not seen a date for when the UNSC is expected to make a decision on approving an intervention. From what I have read the decision is expected soon, though.

What do you think will happen? Will the UNSC approve the force? Will external actors insist that Mali hold elections before attempting to reconquer the north? Will this ultimately be settling at the negotiating table – with Ansar al Din, perhaps? Many questions – we’ll see soon how ECOWAS, AU, and the UN attempt to resolve them.

Africa News Roundup: ECOWAS and Mali, French Commanders in Mauritania, Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Karim Wade, and More

Details on the Economic Community of West African States’ battle plan for Mali:

“International forces will not do the ground fighting, that role will belong to the Malian army,” a military officer familiar with the plan, who asked not to be named, said on Friday.

“Air strikes will be the responsibility of the international force,” he said, adding foreign partners would also provide logistical and intelligence support and soldiers and police to secure areas captured by the Malian army.

Military planners from Africa, the United Nations and Europe in Mali’s capital Bamako last week drew up a battle plan that would involve a foreign force of more than 4,000 personnel, mostly from West African countries. It remains unclear how much of the force would come from Western nations.

The plan covers a six-month period, with a preparatory phase for training and the establishment of bases in Mali’s south, followed by combat operations in the north.

Top French military commanders visited Mauritania this week to discuss Mali and terrorism.

The ongoing Muslim protests in Ethiopia merit a full post, but two items of note are the announcement of new members of the Islamic Affairs Council and a statement by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom expressing concern “about the increasing deterioration of religious freedoms for Muslims in Ethiopia.”

In other Ethiopia-related news, “Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have agreed to resume jointly working on organizing sustainable management, utilization and development of the Nile waters under the Eastern Nile Basin. The agreement was reached after water Ministers and representatives of the three countries held a meeting in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday.”

VOA:

The United Nations warns survivors of Nigeria’s worst flooding in five decades are at risk for waterborne and water-related diseases.  Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency reports the heavy rains have killed 363 people, affected 7.7 million and made more than two million people homeless.

Reuters: “Somalia’s al Shabaab, Squeezed in South, Move to Puntland.”

Senegalese police will again question Karim Wade, a former minister and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

What else is happening?