…As Gambia’s New President
Adama Barrow, the man who won The Gambia’s disputed election, has been sworn in as president.
He took the oath at the country’s embassy in neighboring Senegal.
He has been recognized internationally. But Gambian strongman Yahya Jammeh has refused to step down and his term in office has been extended by parliament.
West African leaders have tried to persuade Jammeh to admit losing the election on 1 December, 2016. They have threatened to remove him by force.
Jammeh lost the poll, according to the country’s electoral commission. But he wants the results annulled citing errors in the electoral process.
Western ambassadors to Senegal attended the ceremony, while hundreds of Gambian expatriates gathered outside the compound.
West African military forces, stationed at the border, say they are ready to enforce a transfer of power in The Gambia, a popular beach destination among European holidaymakers.
UN Security Council backing for intervention is being sought by Senegal and the regional bloc ECOWAS, but some diplomats said if Barrow, 51, requested help after his inauguration such approval would not be needed.
Meanwhile, Jammeh’s term in office has been extended by a two-third majority in parliament, and some experts say he still has a legitimate claimed to be called the country’s president.
It is eerily quiet in The Gambia’s capital. Most streets are deserted; shops, petrol stations and banks are all closed. People are mostly staying home uncertain about what may happen as European tourists continue to evacuate their hotels.
In some areas, men are standing on the roadside, arms crossed or looking at their phones. Some said they were waiting for President Jammeh to go and would take to the streets once Barrow was sworn in this afternoon.
They said they wanted West African troops to come in as soon as possible. Some also said they were worried about Jammeh’s actions should there be an offensive against him.
The Gambia’s army chief, previously seen as a close ally of Jammeh, seems wary of action. “This is a political dispute. I am not going to involve my soldiers in a stupid fight. I love my men,” the AFP news agency quotes Ousman Badjie as saying.
However, he has little influence over an elite unit of fighters, called the Gambia National Guard, who may opt to fight even if vastly outnumbered by the Senegalese and Nigerian forces as they are from the same ethnic group as Jammeh. The Gambia’s armed forces is said to number 2,500.
If regional forces entered The Gambia, it is believed ordinary recruits would not fight.
One key question is how ordinary Gambians see the Senegalese troops if they do cross the border. The Gambia and Senegal are made up of the same ethnic groups which were divided by colonial borders, so they speak the same languages and share the same culture.
However, a fierce rivalry has developed between the two nations, with many Gambians feeling they are looked down on by their more numerous, French-speaking neighbors.
So while supporters of Barrow will presumably see any intervention favorably, there is also a danger that it could be seen as a foreign invasion force.
Barrow, a property developer, who has never held public office, has been in Senegal since the weekend following an invitation to attend a summit of African leaders who back his victory.
He did not even go back home when his eight-year-old son died after being mauled by a dog.
He missed the funeral on Monday as he was advised to remain in Senegal for his safety.
He has joined at least 26,000 Gambians, fearful of violence, who have sought refuge in Senegal.
His spokesman says Barrow’s team is keen for a peaceful resolution, but accepts military intervention may be inevitable.
“ECOWAS is on the side of President Barrow – and if he’s sworn in obviously he has to be at the State House. If the other side refused then you are simply talking about a state of war,” Halifa Sallah told the BBC’s Newshour program.
He said President Jammeh had been given a letter promising that he would be given the same rights and privileges as Dawda Jawara, The Gambia’s only other ex-president.
Meanwhile Nigeria’s air force is flying over The Gambia, an official has said, as regional troops prepare to force Yahya Jammeh to quit after his December election defeat, AFP new agency reports.
It quotes Nigerian Air Force spokesman Ayodele Famuyiwa as saying: “I confirm that the armed reconnaissance air force are over Gambia. They have the capacity to strike.”