…As Defense Chiefs Meet
As the political crisis in the West African nation of The Gambia escalates, there are indications that West African leader have reached a decision to oust President Yahya Jammeh from power should he fails to step down before president-elect Adama Barrow is sworn in on January 19.
Military force appears to be the only option left for President Jammeh after ECOWAS mediation team failed to reach some sort of agreement with him. The Gambian dictator has not given any indication that he would resign.
However, ECOWAS Defense Chiefs held a meeting Saturday in Abuja, Nigeria during which they resolved to send an Ecowas Military Intervention Group (ECOMIG) to the Gambia. The meeting was hosted by the Nigerian Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, who along with his colleagues agreed to step up preparation for a possible military action in the Gambia.
The meeting was part of preparation for the inauguration of ECOMIG, a military force that would intervene in the small West African country should President Yahya Jammeh makes real his threat not to step down when his tenure expires on January 19.
Mr. Jammeh lost the December 1, 2016 election to Adama Barrow of the opposition.
Welcoming ECOWAS officials to Nigeria, Brigadier General Olonisakin, expressed readiness of regional leaders and military commanders to continue the pursuit of dialogue with the political leaders of Gambia and ensure peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Gambian’s constitution and the peoples will.
A source close to the meeting told Nigerian media that a decision was taken that the defense chiefs should return to their various countries to prepare troops for possible deployment in Gambia.
A statement published on the website of the Defense Headquarters listed notable dignitaries at the event to include the chairperson of ECOWAS Chief of Defense Staffs, Daniel Ziankahn of Liberia (Brigadier General); CH Gueye of Senegal; ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Hajiya Salamatu; Vice President of the Commission; the Ghanaian Chief of Defense Staff and principal staff officers from Defense, Army, Navy, and Air Force headquarters.
Meanwhile, UN Envoy, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, said a delegation of ECOWAS leaders to Banjul are now prepared to employ force to compel Jammeh hand over power to the president-elect, Adama Barrow.
Chambas was quoted to have said that, “they plan to leave no doubt about the determination of ECOWAS to use all necessary means, including force, to have the will of the Gambian people upheld. According to him, should this be deemed necessary, ECOWAS intends to seek the endorsement of the AU Peace and Security Commission and the formal approval of this council to deploy troops to the Gambia.”
The ECOWAS members have called on Jammeh to step down and allow peace reign in the Gambia having ruled the country for 22 years.
The African Union has said that as of January 19, 2017, Jammeh is no more recognized as head of Gambia. Reports say Jammeh feels increasingly isolated following last week’s Africa-France summit in Bamako, Mali.
Led by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigeria’s president, the delegation landed in Mali last Friday with Barrow to hold talks with other regional leaders.
Nigeria’s president led the regional delegation to Gambia in a last-ditch attempt Friday to persuade its longtime leader to step down and allow his rival’s inauguration next week.
Fears, meanwhile, are growing that the impasse over President Yahya Jammeh’s status could turn violent.
The African Union announced it will cease to recognize Jammeh as Gambia’s legitimate leader as of Thursday, when his mandate expires.
The AU Peace and Security Council warned Jammeh of serious consequences if his actions lead to the “loss of innocent lives” and calls on Gambia’s security forces to exercise restraint.
As the international community looks for a peaceful way out of the crisis in the West African nation, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been authorized to offer Jammeh asylum, if necessary, during Friday’s visit.
But the West African regional bloc also has a military force on standby to intervene if Jammeh does not step down.
A Nigerian army memo, dated Wednesday and seen by The Associated Press, ordered officers to prepare a battalion of 800 troops for a possible military intervention in Gambia.
Jammeh at first accepted his Dec. 1, 2016 election loss, even making a telephone call to concede on national television, but then changed his mind and declared that “only Allah” can deny him victory. His party is now contesting the result in court.
President-elect Adama Barrow has renewed his offer to talk with Jammeh, telling the BBC that “I’ll be very willing to talk to him directly.”
Gambia’s Supreme Court, which is short of judges, has said it might not be able to consider the vote challenge until May, and Jammeh says Gambia should await its decision.
Jammeh took power in a coup in 1994 and is accused of gross human rights violations including arbitrary detentions, torture and the killings of opponents in this tiny country of 1.9 million people that is nearly surrounded by Senegal.
Jammeh might be wary of a Nigerian promise of safe haven.
Nigeria offered asylum to Liberian warlord Charles Taylor in 2003 to help end the civil war he started in 1989, but it was forced by international pressure to hand Taylor over in 2006 for trial for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. Taylor was convicted in 2013 and is serving a 50-year sentence in a British prison.
Meanwhile, president-elect Barrow is to remain in Senegal until his planned inauguration on Thursday, January 19, 2017, state media in Senegal has revealed.
The move was requested by West African leaders after a Mali summit, APS said.
President Jammeh, who initially admitted election defeat, says he will not step down until May, when the Supreme Court can hear his challenge.
Regional bloc ECOWAS wants the UN to approve military action if Mr. Barrow’s inauguration on Thursday is blocked.
On Saturday leaders repeated their calls for Jammeh to go voluntarily at an Africa-France summit in Bamako.
Mali’s president Ibrahim Keita called for “proverbial African wisdom” to prevail to avert a bloodbath and there are growing fears that the uncertainty could cause a refugee exodus.
Thousands of Gambians, mostly women and children, have already crossed the border into neighboring Senegal and further afield to Guinea-Bissau, where they do not require a visa, officials say.
Barrow, who won last month’s election, was at the Bamako summit and was referred to as the president.
Jammeh’s attempt to overturn the election result has been delayed because of a shortage of judges but his legal team has asked for an injunction to block Barrow’s inauguration.
The 51-year-old leader seized power in the country in 1994 and has been accused of human rights abuses, although he has held regular elections.