Wednesday 11 January 2017

African Leaders United Together To Solve Gambia Issue


West Africa’s efforts to persuade Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s reluctant-to-quit president, to step down will intensify on Wednesday when three regional leaders visit Banjul to try to solve the deepening political crisis.

In a sign of how seriously the region is taking Mr Jammeh’s refusal to abide by December’s election result, Muhammadu Buhari, president of Nigeria, the region’s economic and military powerhouse, will lead the delegation to Gambia’s capital — just a week before the country’s new leader is supposed to be sworn in.

Mr Buhari is expected to reiterate to Mr Jammeh that a force of regional troops, believed to be between 7,000 and 10,000-strong, is preparing an invasion from Senegal should he refuse to relinquish power when his five-year mandate ends at midnight on January 18.

Some observers believe immediate military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), a regional bloc, is unlikely. But diplomats said a force of its size, if deployed, would quickly overwhelm the small Gambian military.

The crisis erupted shortly after Adama Barrow, a businessman with little political experience, was declared winner of the presidential poll.

Mr Jammeh, who seized power in a coup in 1994 and who has ruled the tiny west African state capriciously ever since, initially agreed to step down following his surprise election defeat. He quickly changed his mind, however, claiming the vote was rigged, apparently because of fears he might face prosecution after he stepped down.

He subsequently appeared on state television promoting army officers, stoking fears he might be planning to mount a coup to stay on. Last week, Ousman Badjie, the army chief, voiced his “unflinching loyalty and support” for Mr Jammeh in a letter published in a pro-government newspaper. However, observers say other senior military officials may have more sway over the rank-and-file and the intelligence services.

Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s foreign minister, said there was growing concern about the security situation, partly because of signs of a brewing refugee crisis as Gambians fled into the interior or to neighbouring Senegal. There have been unconfirmed reports that Mr Jammeh is trying to muster a mercenary force by hiring out-of-work soldiers, including some who fought with Charles Taylor in Liberia’s civil war.

Mr Barrow has been keeping a low profile since the crisis began.

People briefed about the behind-the-scenes negotiations between regional leaders and Mr Jammeh said the preferred option for a “managed exit” was to persuade him to leave the country. At least five countries have been mentioned as possible places of exile, including Guinea, where the president’s wife has roots.

Any deal is expected to be predicated on immunity from prosecution for Mr Jammeh, who could conceivably face investigations from non-Gambian bodies, including the International Criminal Court, for alleged human rights abuses. The pledge by Mr Barrow that Gambia would remain a member of the ICC under his presidency is thought to have been one of the triggers for Mr Jammeh to dig in his heels.

It was not clear whether Mr Jammeh, whose security forces have closed down several opposition radio stations and newspapers in recent days, will agree to meet the visiting delegation, which will also include the presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Asked whether Gambia’s leader would see the high-powered triumvirate, Mr Onyeama said: “That’s a very good question.”

Ecowas was determined, Mr Onyeama said, “to resolve the political crisis in a manner that, every step of the way, conforms with the Gambian constitution and respects the will of the Gambian people”.

One of Mr Jammeh’s strategies to stay in office appeared to have run out of steam when the Supreme Court failed to reach a quorum on Tuesday. Mr Jammeh had asked the court to rule on alleged electoral irregularities.

But attempts to “rent” judges from Nigeria and elsewhere to fill the court’s empty seats seem to have failed, putting an end to efforts to convene what one observer called a “kangaroo supreme court”. The court has only one permanent sitting justice, a Nigerian.

The Gambian bar association said it has long questioned the independence of the court because of the opaque manner in which foreign justices are appointed.

On Monday, Mr Jammeh’s communication minister Sheriff Bojang resigned, accusing the president of attempting to “subvert the express will of the Gambian electorate”.

He called on other officials to join him, signalling that Mr Jammeh’s support could be slipping. Local observers said several of the ministries were in turmoil after officials had fled or refused to show up for work.



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