A visit by West African leaders to get President Yahya Jammeh to step down did not go as planned. After rejecting results that he had earlier accepted, President Yahya Jammeh is coming under insurmountable pressure to step down and avoid conflict in The Gambia.
West African leaders activated the crisis management mode and headed to Banjul, the island capital of The Gambia to meet with opposition leaders and Jammeh. Jammeh scared ECOWAS leaders after he denied Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf clearance to land in Banjul. It came as a surprise when Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said the autocratic leader was receptive.
Buhari was very clear about his mission to The Gambia: “to insist on the sanctity of the electoral process, and respect for the wishes of the people” and to ask “President Jammeh to respect his country’s constitution, and to maintain the inviolability of the electoral process.”
Jammeh met with Sierra Leone’s Earnest Bai Koroma, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari and Ghana’s John Mahama who just lost in the polls and has started the process to hand over power.
What appears to very true out of all the possible outcomes floated online by so-called “experts on Gambian affairs” is that the meeting between Jammeh and ECOWAS leaders yield no golden fruit, but signaled some hope by the urging of the visiting leaders to the coalition’s transition team to continue the process of constituting their government.
“We have not come to an agreement,” said ECOWAS leader and Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. “We have come to help the Gambians to organize the transition. It is not something that can be accomplished in a single day. We have to work on it.”
Their Gambian mission was more of a fact-finding mission it appears and ECOWAS leaders will be meeting in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital to look at what options they have to resolve the political deadlock in their region’s smallest country.
Johnson Sirleaf had said last week that a crisis in The Gambia can destabilize the West African sub-region. This means additional options that may not necessarily be traditional would be considered.
ECOWAS Commission President Marcel de Souza said preventive diplomacy is preferable, but more drastic measures will be taken if Jammeh, who lost the polls, refuses to leave.
Souza hinted military force could be used to bend Jammeh to hand over power and uphold the will of The Gambia, a decision that ECOWAS leader would have to make when they meet in Abuja.
“We have done it in the past,” Souza told RFI. “We currently have troops in Guinea-Bissau with the Ecomib mission. We have had troops in Mali. And therefore it is a possible solution.”
But UN’s Chief Envoy for Western Africa Muhammed Ibn Chambas said military force may not be necessary. The UN Security Council unanimously agreed that Jammeh must step down and threatens to put in place strong sanctions.
President Yahya Jammeh’s dramatic u-turn is a political fumble that has brought about stiff resistance from the international community and a standoff with the opposition.
President-elect Adama Barrow has been very clear: Jammeh must cooperate and allow the peaceful transfer of power at the best interest of the country or he would declare himself president and Jammeh a rebel.
The success or failure of the ECOWAS mission will be incumbent on the state of affairs in The Gambia come January 18, when Jammeh’s term expires.