President Yahya Jammeh is faced with a deadline to hand over to President-elect Adama Barrow. If he fails to do so, he faces a possible military intervention by regional forces to flush him out of power.
Gambia’s President-elect Barrow has been taken to safety after defense chiefs of staff of West African nations met in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.
Tensions in the Gambia is mounting and the political standoff seems not to come to an end without a fight. Jammeh says an ECOWAS military force will result in an escalation of the crisis and vows to defend the country and remain in power.
Gambia’s military chief Lt. Gen. Ousman Bargie pledged allegiance to Barrow but quickly reversed it when Mr. Jammeh alleged electoral abnormalities. He pledged loyalty to President Yahya Jammeh yet again and assured the longtime ruler that he has the backing of the military.
But Jammeh having the support of some of the top brass of the army is not surprising. Those that would do him favors and carry out his “murderous” regime’s dirty work are top ranked and earn top pay. They are mostly members of his elite presidential guard and Republican National Guard.
The government of President Yahya Jammeh, in power since a 1994 coup, frequently committed serious human rights violations including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture against those who voiced opposition to the government. The repression and abuses created a climate of fear within Gambia, generating increased attention from the international community.
The men who carried out these human rights abuses for Jammeh are insecure. They feel they will be prosecuted and their assets seized.
ECOWAS has focused on trying to end the political crisis peacefully. Jammeh has so far being offered a safe haven in Nigeria and even a safe stay in The Gambia but chooses to turn a blind eye.
The Gambia’s military is 2,350 personnel strong and its Republican National Guard, which is made up of a State Guard unit, a Special Forces unit, and a Presidential Guard unit is thought to have a strength of 700.
Aside from a few tens U.S. military weapons smuggled into the West African country for a late December 2014 botched coup to oust Jammeh and some Iranian Iranian AK103s that Jammeh now has for his guards, the Gambia’s army is deeply divided, less trained and ill-equipped.
Many of its senior members have gone on courses but promotions within the army are based on loyalty and not qualifications. Most of its soldiers may claim to have received combat training, but such training and so-called certification courses are inferior to those received by Senegalese and other regional troops and can match neither their strength nor their combat capability.
Prior to the 1994 coup, the Gambian Army received technical assistance and training from the United States, People’s Republic of China, Nigeria, and Turkey. With the withdrawal of most of this aid and training program, the army has received renewed assistance (not training) from Turkey, the United States, Pakistan, Republic of China, and Libya.
The Gambia’s navy has four Hai Ou-class fast attack craft, 2 hovercraft, and several small vessels; the army is mostly armed with old roasted classic Khalisnokovs and operates a single Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot attack jet and four propeller-driven aircraft, which are grounded.
The country only spends about US$1 million on the military each year or about 2% of the GDP according to officials.
Soldiers outside of those close to Jammeh and top brass at the Republican National Guard are left with salaries less than a US$75 and often doing petty trades to get by. Salaries have not been increased for a decade and Jammeh says those that are not satisfied with what they get should voluntarily quit. They watch those close to the presidency drive new cars, children attending private schools and build luxurious homes.
They have been unable to revolt after Jammeh survived at least a dozen coups disarming the remainder of the army. The State Guards is and remain the most equipped and most trained unit.
Such a divided, less trained and ill-equipped military does not have the ability to combat an ECOWAS-disciplined force entering the country.
There are concerns that Jammeh is hiring rebel fighters. Reports are mercenaries, including people who fought for the Charles Taylor regime in the last decade, people like Benjamin Yeaten, have been recruited. But such mercenaries were crushed by ECOWAS forces in Liberia and by UN forces in Ivory Coast.
President Yahya Jammeh must embrace the ECOWAS offer and cede power peacefully. An ECOWAS force in The Gambia may stay longer than expected depending on what happens to Jammeh. But the country’s slipping into civil war means thousands of deaths, property damage, battered economy, and many rapes.