There is fear in The Gambia that the West African nation is on a dangerous path to a civil war as the deadline for President Yahya Jammeh to stand down and hand over power to the winner of last month’s election looms.
The President-elect Adama Barrow has been taken into safety, the electoral chief has fled and some soldiers are being detained. Even President Jammeh’s supporters are fearful.
“There is an issue here of how to build up trust and provide a soft exit for this standoff because Gambia can ill-afford instability,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at Chatham House. “Its economy is doing poorly. It needs investment and it needs a peaceful transition.”
Thousands of Gambians are internally displaced. They and other nationals have also fled the country increasing the threat of a refugee crisis. UN Refugee Agency, aid organizations and Senegalese authorities deployed joint field missions, especially to southern Senegal’s Casamance region, bordering Gambia to mitigate the influx.
Whether transition happens peacefully or a military showdown takes place, loyalties will be switched. The Gambia’s military chief so far has pledged allegiance to President Yahya Jammeh and ECOWAS has a standby force to flush Jammeh out of power.
There are reports of President Yahya Jammeh hiring rebel fighters, including people who fought for former Liberian President and Warlord Charles Taylor.
The Gambia’s political crisis is a ticking time bomb and the tripwire can be kicked on January 19.