Who blinks first, Jammeh or ECOWAS?

ECOWAS Headquarters

ECOWAS Headquarters

History may be playing back a tape for the world at dawn today in The Gambia. About 36 years ago, precisely on 30th of July 1981, Senegalese troops audaciously marched into The Gambia and restored to power the government of Dawda Jawara pronounced overthrown by the country’s paramilitary field force.

No less than 500 people were killed as the Senegalese soldiers helped to quell the coup.The man that has placed everyone on the edge, Yahya Jammeh, then a Lieutenant in the country’s Army, eventually ousted Jawara in July 1994 and proclaimed a military government.

He has since entrenched himself as the undisputed leader of the tiny West African country circumscribed by Senegal, transforming himself along the line from a military ruler to a civilian president. This was made possible through the application of anti-democratic laws, muzzling of the press, intimidation and hacking down of opponents and opposition as well as manipulation of the electoral process.

Described as Africa’s most absurd dictator perhaps because of his queer combination of dictatorial tendencies and voodoo practices in governance, Jammeh may have recklessly declared war with the rest of the world particularly the African continent, with his decision to hang on to power after conceding defeat in an election held last month.

He was defeated by the opposition leader, Adama Barrow, who has since taken refuge in nearby Senegal.However, his turnaround to later change his mind on the outcome of the election has drawn widespread condemnation and the threat of a military intervention by regional neighbours who have insisted that he must vacate office by today.

The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly called on Jammeh to respect the result of the poll and step aside. They have received the backing of the United Nations Security Council, African Union and several other institutions.

Jammeh compounded issues on Tuesday when he declared a state of emergency just two days before he is due to step down, citing “extraordinary” foreign interference in the country’s post-electoral crisis.

According to Agency’s reports, the declaration was necessary broadcast on state television, was after the “unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs of The Gambia.”He claimed that foreign powers had created an “unwarranted hostile atmosphere, threatening the sovereignty, peace, security and stability of the country,” forcing him to act.

Under the Gambian constitution a state of emergency lasts seven days if the President declares it unilaterally but up to 90 days if the National Assembly confirms it.The terms of the declaration were left vague by the President and was said to conform to laws already in place in a nation where human rights abuses are rife.

Observers contend that by the declaration of the state of emergency, Jammeh has made good his threat not to quit power today in spite of the threat of military invasion by the ECOWAS.

This may be part of his design to rule The Gambia as long as he wished, as reported by the BBC in 2011. “I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so,” he stated in the interview.

Determined to ensure that he does not have his way, and in keep with ECOWAS resolve, Nigeria’s newest warship, the NNS Unity, is on its way towards The Gambia ahead of possible military intervention over Jammeh’s refusal to step down when his term expires today.

Besides, it was gathered that Nigeria has reportedly asked British military advisers to assist in planning a “rapid reaction” military incursion into Gambia in order to install Barrow, as the country’s new president. 

With little or no time left for diplomatic resolution of the impasse, leaders of the 15-state regional bloc have authorised a military response that has the unofficial blessing of the United Nations Security Council.

Although the proposed mission is likely to be headed by Senegal, Nigerian troops would make up the bulk of the force. The Nigerian government last week authorised the mobilization of an 800-strong battalion to spearhead the mission. 

In a sign of its dwindling diplomatic clout among its former African colonies, Britain has played little role so far in the crisis. French President, Francois Hollande, took advantage of Britain’s reduced interest to meet with Mr. Barrow over the weekend.

Nonetheless, British officers training Nigerian Army in counter-terrorism operations against the Islamist Boko Haram group have been asked to give logistical and planning support to the mission, regional officials disclosed.It is hoped that a military operation could be fairly swift. Mr. Jammeh’s army has just 900 soldiers, some of whom were seen partying in the streets after he lost the election.

“I dare to hope that African wisdom will convince our brother [to] understand the greater good for the Gambia, which does not need a bloodbath,” said Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the President of Mali.But Mr. Jammeh, seen by critics as a serial human-rights abuser has shrugged off the calls. He has instead shut independent radio stations, arrested activists and sent soldiers to storm the Electoral Commission.

Jammeh who has shown little interest in diplomacy after rebuffing two high-level delegations by West African leaders, may well have declared his readiness to fight. But he should be reminded that it took only a handful of Senegalese troops to quell a coup in The Gambia. A combination of West African forces championed by a rejuvenated Nigerian Army will definitely be too much of a force for the voodoo-propelled Gambian forces.

“If he is not going, we have stand-by forces already alerted and these stand-by forces have to be able to intervene to restore the people’s wish,” said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the ECOWAS Commission, to underscore the preparedness of the regional body to do battle.

Furthermore, he said: “If he loves his people, he has to be able to negotiate an exit door calmly. If it doesn’t happen, the most radical means will be used.The fear of an outburst of violence and bloodbath has forced hundreds Gambians to flee thronging ferry terminals on the River Gambia on a daily basis hoping for safe passage into Senegal.

Citizens continued to pack their bags and stream out of Banjul by road and ferry for Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, taking as many possessions as they could carry.The United Nations refugee agency says it is assessing the situation.

This fear was heightened weekend in Banjul with the arrest of soldiers suspected to be sympathetic to Barrow, and it accentuates the disagreement within the armed forces over whom they will support today.

Meanwhile four more cabinet ministers in Jammeh’s government defected, while citizens stream out of the country in fear of unrest.Foreign minister, Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, Finance minister, Abdou Kolley, Trade minister, Abdou Jobe and Tourism minister, Benjamin Roberts had all resigned, a source asserted.

Roberts was appointed to replace Kolley on Monday, meaning he spent less than 24 hours in the new post, local media said.The latest resignations came after the high-profile defection last week of Information minister, Sheriff Bojang, who is now hiding in Senegal.

Born Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh in a remote village known as Kanilai village, Foni Kansala district of The Gambia on the 25th May 1965, Jammeh’s educational background could be traced to his enrolment as a Private in the Gambian National Police Force in 1984. He took a swift rise in the ranks towards the army and became sergeant at the Gambian National Army in 1986 before moving on to being the escort-training instructor at the National Police Training School in 1987, and later an army cadet officer in the same year.

He was upgraded to second lieutenant in 1989 and subsequently took charge of the presidential escort of the presidential guards from 1989 to 1990, rising to became a high-ranking member of Gambia Military Force from 1990-94. That year Jammeh led a coup and assumed the post of Chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council becoming the Head of State.

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