A presidential inauguration in exile?

Africa | Gambia’s new president starts today, but the old one hasn’t left yet
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 1/19/17, 11:04 am

Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow announced he would be sworn in as Gambia’s president this evening in neighboring Senegal. The move comes as several African countries have readied their troops for a possible intervention in Gambia if President Yahya Jammeh refuses to step down.

Barrow’s Facebook and Twitter accounts said the inauguration would take place at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, at 4 p.m. today. Barrow stayed in Senegal after attending a summit Sunday. Jammeh has remained silent today, and the country’s capital, Banjul, is void of any unrest.

Barrow won the country’s Dec. 1 presidential elections, putting an end to Jammeh’s two-decade rule. Jammeh initially conceded defeat but rejected the election’s results a week later. In a bid to hold onto power, Jammeh petitioned the Supreme Court to call for another vote. But the court does not have the five judges needed to hold a hearing. Gambia’s National Assembly this week also voted to extend Jammeh’s term for three months.

Jammeh’s term ended at midnight, and Barrow is expected to assume power today. In a Facebook post, Barrow special adviser Mai Ahmad Fatty encouraged Gambians to remain indoors and respect the transition of power.

“Those who resist peaceful change effective 12 midnight tonight shall face definite consequences,” Fatty said. “Anyone with firearms tonight shall be deemed a rebel, and will certainly become a legitimate target.”

The international community continues to pressure Jammeh to step down. U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby cautioned Jammeh’s refusal to leave would put his legacy and the country in peril. Regional West African nations have threatened military intervention. Senegalese soldiers already are waiting at the country’s borders, and Nigeria has said it has a warship heading toward Gambia for “training.” The Nigerian Air Force also confirmed it has deployed fighter jets and some 200 soldiers for a Gambian mission.

Abdul-Jalilu Ateku, a doctoral researcher with the University of Nottingham, said regional military intervention could remove Jammeh from power if necessary. He expressed more concern for the impact a forceful removal could have.

“(It) will come at a heavy price for Gambia, the neighboring states, and the world,” Ateku told The Conversation. “The regional ramifications in terms of resources to maintain the mission, refugee flows, as well as the destruction and untold hardships that the people will face should not be glossed over.”

In fear of a possible crisis, several civilians and government officials fled the country. Reuters reported several tourists Wednesday boarded buses and canoes to flee the capital. Some ministers have resigned, and the country’s vice president also announced her resignation Wednesday. Jammeh’s laywer, Edward Gomez, fled for Senegal and encouraged the president to step down.

“I humbly and respectfully advise President Jammeh as the champion of peace he has been known to be, to peacefully step aside in the interest of peace and safety of the Gambian people,” Gomez said in a letter penned to the office of the president. “Everything, except God’s Kingdom, comes to an end.”

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

Read more from this writer