The ongoing political crisis in The Gambia has escalated further after Yahya Jammeh refused to peacefully transfer power to Adama Barrow, the victor in the most recent presidential election. Jammeh had previously said that he had no intention of leaving, and as a result ECOWAS threatened military action to oust the former president from power. However because of the passage of the ECOWAS deadline, and Jammeh’s choice to retain power, ECOWAS forces have invaded The Gambia.
The new Gambian President Adama Barrow has fled to Senegal and this afternoon was sworn in as President in the Gambian embassy in Dakar. In his speech to the press he reiterated his request to Yahya Jammeh to step down. Addressing the imminent intervention by ECOWAS forces, Barrow said:
“I hereby make a special appeal to ECOWAS, the AU, and the UN- particularly the Security Council- to support the government and the people of The Gambia in enforcing their will, restoring their sovereignty, and constitutional legitimacy. I therefore call on all civilians, and military personnel of the state, to support my presidency, since it is built on constitutional foundations.”
The ECOWAS deployment is currently comprised of troops from Senegal and Nigeria, however Ghana has also said that it would assist ECOWAS in ousting Jammeh from power. In terms of raw numbers, the Gambian army would appear to have the upper hand as they have over 2,500 soldiers and the ECOWAS deployment is around 1,000 personnel, but this doesn’t tell the full story.
Senegal has approximately 100,000 personnel in active service and are only engaged in small UN peacekeeping missions at the moment. Ghana has in recent years played a key role in UN peacekeeping missions. And Nigeria has one of the largest militaries in Africa, with their annual defence budget topping out at over $2 billion. If these three nations, without the support of the international community or other ECOWAS nations, tried to oust Jammeh from power, they could easily do so.
However, Barrow’s specific reference to the African Union and the United Nations is interesting. The African Union have been largely silent on the instability, but a direct appeal to Addis Ababa would prompt some form of response. This would be important because of Jammeh’s ideological leanings. Yahya Jammeh gained popularity among the Gambian people because of his anti-colonialist views. The African Union is a pan-African organisation, and pan-Africanism has historically been linked to anti-colonialist struggles in the continent. If the African Union came out against Jammeh, I suspect that a decent number of his supporters may think twice about their leader.
The other important aspect of Barrow’s speech was his reference to the United Nations. Today, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to condemn Jammeh’s refusal to give up power and support ECOWAS’ intervention. This issue was put on the agenda for a number of different reasons but it helps Barrow’s cause that Senegal is currently on the UNSC. The position of Senegal could prove vital in the coming weeks. If the UNSC unanimously backed ECOWAS’ intervention, it may also support a UN peacekeeping operation or a humanitarian action for those Gambians who have fled to Senegal in recent weeks.
To conclude, Jammeh has no legitimacy at all. The old government was based on the democratic will of the people, and even when Jammeh made grandiose statements about having a divine mandate, his language was often couched in the idea of the Gambian people expressing the ‘will of God’. The election shows that this mandate is gone. ECOWAS forces are now inside The Gambia in order to forcibly remove Jammeh from office. Given the rhetoric coming out of Banjul, a military confrontation between ECOWAS and Gambian forces now seems likely. In my view the military power of the participating countries, and the influence Senegal has on the UNSC, makes defeat for The Gambian military a certainty. Jammeh should avoid bloodshed and transfer power to President Barrow immediately.