There is every indication that the outgoing president of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, has staged a coup.
It seems he preferred to be in power – as he promised – for a billion years, rather than life in prison [see below].
Not surprising, perhaps. After all that’s how he came to power in this – Africa’s smallest country – 22 years ago.
He took power in a 1994 military coup as a young army officer. He was elected as President in 1996; he was re-elected in 2001, 2006, and 2011.
So it was something of a surprise when he publicly accepted the outcome of the election, leading to wild celebrations.
Threat of prosecution
Perhaps the first indication that things might go wrong came when it was reported that Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang, the architect of the coalition, and a senior politician considered the mother of the nation, announced that Jammeh would be prosecuted.
This was how the story was reported by the Guardian:
In an extraordinary speech on Friday, Jammeh said he wanted to return to his farm to “eat what I grow and grow what I eat” – his favourite political slogan. But Jallow-Tambajang claimed that on this farm, in Kanilai, close to the Senegalese border, he had the “bunkers and treasure” to start an insurgency and the coalition feared he could move weapons out of the country.
“He can’t leave. If he leaves, he’s going to escape us,” she said. “We are stopping him from leaving. We are negotiating. He said he wants to go to Kanilai. Any day he tells us he wants to go abroad, then we say no. It’s the presidential prerogative.”
She said the government wanted him prosecuted quickly in case he tried to flee – although it had not yet decided whether to try him in the Gambia or internationally. The government also planned to rejoin the international criminal court – Jammeh withdrew the Gambia from it, so the president who once vowed to bury opposition figures “nine feet deep” could find himself at The Hague.
Faced with the threat of being on trial and jailed, Jammeh acted.
Buzzfeed’s Monica Mark reported that the outgoing leader had promoted 49 senior army officers.
Monica Mark also reported that there were a number of soldiers on the streets of the capital, Banjul.
This was confirmed in other tweets – like this one. I have removed the name, for fear of putting the person who sent it in danger.
Then well known West Africa observers, like Jeffrey Smith put this out:
By this time it was pretty clear that something bad was under way. I responded by tweeting:
The news was confirmed by Reuters and the BBC
It was really time for African leaders to act. After all, it was just seven days ago that the African Union chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, welcomed the Gambian election, saying: “The AU Commission Chairperson hails the statesmanship of outgoing President Yahya Jammeh, for gracefully accepting the outcome of the elections.”
The AU has now issued a press release, calling for President Jammeh to step down peacefully.
I was told that Liberian President, Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf, was planning to travel to the Gambia on Saturday (today).
That appears to have been shelved – as my former colleague has reported.
Meanwhile, the US State Department has put out a strongly worded statement:
Press StatementMark C. Toner
Deputy Department SpokespersonWashington, DC
December 9, 2016
We strongly condemn President Jammeh’s December 9 statement rejecting the December 1 election results and calling for new elections. This action is a reprehensible and unacceptable breach of faith with the people of The Gambia and an egregious attempt to undermine a credible election process and remain in power illegitimately.
We call upon President Jammeh, who accepted the election results on December 2, to carry out an orderly transition of power to President-Elect Barrow in accordance with the Gambian constitution. We call upon all institutions in The Gambia, including the elected leadership, the armed forces, religious leaders, political parties and civil society organizations to reject violence and peacefully uphold the will of the people that was expressed clearly through the ballot box. The people have spoken and it is time for Gambians to come together to ensure a peaceful transition to President-elect Barrow.
At the United Nations there have been calls for an emergency meeting of the Security Council.
First, the UN Security Council called on outgoing President Jammeh “to respect the choice of the sovereign people of Gambia, as he did on 2 December, and to transfer, without condition and undue delay, power to President-elect Adama Barrow.”
The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, went further, strongly condemning the outgoing Gambian President’s rejection of the outcome of the Presidential election.
Secondly, Senegal’s president has called on Gambia’s leader to respect the results of the country’s Dec. 1 election that saw President Yahya Jammeh lose to his rival.
“Senegal’s foreign ministry, the United Nations Security Council, West Africa’s regional bloc and Gambia’s diaspora community have all urged Jammeh to respect the Gambian people’s choice.
President Macky Sall of Senegal, which surrounds Gambia, late Saturday joined the calls for a peaceful transition in Gambia, where tens of thousands of Senegalese reside.”
Perhaps more importantly, there were suggestions that Senegal was deploying troops along its border. For what purpose is not clear.