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Gambia's Jammeh declares state of emergency ahead of rival's inauguration

Marco Longari, AFP | Archival picture shows Gambian President Yahya Jammeh listening to one of his aides in Banjul in November 2016

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Tuesday declared a state of emergency, citing foreign interference in a presidential election he lost to opposition leader Adama Barrow last month.


The declaration was necessary "due to the unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign inference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs of The Gambia," Jammeh said on state television.

This had created an "unwarranted hostile atmosphere, threatening the sovereignty, peace, security and stability of the country," he added.

The move comes just two days ahead of Thursday's planned inauguration of his rival, Barrow, whose election victory Jammeh initially recognised before promptly changing his mind.

Opposition leaders say the state of emergency could allow the government to cancel or postpone Barrow's inauguration.

According to 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.

‘Ban Ki-moon and Amnesty can go to hell’

Jammeh, who took power in a coup in 1994, is notorious for his bizarre and, at times, belligerent behaviour.

In May 2016, he told French magazine 'Jeune Afrique' that then UN Secretary General “Ban Ki-moon and [the human rights group] Amnesty can go to hell” after they called for an investigation into the death of Gambian opposition leader Solo Sadeng while in prison.

“Who are they to ask that?” he demanded.

The Gambian president is also believed to have deployed countless members of the National Intelligence Agency to spy on, and if necessary, arrest his political opponents.

>> Read more: Gambians flee amid election violence fears

Jammeh has been accused of using any and all means at his disposal to repress political dissent in Gambia. His ruthless tactics have earned him a reputation as a dictator – a reputation he has embraced.

“I’m proud of it,” he told the magazine Jeune Afrique in May.

Jammeh also claims to have miraculous healing powers. In 2007, he boasted to having cured HIV/AIDS using medicinal herbs and magical incantations. He has also alleged to have successfully treated asthma, epilepsy and infertility, often demonstrating his special abilities – which he says he inherited from his father – on television.

Regional powers prepare military intervention

Pro-democracy activists across Africa welcomed his election defeat in December, and his subsequent refusal to step down has provoked a test of mettle for regional leaders.

Nigeria and other West African countries are preparing to intervene militarily and the ministers of finance, foreign affairs, trade and the environment have resigned from the government, according to ministry sources and state television.

"The chiefs of defence staff of West African countries met yesterday (Monday) to discuss strategies on the best way to get Yahya Jammeh out," a senior Nigerian military source said.

"Some West African countries will be contributing troops, including Nigeria, for the operation," said the source, adding that the United Nations and African Union had offered support to regional body ECOWAS for the plan.

In addition, hundreds of Gambians have fled into Senegal, Gambia's only neighbour.

"We are scared. There are soldiers with guns all the time," said Awa Sanneh, 25, from Birkama in Gambia, who was leaving with two children and 24 other family members.

The Senegalese town of Diouloulou, 12 km (7 miles) south of the border point of Seleti, has seen 650 Gambians cross since Christmas and the flow has increased in recent days, the mayor's office said.


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