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ECOWAS troops await orders as Gambian president refuses to step down

Seyllou, AFP | Adama Barrow at the Banjul Hotel in Gambia on December 13.

ECOWAS troops were stationed on the Senegal-Gambia border on Thursday as president Yahya Jammeh refused to cede power to his successor, Adama Barrow, who won a December 1 presidential election.


Gambia's outgoing president Yahya Jammeh has refused to step down despite his mandate expiring at midnight on Wednesday and has instead declared a national state of emergency. President-elect Adama Barrow is currently in neighbouring Senegal and was sworn in on Thursday at the Gambian embassy in Dakar.

Senegalese and Nigerian troops are amassed on the Gambian border under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The UN Security Council voted Thursday on a resolution on deploying the troops to force a political transition, expressing ''full support" for Barrow and called on Jammeh to step down.

A spokesman for the Senegalese army, Colonel Abdou N'Diaye, said Wednesday that troops would be ready to engage if Jammeh refused to leave at the end of his mandate at midnight. But for now they are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

Professor Jean-Claude Marut, an associate researcher at the Africans of the World department of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Sciences Po University in Bordeaux, discussed the situation with FRANCE 24.

President-elect Adama Barrow will be sworn in today at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, where he arrived last week. What is the nature of the relationship between Gambia and Senegal?

Barrow’s inauguration poses a double problem. First because Barrow will not be inaugurated in his own country and secondly because he will be sworn in in Dakar. Relations have been complicated between the two countries for a long time, even before Jammeh came to power. One of Dakar’s objectives is to eliminate the Gambian enclave eventually. It tried to do this in 1981 with the Senegambia Confederation, which lasted until 1989. This left bad memories in Banjul, in particular because of the behaviour of the Senegalese military at that time. Senegal's hegemonic tendencies are keenly felt and have reinforced Gambian nationalism.

The fact that Senegal has welcomed Barrow is therefore very poorly perceived by a part of the population because the distrust remains, including among young people. Dakar and ECOWAS officials seem not to be fully aware of this. The Senegalese are ready to work with the new Gambian government to strengthen ties and move toward either renewed unification or a new confederation.

In the event of the intervention of the ECOWAS forces, led by Senegal, what kind of conflict can be expected?

Just look at the map. Gambia is a very narrow territory, dozens of kilometres wide and 320 kilometres long. It is very easy for an army to bomb or to reach any part of its territory, which is very vulnerable by land, air or even sea. It is also necessary to take into account the situation in Banjul, which is at the end of a peninsula and easily isolated. If Jammeh is still at his palace, it would not be very difficult to bombard him. The news that the hospital near the palace has been evacuated allows us to surmise what is in store.

There is also another key question to consider: Does the Gambian army, estimated at about 5,000 men, support Jammeh? Ousman Badjie, the chief of staff of the Gambian army, said last night that he had asked his men not to defend themselves. If this is true it calls into question any military intervention. But assuming that the Gambian army plans to resist, the supporters of Salif Sadio – a Casamance (a Senegalese region in south Gambia) independence rebel leader – may step in to help Jammeh, who has supported them since the early 2000s. The group has a few hundred fighters.

Jammeh's allies are becoming scarce and many of his ministers have resigned. Doubts remain about the support of his army; everything seems to be arrayed against him. Why is he clinging to power?

Contrary to rumour, Jammeh is not mad, despite his brutal and sanguinary side. He has tried to maneuver to stay in power, notably with a failed appeal at the Supreme Court. However, his political solutions did not work, nor did the diplomatic initiatives of Morocco and Mauritania. Moroccan mediation was, however, a good attempt. He could have had left honourably under the religious protection of the Moroccan kingdom, but he did not seize this opportunity.

One can imagine that Jammeh feared facing trial like former Chadian president Hissène Habré. However, after several contradictory statements, Barrow offered a verbal guarantee that he would not be bothered and could continue to live in Gambia. Officials from his government, who also feared punishment, may have pressured him to hold out no matter the cost. Right now, the only thing that remains an option is to make a last stand with a small band of loyalists.

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