In a final attempt to retain power, just two days before the scheduled inauguration of President-elect Adama Barrow, the outgoing President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, has declared a 90-day state of emergency.
Announcing the state of emergency on state television, Jammeh said the declaration was necessary due to “foreign interference” in the December 1 presidential elections, which signaled the end of Jammeh’s 22-year term in office.
In the televised address on Tuesday, Jammeh banned any “acts intended to disturb public order and peace,” and commanded security forces to uphold law and order.
While initially accepting the results of the election, Jammeh has now filed an injunction with the Supreme Court to prevent Barrow’s inauguration until his petition contesting the election results, based on voting irregularities, can be heard in court.
Due to a shortage of judges, the Supreme Court is unable to hear the challenge until May, and Jammeh has refused to step down until then.
The announcement comes as a devastating blow for Gambians. As a result, at least 26,000 Gambians have fled to neighboring Senegal, as they fear civil unrest and military intervention, which has been promised by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
“Everybody’s leaving,” a Gambian immigration official told The Guardian. “They’re worried there might be [a] war.”
During a state of emergency, citizens’ rights and freedoms can be suspended, which raises major concerns from human rights organizations amidst recent reports of increased arbitrary arrests and detention.
Human Rights Watch reports indicate that Jammeh’s security forces have arbitrarily detained, at least, five officers who were, allegedly, in opposition to the incumbent’s bid to prevent his cede to power.
Since Jammeh announced his rejection of the elections results on December 9, Gambian authorities have shut down four independent radio stations and conducted ongoing arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters.
Prolonged political uncertainty has further escalated in recent weeks with the resignation of five ministers, which is a sign that Jammeh’s regime is deteriorating.
Speaking on Senegalese radio station, RFM, on Wednesday, ECOWAS military commander Seydou Maiga Moro said that Jammeh had a deadline of midnight to step down, with troops from Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria already positioning along the Gambian border.
“We are waiting so that all political means have been exhausted,” said Moro.
The regional bloc has been seeking approval from the UN Security Council to perform “all necessary measures” to remove Jammeh, who is suspected of recruiting rebels from former war-torn West African nations, including Liberia and Sierra Leone.
While opportunities for a non-violent transition from dictatorship are rare, it is imperative that ECOWAS exhausts every diplomatic option before ordering further military action or employing the use of force. If violence ensues, ECOWAS must employ all appropriate measures to minimize civilian impact.
As the political crisis unfolds, the outcome seemingly rests in the hands of Jammeh. Should he choose to continue down this path, the significant involvement of the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS must be supported by widespread concern from the global news agenda and the entire international community. Only then will the Gambian people’s decision be respected and upheld.
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