African leaders set for showdown with Gambia’s Jammeh
Jammeh’s party has vowed to challenge the December 1 vote result in court, leading to an avalanche of international condemnation and multitude of calls for him to cede power to opponent Adama Barrow, who was officially declared the winner.
Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma and Ghana’s outgoing President John Mahama landed by 1200 GMT and immediately convened at a luxury hotel ahead of talks with Jammeh.
They were not met at the airport by the president but by his deputy Isatou Njie-Saidy.
“We hope we can talk and that the will of the people will prevail,” President Sirleaf told journalists after her arrival as head of the delegation.
The heavyweight grouping, all of whom who have significant ties to The Gambia, will be joined by United Nations West Africa envoy Mohamed Ibn Chambas.
After meeting Jammeh the African leaders will hold separate talks with Barrow, several sources told AFP.
Banjul-based diplomats say Buhari in particular has long been annoyed by Jammeh’s provocative behaviour and disdain for protocol.
Up until now the president of the tiny country of fewer than two million people may have exasperated his peers but has never threatened peace in the sub-region, a situation that has dramatically shifted since Jammeh’s move to void the election.
“It is unacceptable that there is an election and one person turns down the result,” Liberia’s information minister Eugene Nagbe told AFP on Tuesday. “The message of President Sirleaf and her delegation to Jammeh will be that he accepts the result and gives way to smooth transition.”
If Jammeh and the delegation did not reach an agreement, west African states would “contemplate more draconian decisions”, a top official with the regional ECOWAS bloc headed by Sirleaf told French radio station RFI late Monday.
Meanwhile Gambian army chief Ousman Bargie seemed to reverse a previous declaration of support for Barrow and arrived at the talks sporting a badge with Jammeh’s face on his uniform.
Bargie said he supported the “commander in chief, President Yahya Jammeh” in brief comments to journalists.
– IEC locked out –
And in a sign that Jammeh may be serious regarding his legal dispute, the staff of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) were locked out of their premises on Tuesday, their chairman told AFP.
A readjustment of the votes counted in the election was made by the IEC on Monday last week, reducing the number of ballots for all three candidates but ultimately confirming Barrow’s victory.
“I went to work this morning, but personnel of the Police Intervention Unit (riot police) did not allow me to enter the headquarters,” IEC chief Alieu Momar Njie told AFP.
“The other staff returned home as they were not allowed to enter the premises,” he added, emphasising no reason was given for the refusal.
Jammeh’s party did not file a complaint with the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning, thought to be constitutionally the last day possible to contest the election result, but have until 6pm to do so.
A group of the country’s most influential lawyers has said there is “no legitimate legal mechanism available in The Gambia to hear and determine the election petition”, as Jammeh would have to stuff the court with his own appointees.
The legal body has lain dormant since May 2015 as Jammeh himself sacked many of its judges.
– ‘Go now’ –
Jammeh has led The Gambia for 22 years since taking power in a coup.
President-elect Barrow has told AFP he wants Jammeh to step down “now”, though the longtime leader has the legal right to stay in office until mid-January.
The African Union has also promised to dispatch its own delegation as soon as possible to aid the transfer of power, while a statement released Monday said it rejected “any attempt to circumvent or reverse the outcome of the presidential election.”
Overnight the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, warned that The Gambia faced “a very dangerous moment”, citing reports that some military officers have sided with Jammeh in the standoff.