World / Africa & Diaspora
Thursday, 19 Jan 2017 10:35 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
As the deadline for Gambian President Yahya Jammeh to hand over power expired yesterday and Senegalese troops marched on the border, the country's army chief Ousman Badjie has said his troops will not counteract Senegalese soldiers marching on the border to enforce a presidential succession. The General was quoted by AFP news agency saying: "We are not going to involve ourselves militarily, this is a political dispute," he said. "I am not going to involve my soldiers in a stupid fight. I love my men."
Mr Jammeh has ruled The Gambia since taking power in a coup in 1994 but lost elections two months ago to an opposition challenger. Wednesday was meant to be his last day in office but the parliament he controls granted him three more months in the post. Adama Barrow, who beat him in the elections last, is due to be inaugurated as the new president today, but Mr Jammeh has ignored the deadline and clung to power.
The president initially accepted that Mr Barrow had won the election but later reversed his position and said he would not step down. He declared a 90-day state of emergency calling for "peace, law and order" after what he said were irregularities in the election process. With the tensions building up, at least 26,000 Gambians, fearful that violence could erupt, sought refuge in Senegal this week, but the army commander's statement has assured some countrymen that the soldiers won't enforce the defeated president's rule.
West Africa's intergovernmental body Ecowas mandated Senegal to lead a military intervention for peaceful transfer of power because the country surrounds The Gambia. Col Abdou Ndiaye, a spokesman for the Senegalese military, told BBC Ecowas had decided on the deadline to try to achieve a diplomatic solution. "Things are getting into place and Ecowas forces are ready to intervene if needed after midnight if we can't find a diplomatic solution to the Gambian crisis," he said.
But late on Wednesday, the diplomatic efforts had all but crumbled. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz failed to break the deadlock at last-minute talks with Mr Jammeh. Mr Abdel Aziz flew in to the Gambian capital Banjul on Wednesday evening to meet Mr Jammeh before flying on to Dakar airport for further discussions with Mr Barrow and Senegal's President Macky Sall. "I am now less pessimistic [that Mr Jammeh] will work on a peaceful solution that is in the best interest for everyone," Mr Abdel Aziz said.
From Uganda to Congo and Ethiopia, African incumbents who have rigged themselves in recent elections have relied on the military to enforce their edicts. It remains to be seen whether the Gambian army will disobey Jammeh's orders.