The run-up to Inauguration Day isn’t going well in The Gambia. Yahya Jammeh, the country’s leader of 22 years who refused to step down after losing the presidency in December polls, has declared a state of emergency to avoid the changeover, slated for tomorrow, Jan. 19.
The African Union has said they will stop recognizing Jammeh as Gambia’s president from then. Yet, today (Jan. 18) Gambia’s parliament voted to extend Jammeh’s term by another three months.
Jammeh’s rival and the president-elect, Adama Barrow, is in neighboring Senegal out of concerns for his safety. Barrow released a statement on Monday that he would be sworn in “on Gambian soil.” Nigeria’s foreign minister, who has been part of a group of West African leaders trying to negotiate with Jammeh, said that Barrow could also be sworn in outside of the country in a Gambian embassy.
It’s a sharp reversal of events for Gambia, a tiny West African country that emerged as an example of democracy when Jammeh conceded the election to his rival over the phone on live television in December. After opposition politicians promised to prosecute Jammeh, known for imprisoning or disappearing his opponents, the longtime leader quickly reversed his position and called for another election.
Now, senior officials have stepped down or left the country in protest. Fearing violence, Gambians have been fleeing to neighboring countries while travel companies have been evacuating tourists. Jammeh has reportedly sent his family away.
Gambians are now expecting military intervention from Senegal and Nigeria’s military as early as tomorrow under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). There have been reports that a special force of Nigerian soldiers was being prepared to intervene if Jammeh is still in power on Jan. 19.
Some Gambians are concerned about the possibility of violence breaking out between civilians of different ethnic groups in the event of a power vacuum or chaos. Back in June, Jammeh, who is of the Jola ethnic group, threatened to wipe out people from the Madinka ethnic group.