Gambia: Why there’s political turmoil in this small African nation

President Yahya Jammeh has led Gambia since seizing power in a 1994 military coup.

Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh should be spending his last day in power on Wednesday, but he has refused to accept defeat in last month’s election and has indicated he won’t hand over power to victor Adama Barrow on Thursday

Jammeh’s rejection of the results of the December 1 election has thrown the small West African nation into political turmoil, alarmed its neighbors and prompted concern for foreigners in the country.
Here’s what you need to know:

What’s the current situation?

Jammeh declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, a day before his mandate was due to end, saying that “a situation exists which, if it is allowed to continue, may lead to a state of public emergency.”
He blamed an “unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference” for the crisis.
In his televised address, Jammeh also said an application had been filed at the country’s Supreme Court for an injunction to prevent Barrow from being sworn in before the court could hear his petition contesting the election results.
The President said “any acts of disobedience” or “acts intended to disturb public order” were banned under the state of emergency and that Gambian security forces were “instructed to maintain absolute law and order throughout the country.”
Reuters news agency reported Wednesday that Gambia’s National Assembly had passed a resolution allowing Jammeh another 90 days in power.

What about Barrow?

Barrow’s inauguration is due to take place Thursday and in Twitter posts he has insisted it will go ahead as planned. In a tweet Wednesday, Barrow said, “Our future starts tomorrow.”
Barrow, a property developer who won 45% of the vote, has said that Jammeh has no authority to reject the election result.
The President-elect’s office insisted in a statement last week that his election stands, and that “the exercise of right to file an election petition by the loser does not deprive the winner the right to prepare for his inauguration.”
His office accused Jammeh of using the court case to mobilize his supporters by making them feel cheated of victory and said this “is contributing to the fear that he is not ready for a peaceful transfer of power.”
It also called for the “general mobilisation of the people for the inauguration on 19th January.” Barrow tweeted Sunday that he would remain in neighboring Senegal until then.

How did Gambia get to this point?

Jammeh suffered a shocking loss on December 1 after running for his fifth term in office. After initially conceding defeat in a televised address, he then announced his “total rejection” of the outcome and said new elections would be held.
“We will go back to the polls because I want to make sure that every Gambian has voted under an independent electoral commission that is independent, neutral and free from foreign influence,” he said.
Since then, he has remained intransigent despite mediation attempts by leaders from regional bloc ECOWAS, and calls by the wider international community and the United Nations for him to respect the election results.

What kind of leader is Jammeh?

Jammeh seized power in 1994 in a military coup and has been in charge ever since. Human rights groups have described his regime as abusive, with hundreds of political prisoners languishing in jail.
The small West African nation is the fourth largest source of migrants arriving in Italy, despite having a population of fewer than two million people.
Earlier this month, rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint news release accusing Jammeh’s government of arbitrarily arresting opposition supporters and closing down three independent radio stations.
“The targeting of the #Gambiahasdecided movement and the closure of private radio stations threaten the rights of Gambians to express their opposition to Jammeh’s attempt to stay in power,” said Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s at times like this that free expression is most crucial.”

What’s the international reaction?

Regional leaders could use force to resolve the situation if Jammeh doesn’t go willingly.
The head of the United Nations’ West Africa office told the UN Security Council on Friday that a high-level delegation was in the Gambian capital, Banjul, that same day to persuade Jammeh to accept the results and step down.
The delegates planned to leave no doubt about their determination to “use all necessary means, including force, to have the will of the Gambian people upheld,” Mohammed Ibn Chambas said.
“Should this be deemed necessary, ECOWAS intends to seek the endorsement of the (African Union) Peace and Security Commission and the formal approval of this Council to deploy troops to the Gambia,” he said.
A team from ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, visited Gambia last month to try to mediate the crisis, meeting with both Jammeh and Barrow.
In a statement Sunday, Jammeh said he had spoken with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, chairwoman of ECOWAS and Liberian President, and confirmed his “continued commitment to the peaceful resolution of our political situation.”

What has the United States said?

The US government immediately criticized Jammeh’s call for fresh elections last month.
“This action is a reprehensible and unacceptable breach of faith with the people of the Gambia and an egregious attempt to undermine a credible election process and remain in power illegitimately,” the US State Department said in a statement.
“We call upon President Jammeh, who accepted the election results on December 2, to carry out an orderly transition of power to President-elect Barrow in accordance with the Gambian Constitution.”

What’s the impact on foreigners?

The UK Foreign Office updated its travel advice Tuesday to caution against all but essential travel to Gambia. The country is a popular “winter sun” destination for European holidaymakers and tourism is a key industry there.
“The potential for military intervention and civil disturbance is high and could result in Banjul International Airport being closed at short notice,” the Foreign Office said.
“You should follow events closely, take extra care, keep in regular contact with your tour operator and airline and continue to monitor travel advice and social media updates in case tensions rise as the current political deadlock continues.”
Tour operator Thomas Cook said it would bring home 985 vacationers in Gambia on a package deal within 48 hours and fly back another 2,500 people who only booked flights through the firm as soon as possible.
It cited “the risk of unrest in the country as a result of the disputed presidential inauguration on 19 January.”
Source: cnn