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Africa

Gambia's president-elect urges regional bloc to speed up negotiations on Jammeh's departure

media President-elect Barrow has called for a peaceful transfer of power Photo: Seyllou/AFP

The West African regional group Ecowas should be quick in following up on negotiations to ensure outgoing President Yahya Jammeh leaves office when his current term expires, according to the opposition coalition led by president-elect Adama Barrow. Barrow is expected to assume office on 18 January, however Jammeh has rejected the results of the polls, saying he wants fresh elections.

“President-elect Barrow, in his statement, is calling on Ecowas to speed up the team so that negotiations will continue,” opposition coalition spokesperson Halifa Sallah told RFI by telephone.

Q&A: Halifa Sallah

Ecowas leaders had visited Banjul earlier in December and held meetings with both Jammeh and Barrow. Jammeh’s rejection of the results was “unacceptable and threatened peace”, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in a statement.

“We don't expect anybody to interfere in our affairs but if we the Gambian people fail to abide by our constitution, fail to take charge of our own affairs, others will take charge of our affairs for us,” said the opposition coalition spokesperson Sallah.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Ghana’s President John Mahama, Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma and Sirleaf visited Gambia on 13 December. An Ecowas official indicated after the visit that Senegal has troops on standby to intervene in Gambia if Jammeh refuses to step down.

Liberia's President Sirleaf said the will of the Gambian people must be respected. Photo: Seyllou/AFP

Jammeh has said the country’s Supreme Court must rule on the results of the election. He had initially accepted defeat and accepted the results announced by the electoral commission handing Barrow victory. But a week later he said there were “unacceptable abnormalities” and rejected the outcome.

Barrow secured 43 per cent in the 1 December poll, according to the electoral commission, with Jammeh taking 39 per cent.

Jammeh initially conceded defeat in the polls during an address on state television. Photo: GRTS via AFP

“The independent electoral commission is the only authority that can declare the results and declare somebody a winner and that has been done. Whoever has grievances has to go to the Supreme Court and that does not serve as a bar to the constitutional process of the president-elect assuming office,” said Sallah.

President-elect Barrow has formed a committee to make necessary preparations for his inauguration, according to the opposition coalition spokesperson. “Our concern at the moment is to prepare for inauguration and continue to tell outgoing President Jammeh that he should engage the Gambian population and do what our constitution says,” he said.

There have been questions raised about the loyalty of the Gambian armed forces and its support for the president-elect. Initially, the head of the Gambian army, General Ousman Badjie, had pledged his allegiance to Barrow, according to the opposition coalition. However, Gambian soldiers occupied the country’s electoral commission and Badjie arrived at the meeting with Ecowas leaders sporting a badge bearing Jammeh’s face.

General Badjie at a hotel in Banjul during a visit by West African leaders on 13 December. Photo: Seyllou/AFP

“The president-elect will assume office, he'll be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces so we expect President Jammeh to hand over peacefully. If he fails to do so, on that day he becomes a rebel, anybody in the armed forces should also show allegiance to the state, to the republic,” said coalition spokesman Sallah.

“We believe that every reasonable Gambian by 19 January will be on one side, and the unreasonable ones will remain alone, very lonely indeed, so that our country can maintain its peace,” said Sallah. “We don't believe that any armed force will go against the people.”

Jammeh’s challenge to the results at the Supreme Court has been adjourned until 10 January, according to the AFP news agency, which reported that Jammeh has appointed six foreign judges to serve at the Supreme Court to hear the case.

“We are confident that irrespective of any judicial process, the outcome declared by the Independent Electoral Commission will ultimately stand,” said the opposition’s Sallah.

Nigerian-born Chief justice Emmanuel Fabbenle presides over the court and ordered the adjournment because Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission had not been summoned to attend, AFP reported on 21 December.

“We as an incoming government believe in the separation of powers,” said Sallah, “so at this stage we do not want to start coming in and behave like other dictators do.”

Jammeh took power in 1994 in a bloodless coup and he is responsible for “forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and other human rights violations,” according to rights watchdog Human Rights Watch.

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