MILITARY intervention in Gambia is “conceivable” if President Yahya Jammeh does not step down, the president of the West African states bloc has told French radio.
Marcel de Souza, president of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) commission told RFI that the organisation favoured “preventative diplomacy” and this was the thinking behind the visit of four regional leaders to the country today.
However if this along with pressure from international bodies such as the UN did not have the desired effect, “more draconian” options would be considered, he said.
His statements came as West African heads of state began arriving in Gambia Tuesday to try to convince Jammeh, who has ruled the tiny West African nation with an iron fist since he took power in a military coup 22 years ago, to relinquish hand over power after losing an election this month.
Jammeh had conceded defeat to opponent Adama Barrow.
However, he did a U-turn a week later, citing irregularities in the official results, which were corrected to show a victory margin of fewer than 20,000 votes for Barrow.
Jammeh’s change of mind has prompted sharp criticism from the US, the United Nations, regional body ECOWAS and even the African Union, which typically takes a softer line. The AU termed his move “null and void”.
Earlier Tuesday, pro-Jammeh troops took over control of the electoral commission headquarters.
Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, chair of ECOWAS, is leading the ECOWAS delegation.
Buhari and U.N. Special Representative for West Africa Mohamed Ibn Chambas set off early on Tuesday, diplomats said. Mahama, who lost elections and conceded defeat, arrived in Gambia, and Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma was due to join the group. Photos posted later on Bihari’s Twitter page showed them meeting Jammeh at State House, Banjul.
Absent from Tuesday’s delegation is neighbouring Senegal which entirely engulfs the riverside nation and has a history of rocky relations with Gambia.
Senegal sent troops there during a coup in 1981 and some officials suspect Jammeh of sponsoring a rebellion in its southern Casamance region. Senegal’s Foreign Ministry called Tuesday’s trip a “last chance mission” for the Gambian leader.
However, the AU has said that it also planned to send a high-level delegation led by Chad’s long-ruling President Idriss Deby to facilitate a “peaceful and speedy” transfer of power.
The streets of the capital Banjul were calm on Tuesday, with a high-security presence.
Some analysts think Jammeh, who had started the process of pulling Gambia out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was unnerved by some comments made by some of members of Barrow’s opposition that they would try him for abuses he committed during his period as president.
Jammeh could therefore be raising the stakes, to get an ECOWAS-guarantee of safety, and even immunity, as part of his severance terms.
It’s also likely that the defeat of Mahama in Ghana last week, also panicked Jammeh. Mahama and his left-of-centre National Democratic Congress (NDC) is more sympathetic to Jammeh and his anti-imperialist theatrics, than would be president-elect Nana Akufo-Addo, and his more conservative New Patriotic Part (NPP).
With Senegal’s President Macky Sall, and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari not being leading members of the Jammeh fan club, the Gambian strongman is understandably nervous.
If nothing else, he seems to have succeeded in bringing ECOWAS around the table to talk to him.