While the world braces for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, another inauguration in West Africa has regional leaders worried: Gambia’s. West African countries are reportedly preparing for a military intervention in Gambia if President Yahya Jammeh refuses to step down on Thursday, the day that his successor Adama Barrow was scheduled to take office.
Jammeh, who initially conceded the election to Barrow in a surprise defeat in December, has since reneged his offer to step down, and may be preparing for a fight to stay in office. On Tuesday, Jammeh, who has ruled the tiny and impoverished Gambia for over two decades, declared a state of national emergency in light of what he called “the unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference” in the Dec. 1 election he lost.
The state of emergency puts the country on lockdown, banning “acts of disobedience” and “acts intended to disturb the public order.” He’s also shored up power in the country’s supreme court and national assembly, which are considered mere extensions of the one-man regime. “Jammeh is digging in for a long fight here,” Gambia expert Jeffrey Smith told Foreign Policy.
There may be will in neighboring countries to send in troops to remove him by force. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members, including Nigeria and Gambia’s neighbor Senegal, are reportedly preparing troops. On Tuesday, Nigeria deployed a warship off the coast of Gambia. A source in the Nigerian military told Reuters his country and other West African countries were readying for military action.
And any fight may not last as long as Jammeh hopes. His country’s tiny military likely wouldn’t fare well in a fight with neighboring militaries, Smith said — if it even fought at all. “The rank and file troops don’t support [Jammeh],” Smith said. “His firm grip on security forces is exaggerated.”
Reading the tea leaves, three of Jammeh’s ministers, including his foreign minister, resigned and thousands of Gambians have fled to Senegal and nearby Guinea-Bissau in expectation of a violent showdown.
Jammeh’s ouster could relieve West Africa of one of its most problematic, violent, and bizarre dictators. Jammeh, who’s led state-sanctioned witch hunts, claims he can cure AIDS, and lists “Admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska” on his official resume, is is a black mark on West Africa’s economic and political success.
“He’s not your average president — African or otherwise,” Smith said.