West African Force Poised to Ensure Gambian Power Transfer

  • Mauritanian president made last-ditch effort at mediation
  • President Jammeh rejects election win by Adama Barrow

West African troops are gathered at Senegal’s border with Gambia poised to intervene to ensure President-elect Adama Barrow takes power as the United Nations Security Council prepared to vote on a resolution authorizing a military operation.

Barrow will be sworn in at the Gambian High Commission in Senegal at 4 p.m. local time on Thursday in a ceremony that will be witnessed by representatives of the African Union and the Economic Commission of West African States, one of his spokesmen, Mai Ahmad Fatty, said by phone. The inauguration is due to take place as forces from Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal, which surrounds Gambia on three sides, are prepared to take action in the tiny nation.

The UN Security Council is scheduled to vote later Thursday on a resolution that would authorize the Ecowas to use all necessary means to enforce the outcome of last month’s elections in which Barrow defeated Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh, who’s been in office since a 1994 and once vowed to rule for a billion years, surprised the nation of fewer than 2 million by acknowledging he lost the vote before changing his mind and casting doubt over the results.

“If Ecowas does not intervene, its ability to maintain political order among its member countries would lose credibility,” Adeline van Houtte, Africa analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, said by e-mail. “And if Mr. Jammeh manages to cling to power, it would also damage the credibility of so-called democratic elections in the region.”

Late Talks

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz flew between the capitals of Gambia and Senegal in the early morning, meeting in Dakar with Barrow and Senegalese President Macky Sall before leaving again.

Thousands of Gambians have fled to Senegal, piling mattresses, chairs and other household goods on taxis crossing the border, with the Senegalese government estimating that almost 30,000 people have arrived. Travel company Thomas Cook said it was flying back about 1,000 U.K. customers. Gambia depends on tourists from the U.K., Germany and the Netherlands for the bulk of its revenue.

The regional states decided to take the action after Jammeh, 51, declared a 90-day state of emergency late Tuesday. The African Union has said it will no longer recognize Jammeh as president as of Thursday.

Crisis Resolution

“The regional body Ecowas has reiterated its determination to take all necessary measures to ensure the transfer of power to President-elect Barrow,” Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said in a statement. “The UN supports regional efforts aimed at resolving the crisis.”

The Nigerian Air Force said on its Facebook page that it’s deploying 200 men, fighter jets, transport aircraft and a helicopter to Senegal for the operation. Ghana sent more than 200 troops to bolster the intervention force, presidential spokesman Eugene Arhin said in an e-mailed statement.

Gambia’s military is estimated to have at 1,425 men in its army, navy and gendarmerie combined, according to the web portal DefenceWeb.

The U.S. Embassy closed all non-emergency services on Wednesday and will remain shut on Thursday.

Ecowas previously sent 600 troops to Guinea-Bissau following a coup in April 2012. The soldiers are due to be withdrawn this year.

The regional group also sent soldiers to Ivory Coast in 2002, when a failed coup split the country into a rebel north and a government-run south. The troops were deployed to patrol the dividing line between the warring parties and were later redeployed as UN troops.

— With assistance by Kambiz Foroohar, and Ekow Dontoh

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