West African leaders in Gambia to end county’s polls crisis

Following his arrival in Gambia, Nigeria’s President Buhari tweeted this morning that he he come to “The Gambia with other ECOWAS leaders to insist on the sanctity of the electoral process, and respect for the wishes of the people”. 

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Gambia’s president elect Adama Barrow

West African heads of state have arrived in Gambia this morning to try to convince President Yahya Jammeh to relinquish power after losing an election this month.

Jammeh, who seized power in a coup in 1994 had conceded defeat to opponent Adama Barrow, prompting wild celebrations in the country of 1.9 million after the December 1 election.

However, he changed his mind 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 U-turn has prompted sharp criticism from the United States, the United Nations, regional body ECOWAS and even the African Union, which typically takes a softer line.

Diplomats in the region say that if Jammeh seeks to cling to power after negotiations fail, neighbors might consider options for removing him by force.

Marcel de Souza, president of the ECOWAS commission, told Radio France International on Monday that sending troops was “a conceivable solution”.

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Noble peace laureate and chair of ECOWAS, was leading the delegation, a statement from her office said.

Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari and U.N. Special Representative for West Africa Mohamed Ibn Chambas set off early on Tuesday, witnesses and diplomats said.

Ghana’s John Mahama, who lost elections last week and conceded defeat, arrived in Gambia, and Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma was due to join the group.

However, the AU said in a statement late on Monday 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 African leaders who have come to meet Jammeh and Barrow are expected to hold a press briefing in the evening today at a local hotel, Cocoa Ocean.

Meanwhile, the Gambia Teachers Union has issued a press release this morning asking President Jammeh to relinquish power.

There are also unconfirmed reports that the small country’s ambassador to the America, Sheikh Omar Faye, have also asked Jammeh to step down in a letter addressed to him this morning.

Gambian university students are also putting to a vote this morning whether they should boycott lectures to compel Jammeh to resign.

 

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