Yahya Jammeh, president of Gambia, once claimed that he would rule for “billions of years.” In fact, his term in office ostensibly came to an end last month after just 22 years when he lost an election. Jammeh is clinging to power, however, plunging the country into a political crisis. Jammeh must go and African leaders must ensure that the election results are respected.
Gambia has had just two presidents since it won independence in 1965. Jammah, the second, seized power in a coup in 1994. The third, Adama Barrow, bested Jammeh in December’s presidential ballot, winning 43.3 percent of the vote to the incumbent’s 39.6 percent (a third candidate took the rest). Jammeh initially conceded defeat but then said he would not accept the results, claiming fraud and irregularities.
The international community has urged Jammeh to honor the voters’ will, with other African nations taking the lead in efforts to get him to leave office and offering him asylum, to no effect. Barrow was sworn in Thursday at Gambia’s embassy in Senegal, with the ceremony beamed back to his home country on television.
The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recognize Barrow. Sensing that the tide is turning, the vice president, who has served Jammeh for 20 years, and his Cabinet ministers have resigned. Earlier this week, Jammeh responded by announcing a three-month state of emergency. The United Nations Security Council replied by unanimously adopting a resolution that confirmed Barrow as president.
After the UNSC vote, an ECOWAS military force moved into Gambia to remove Jammeh. That force outnumbers the 2,500 Gambian military. Barrow has ordered the military to stay in their barracks. With Army Chief Gen. Ousman Badjie, wavering in his support for Jammeh, the end may be in sight.
Jammeh’s supporters are likely to resist, however. He would do them and his country a service by telling them to stand down and for him to take the offer of asylum. Respect democracy and let Barrow get on with the tasks of combating the poverty within which 60 percent of the population lives and ending the climate of fear and repression that marked Jammeh’s rule.