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Gambia political crisis explained: The African leader who refuses to leave

Longtime Gambia President Yahya Jammeh is refusing to step down after losing elections

By: AP | Johannesburg |
January 14, 2017 11:00:30 pm
Nigeria’s president was leading a regional delegation to Gambia in a last-ditch attempt Friday to persuade its longtime leader to step down and allow his rival’s inauguration next week, while fears grow that the impasse could turn violent. (Bayo Omoboriowo/Nigeria State House via AP)

The tiny nation of Gambia has West Africa on the brink of a military intervention, and thousands are fleeing the country. Longtime President Yahya Jammeh is refusing to step down after losing elections. On Thursday, President-elect Adama Barrow intends to go through with his inauguration, with the support of the international community. Here’s a look at the crisis.


At first, Jammeh stunned Gambians by conceding his election loss on live television. A week later, he announced he had changed his mind, saying “only Allah” could deny him victory. After taking power more than 22 years ago in a bloodless coup, Jammeh has been accused of leading a government that detains, tortures and even kills opponents. He is no stranger to striking declarations: In late 2015, he abruptly announced Gambia to be an Islamic republic. In 2013, he decided to leave the Commonwealth.

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Jammeh’s ruling party is challenging the Dec. 1 election results, saying there were irregularities in the vote, but the country’s Supreme Court says it could take months to act because it is short of judges. Jammeh has invited judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone to complete the court, but that is not expected to happen until May. It is not clear what will happen if Barrow is inaugurated next week and the court later decides in Jammeh’s favor.


An attempt on Friday by West African leaders to persuade Jammeh to change his mind and step down failed. Though diplomatic efforts continue, the Economic Community of West African States has a standby military force ready to enter Gambia if Jammeh doesn’t cede power when his mandate ends on Thursday. If the use of force is necessary, ECOWAS will seek the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council to deploy the troops, the U.N. special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, said Friday.

Gambia, a nation of 1.9 million people, is estimated to have an army of just 900 troops.


If Jammeh doesn’t step down on Thursday, whether peacefully or not — he briefly sent troops to occupy the electoral commission office during the crisis — the African Union will cease to recognize him as Gambia’s legitimate leader, the AU’s Peace and Security Council said Friday.

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