Briefing on The Gambia in Consultations
This morning, Council members will be briefed on developments in The Gambia by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman in consultations. On Saturday (10 December), Council members issued a press statement that condemned President Yahya Jammeh’s announcement on Friday (9 December) that he would no longer accept the results of The Gambia’s 1 December presidential election after having initially conceded defeat to challenger Adama Barrow.
Senegal requested an emergency session of the Council upon Jammeh’s announcement. However, Spain, as Council president, and Senegal agreed that it would be better for the Council to first send a strong message in response to Jammeh’s reversal through a press statement and wait for more information on developments before holding a meeting.
The session is expected to bring Council members up-to-date on developments over the weekend. Jammeh, who has led The Gambia for 22 years, and whose rule has been criticised for widespread human rights violations, including the violent suppression of opposition protests this spring, initially surprised the international community by his willingness to accept the results. However, after recounting the provisional election results, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced on 5 December that a tabulation error had been made in tallying the votes in some administrative areas. The corrected results following the recount showed a reduction in Barrow’s margin of victory from 50,000 as initially reported to under 20,000. Jammeh announced in a televised address that he was rejecting the results and calling for a new election due to this error, along with other irregularities, such as mistakes by the IEC that resulted in registered voters being unable to vote. On Saturday evening, it was reported that Jammeh’s party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), had filed a petition with the Supreme Court challenging the outcome. The head of the IEC, Alieu Momarr Njai, has said that the results are correct. In the meantime, Barrow has expressed concern for his safety.
Feltman is expected to provide an overview on diplomatic efforts, including those of Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to West Africa and the Sahel and head of the UN regional office, UNOWAS. Chambas was in The Gambia shortly after the election on 3 December, his third visit to the country this year, to discuss the way forward with Barrow and other interlocutors.
The Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), the AU and the UN issued a joint statement calling on the Gambian government to abide by its constitutional responsibilities and affirming that “It is fundamental that the verdict of the ballots should be respected and that the security of the president-elect Adama Barrow, and that of Gambian citizens be fully ensured.” (The ECOWAS, AU and the UN Secretary-General have also all issued separate statements.) ECOWAS chairperson Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf attempted to travel to The Gambia on Saturday but was denied entry by the government. It has been reported that a joint ECOWAS-AU-UN mission is planning to go to The Gambia tomorrow, and members may be interested in more information on this mission. Some members may highlight the importance of coordinating the efforts of the UN, AU and ECOWAS, and ask about opportunities for interlocutors to help resolve Jammeh’s claims and concerns about errors committed by the IEC.
In this regard, members may seek greater clarity about The Gambia’s electoral laws, rules for certifying the results and the appeal process to the Supreme Court. There is no sitting Supreme Court in The Gambia, though there is currently a chief justice. It seems that it might be necessary to appoint more judges in order to hear Jammeh’s complaint.
Members may further discuss how the Council should continue to support efforts to resolve the situation. Their press statement on Saturday called on Jammeh to “respect the choice of the sovereign people of Gambia, as he did on 2 December 2016, and to transfer, without condition and undue delay, power to the President-elect, Mr. Adama Barrow”. While much of the language in the initial draft circulated by Senegal was retained, language expressing the Council’s willingness to consider taking necessary measures against spoilers was not accepted. Senegal was also concerned about initiatives to resolve the situation through the courts since Jammeh controls the justice system and was sceptical that the UN’s good offices efforts would be particularly effective since Jammeh was unlikely to be cooperative.
A statement issued by Senegal’s foreign ministry said that it considered Jammeh’s declaration “to be null and void” and demanded that he “unconditionally respect the democratic choice freely expressed by the Gambian people”. It further warned against any interference with the safety of Senegalese nationals living in The Gambia, while urging ECOWAS, the AU and the UN to work together to safeguard the election results.