Briefing on The Gambia
Tomorrow morning (19 December), Council members are expected to receive a briefing in consultations on The Gambia from the Department of Political Affairs. This will be Council members’ third meeting on The Gambia since President Yahya Jammeh announced on 9 December that he was rejecting the results of the 1 December presidential election after initially conceding defeat to challenger Adama Barrow. Senegal has indicated that it is interested in having a press or presidential statement on the situation and recent decisions of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). At press time, a draft text had not been circulated.
Tomorrow’s meeting is expected to update members on yesterday’s summit of ECOWAS heads of state and government, which was held in Abuja, Nigeria. Recent developments in The Gambia figured prominently at the summit, which had been scheduled before the Gambian crisis. In a communiqué following the meeting, ECOWAS leaders agreed to “undertake all necessary actions to enforce the result of the election” and to guarantee president-elect Barrow’s safety and protection. Additionally, they agreed to attend Barrow’s inauguration, which needs to take place by 19 January 2017 when the mandate of the incumbent president expires. They called on the government and coalition parties to show restraint to preserve national unity and respect the will of the Gambian people as expressed in the election. In addition, there is a request for the AU and UN to endorse the decisions of the ECOWAS leaders on the situation and to support the ECOWAS mediation, which will be led by Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari.
Council members met twice on The Gambia last week. The first meeting was on Monday (12 December), and the second on Friday (16 December). During the Friday meeting, Under Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman, who had requested the meeting, updated members on the ECOWAS mission that was dispatched to The Gambia on 13 December. The mission was led by ECOWAS chair, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia), who was accompanied by presidents Buhari, Ernest Bai Koroma (Sierra Leone), and John Dramani Mahama (Ghana), as well as Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel. It seems Feltman asked Council members during the Friday session to support the outcome of the upcoming ECOWAS summit.
Following Friday’s briefing, members agreed on “press elements” which encouraged the AU and ECOWAS to pursue their efforts to avoid any deterioration in the situation, reiterated support for Chambas, and urged Jammeh to cooperate. Members reiterated their call to all parties to refrain from violence and insisted that Barrow’s security be fully ensured. Council members also expressed serious concern over the military take-over of the Independent Electoral Commission on 13 December, and urged it to vacate the premises and avoid interference in the transfer of power.
Council members are united about the importance of exhausting mediation efforts. They may want more information on the different types of options being considered by ECOWAS to enforce the results of the election if progress is not made in the mediation, and ECOWAS unity around these possibilities. ECOWAS Commissioner Marcel de Souza has said that military intervention might be considered if Jammeh is not willing to transfer power to Barrow, and Senegal has indicated that it is prepared to protect the large Senegalese population living in The Gambia. Chambas stated in a recent interview that Jammeh “under no circumstances” can continue as president once his term ends, and suggested that sanctions were a possibility. Some members may want to discuss possible options to convince Jammeh to give up power.
Members may be interested in hearing about reactions within The Gambia where Jammeh appears to be coming under some pressure. Civil society groups, including the Gambian Bar Association, Gambia Teachers Union, the Gambian press union and the Chamber of Commerce, have issued statements demanding that Jammeh step down.