Friday 20 September 2019

West African leaders pledge to enforce Gambian election upset

Businessman Adama Barrow was the unexpected winner of Gambia's election (AP)
Businessman Adama Barrow was the unexpected winner of Gambia's election (AP)

West African leaders have promised to enforce the results of a Gambian election won by a little-known businessman backed by an opposition coalition, but rejected by the country's long-time coup leader.

A summit of the Economic Community of West African States in Abuja, Nigeria, ended with all leaders stating they would attend the January 19 inauguration of Gambia's new president Adama Barrow.

They also pledged to "guarantee the safety and protection of the president-elect", who has said he fears for his life.

Gambia's strongman president Yahya Jammeh surprised the nation by conceding defeat the day after the December 1 vote - then changed his mind and called for a new election.

The move has been condemned by the United Nations, the United States and the African Union.

The Abuja summit, attended by 11 presidents with Jammeh absent, agreed "to take all necessary actions to enforce the results" of the Gambian election and called for Jammeh to accept the results and refrain from compromising a peaceful handover of power.

A new deployment of soldiers across the country risked increased intimidation and harassment, UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warned.

"This is deeply worrying, given the record of human rights violations in Gambia, including excessive use of force against demonstrators, arbitrary detention and deaths in custody, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees," he said.

The summit named a mediation committee headed by Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari with Ghana's president John Dramani Mahama, who conceded defeat in an election a few days after Gambia's, as his deputy. It was Ghana's first electoral defeat of a sitting president.

The president of the West African community, Marcel de Souza, said this week that if diplomacy failed, a military intervention and "draconian measures" must be considered for Gambia.

Jammeh's defiance challenges the first regional community in the world to agree to military interventions in member states accused of abusing human rights and democratic principles. It has spent 25 years nurturing democracy in a region once prone to military coups.

Jammeh acted after an opposition coalition official said he should be prosecuted for human rights abuses.

He used the excuse of errors in the vote tally, ignoring the country's Independent Electoral Commission, which said the winner remains Mr Barrow with a revised count of 227,708 votes to Jammeh's 208,487.

The ruling party filed a court challenge against the results on Tuesday, a constitutional move complicated by the fact that Gambia's Supreme Court does not have a quorum.

The United States said it doubted it was "a credible court dedicated to ensuring the integrity of Gambia's democratic process".

On Tuesday Jammeh sent troops to take over the electoral commission's office in the capital Banjul, shortly before a delegation of West African leaders arrived on an inconclusive mission.

Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 in the country of 1.9 million people known for its beaches.


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