Buhari, Sirleaf, Mahama arrive Gambia

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President Buhari with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President Buhari with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Gambia

West African heads of state arrived  in Gambia on Tuesday to try to convince the long-ruling President Yahya Jammeh to relinquish power after losing an election this month.

President Muhammadu Buhari arrived Banjul, The Gambia this morning to meet with the country’s President Yahya Jammeh, who lost the presidential election penultimate week.

The Nigerian leader, who arrived together with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, who is the current Chairperson of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, and President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra-Leone, were received at the airport by Gambia’s Vice-President,  Isatou Njie-Saidy.

The out-going President of Ghana, John Mahama, who had earlier arrived Banjul, will join the other West African leaders to meet President Jammeh at the CoCo Ocean Resort and Spa, Banjul.

Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma was due to join the group later.

President John Mahama of Ghana, right, on arrival in Banjul
President John Mahama of Ghana, right, on arrival in Banjul

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel  peace laureate and chair of ECOWAS, was leading the delegation of West African leaders, a statement from her office said. She also arrived early for the crisis talks with Jammeh.

Absent from Tuesday’s delegation is neighbouring Senegal which entirely engulfs the riverside nation and has a history of poor relations with Gambia.

Adama Barrow: Gambia's president elect
Adama Barrow: Gambia’s president elect

President Buhari and the ECOWAS leaders will discuss the ensuing impasse in The Gambia with President Jammeh, and insist on the sanctity of the electoral process, and respect for the wishes of the people.

They would also ask their host to respect the Constitution of his own country, and maintain the inviolability of an electoral process that had been concluded, and in which he had admitted defeat, and congratulated his main challenger.

The leaders are also scheduled to meet the President-elect, Adama Barrow.

Jammeh, who seized power in a coup in 1994 and earned the reputation as a repressive leader, had conceded defeat to opponent Adama Barrow, prompting wild celebrations in the country of 1.8 million after the Dec. 1 election.

However, he changed his mind a week later, citing irregularities in the official results, which were corrected to show a victory margin of fewer than 20,000 votes for Barrow.

Jammeh’s U-turn has prompted sharp criticism from the United States, the United Nations, regional body ECOWAS and even the African Union, which typically takes a softer line.

Diplomats in the region say that if Jammeh seeks to cling to power after negotiations fail, neighbours might consider options for removing him by force.

Marcel de Souza, president of the ECOWAS commission, told Radio France International on Monday that sending troops was “a conceivable solution”.

Senegal sent troops there during a coup in 1981 and some officials suspect Jammeh of sponsoring a rebellion in its southern Casamance region. Senegal’s Foreign Ministry called Tuesday’s trip a “last chance mission” for Gambia’s President.

However, the AU said in a statement late on Monday that it also planned to send a high-level delegation led by Chad’s long-ruling President Idriss Deby to facilitate a “peaceful and speedy” transfer of power.

The streets of the capital Banjul were calm on Tuesday, with a high-security presence, witnesses said.

Armed guards surrounded a hotel where the delegation was due to meet Barrow, who has said he would annul Jammeh’s declaration of Gambia as an Islamic republic, later on Tuesday.


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