Gambia Bars ECOWAS Chair?

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Government officials in Monrovia have vigorously denied a Reuters News Agency report that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), had been refused landing in The Gambia amid political instability brewing in that country.

According to Reuters, President Sirleaf on Saturday attempted going to The Gambia to meet President Yahya Jammeh on his decision to annul the December 1 election result which he had previously accepted, but her plane was prevented from landing in the presence of a large deployment of security forces.

Reuter’s quotation notes, “Yahya Jammeh has prevented the landing of the ECOWAS President’s plane, Senegalese Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye, referring to Sirleaf, told private television channel TFM.”

But a senior Liberian Government official has vigorously denied the report of the President leaving the country for The Gambia. He said President Sirleaf had not left the country as indicated in the Reuters report.

The government official however admitted that a plan had been in the works for ECOWAS Chairperson Sirleaf and the Commission Chairman, Marcel Alain de Souza, to travel to The Gambia last Saturday, but the arrangement had not been finalized.

Therefore, said the spokesperson, the two ECOWAS officials did not attempt traveling to Banjul, the Gambian capital.

An Executive Mansion official also denied the report and said President Sirleaf had been on her farm throughout the week and had made no attempt to go anywhere outside of Liberia.

President Sirleaf has meanwhile issued a statement urging President Jammeh to respect the result of the recently held election in his country.

The ECOWAS Chairperson said the reversal of his position by the Gambian President is unacceptable and threatens peace not only in The Gambia but the entire West African sub-region.

President Sirleaf said “the will of the Gambian people has been freely expressed in the exercise of their franchise, and it must be respected by all, including President Jammeh and his officials without precondition.”

She also expressed support for statements by the African Union and the United Nations, stressing that without question President Jammeh’s U-turn on his acceptance of the election result is totally unacceptable.

A statement from the Executive Mansion further quotes President Sirleaf as saying, “In this twenty-first century, leaders have no room for selectivity to accept only outcomes which give a mandate to lead and deny a result which withdraws that mandate, especially when election procedures and modalities are similarly applied. Our common commitment to the precepts in the Charters and Treaties of these regional, continental and global institutions are binding and prescribe consequences for non-compliance.”

President Jammeh on December 9, 2016 reversed his previous decision to accept the December 1, 2016 election result.

He is currently calling for reelection, which world leaders, the African Union and ECOWAS have condemned and advised him to abide by the December 1 outcome of the election.

The Gambian Government has reportedly tightened security in Banjul with barricades in the street as President Jammeh clings to the presidency, insisting that another election be held.

President-elect, Adama Barrow in a BBC interview on Saturday told his supporters to go about their normal businesses and not to give credence to the decision by outgoing President Jammeh to annul the result.

“Leaders come and go, and I myself will go when my time expires. The outgoing President must go after spending 22 years in power because the Gambian people have spoken and the result must be respected,” he stressed.

A human rights lawyer who spoke to the BBC on Saturday said Jammeh is not the one to call for reelection, but the Supreme Court that has the constitutional responsibility to probe all electoral frauds and ask the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to conduct a reelection.

According to the BBC, supporters of Jammeh expressed surprise at his recent decision to call for reelection after he had conceded earlier.

Gambia is a narrow strip of land extending into Senegal with an outlet near the Atlantic Ocean.

In the unfolding political events undermining stability in that country, Senegal’s Foreign Ministry on Friday criticized Jammeh’s reversal and condemned his call for reelection.

Foreign Ministry Ndiaye is quoted by Reuters as saying, “Senegal demands that the outgoing president unconditionally respect the democratic choice freely expressed by the Gambian people.”


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