With less than two weeks to inaugurate Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow, there are reports of former President Charles Taylor’s once feared director of elite security service resurfacing in that tiny West African nation with suspected mercenaries, who he has reportedly recruited and trained to back President Yahya Jammeh’s special forces.
Jammeh faces a deadline to hand over power to his elected successor. If he misses it, he faces the threat of a military intervention by regional ECOWAS forces, Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at the Chatham House think tank in the UK has told Radio Deutsche Welle in an interview with Jane Ayeko-Kümmeth.
The Africa Program at Chatham House develops independent policy-focused research on issues affecting individual states of Africa, the African continent as a whole and relations in the international system. By working with the best international researchers on African politics, Chatham House offers reliable and independent research which is published globally.
According to Mr. Vines, with that situation looming, tension is mounting in The Gambia as the January 19 deadline for the President to hand over power to his elected successor Adama Barrow looms.
Earlier last week, Gambia’s army Chief General Ousman Badjie pledged his loyalty to Jammeh, who has refused to accept defeat in the election held on December 1, 2016.
Alex Vines: “The decision of the general to support President Jammeh is unsurprising. The military – some of them – are very insecure; particularly after one of the aides to Barrow suggested that they would prosecute President Jammeh within a year and suggested that people around him might also be indexed. That has frightened the military as well as having frightened Jammeh. The question is what is going to happen now in terms of ECOWAS’s calculations. ECOWAS, I think, will continue to focus on the need for a peaceful transition of power on January 19, which is the last day that Jammeh is legitimately president of Gambia. ECOWAS will wait until then and there will be more shuttle diplomacy, but it’s been very clear-backed up by a statement from the UN Security Council, the African Union and ECOWAS – the Economic Community of West African States – that President Jammeh needs to recognize the election result and transfer power. That hasn’t changed.”
Vines says Gen. Badjie has some support, “but not whole support,” and thinks that it is really the question in The Gambia, adding, “If there were to be an ECOWAS intervention, which is a possible scenario now with military support probably vanguarded by Senegal, one wonders how united the Gambian military would be, let alone its ability to combat an ECOWAS-disciplined force entering the country. At the moment the stakes rise, I imagine there will be a lot of shuttle diplomacy by the region and the UN to try and find a soft-landing option for President Jammeh and I think that is where the focus will be now. It will be buttressed by strong diplomatic language. So this is a bit like a game of chess at the moment. But January 19 really is the key date and that’s the one that everybody is looking at.
“This is real politics and people can move their loyalties, but at the moment that is where his loyalty lies. I imagine, though, that there is a lot of fluidity here. There is a lot of rumor and hearsay, speculation that mercenaries, including people who fought for the [Charles] Taylor regime in the last decade, people like Benjamin Diah Yeaten, have moved into Gambia. Who knows? But there is a lot of uncertainty as we move towards this tripwire date of January 19,” Vines said.
He said there is fear. Everybody is fearful to the extent that Barrow and his supporters are fearful. The head of the Electoral Commission is fearful and has gone into hiding, left the country, and President Jammeh and his supporters are fearful. “So there is an issue here of how to build up trust and provide a soft exit for this stand-off, because Gambia can ill-afford instability.
Meanwhile it has been reported that a former notorious Liberian rebel commander Benjamin Yeaten has resurfaced in The Gambia with unspecified number of ex-fighters to provide protection for President Jammeh in case there should be any military action from ECOWAS, a situation that has created serious concern in Liberia.
Liberia Police Director Gregory Coleman has therefore assured Liberians that there was no need to worry about the report, “because we are carefully studying The Gambian situation with eagle eyes.”
Coleman told this newspaper via mobile phone late yesterday that the Liberian National Police (LNP) was collaborating with other security sectors including their international partners to review reports of Liberians allegedly involved in The Gambia’s election drama.
A local daily reported recently that Mr. Yeaten has over the past months been secretly recruiting ex-fighters, mainly from the defunct rebel groups of National Patriotic Front of Liberia and the United Liberation Movement (ULIMO) to provide a makeshift corridor for Jammeh.
Yeaten, alias 50, is among the most feared bodyguards of former President Taylor who is currently serving a 50-year prison term in the UK for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Yeaten, former chief of staff of the disbanded anti-terrorist unit (ATU), has been on the run since he escaped from Liberia in 2003.
Believed to be residing in West Africa, it was recently reported that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was close to arresting him from his hideout, reportedly in Togo.
The FBI Dragnet
For years, Benjamin Yeaten has been eluding justice for crimes he reportedly committed during Liberia’s civil war. There are reports that he has been hiding between The Gambia and Togo, hoping that he would be shielded by the leaders of the two countries.
Now it seems the FBI is closing in on Yeaten and there are reports that the bureau is negotiating with the government of Togo in a bid to turn him over for crimes he allegedly committed in Liberia.
Sources hinted The Daily Observer that the FBI has been negotiating with the Togolese government for some time so that they would turn Yeaten over.
However, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé is reported to be unenthusiastic about the request. But our sources indicated that pressure has been mounting on Gnassingbé to make a decision on Yeaten, who is reportedly training his special body guards on guerrilla tactics and other warfare maneuvers.