At first, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s accepted defeat in the December 1, 2016 election to Adama Barrow. It appeared that Gambia would experience a rare peaceful transfer of power. Jammeh seized the presidency as a 29-year-old Army officer in a 1994 coup d’état and had ruled the country for 23 years. However, on December 5, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), citing arithmetic errors discovered in their review of the results, amended the results which narrowed Barrow’s overall victory margin from 9% to 4%. The final results are shown below:
Barrow 222,708 (43.3%)
Jammeh 208,487 (39.6%)
Mana Kandeh 89,768 votes (17.1%)
Ironically, Jammeh removed the provision of the constitution to have a second round if a majority was not received by one candidate in the first round. If he had not done that, he may have won again. Also, Mana Kandeh was said to be unqualified to be president, but Jammeh insisted he run in his attempt to split the opposition vote. Another reason cited for his loss was that he vilified the Mandinka, the country’s largest ethnic group, describing them as rats. During his rule, he has been accused of detaining, torturing and killing political opponents.
In response to the announcement of the amended results, Jammeh changed his mind and refused to concede. As he stated, “After a thorough investigation, I have decided to reject the outcome of the recent election”. He ruled out a recount. His political party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), filed a petition with the Supreme Court requesting the annulment of the results based upon the amending of the final results by the electoral commission and the intimidation of his supporters in one region, allegedly suppressing their turnout. But, not waiting for the Supreme Court decision, Gambia security forces took over the offices of the electoral commission in Banjul and instructed staff to leave while barring other staff from entering the building.
The international response to Jammeh’s refusal to concede was swift and unanimous in its call for him to step down. The UN Security Council issued a statement calling for Jammeh to respect the December 1 election results. Also, similar communiqués were issued from the African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and UN office for West Africa and the Sahel. On December 12, the AU Peace and Security Council recognized Barrow as the new president. In addition, ECOWAS issued a statement that the organizations would “take all necessary actions to enforce the results”, including a military intervention. Jammeh condemned ECOWAS for “meddling” in Gambia’s affairs.
To complicate matters, on January 18, the Gambian parliament voted to extend Jammeh’s term by three months, coming just one day after the President declared a three-month state of emergency.
On January 19, ECOWAS sent a contingent of West African troops to The Gambia to remove the president and keep order, if talks to him to step down were not successful. The troops remained outside of the capital of Banjul. Assets from the Nigerian Air Force were moved to the Senegalese border with The Gambia as well. That same day, Barrow was sworn in at the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.
Events moved quickly from that point, and on January 20, Jammeh agreed to concede the election. This agreement was first revealed by a tweet sent from President Barrow where he states “I would like to inform you that Yahya Jammeh agreed to relinquish power and leave the country”. This action concluded talks which were ongoing with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Guinea President Alpha Conde to convince Jammeh to recognize the results and step down.
President Barrow has not ruled out giving amnesty to Jammeh for this alleged crimes, but stated that he would only make that decision once he returned to The Gambia and established his administration. Jammeh has been offered asylum in Nigeria and Morocco, but there is no word yet on his next destination.
This episode marks a rare confluence of tactics and motives in electoral violence prevention. First, Jammeh did not hesitate to use Gambian security forces against Gambian election authorities in the occupation of the of the electoral commission building. It represented a kind of internecine use of violence to influence the election results. And, second, the threat of an ECOWAS military action to remove the president of a member state appeared to be a decision factor, when combined with the high-level negotiations which would place in the president palace. However, while the military operation was termed Operation Restoring Democracy, the use of such an intervention tactics to enforce election outcomes should be exceptional because of the risks and precedents which it presents to the long-term perceptions of the efficacy of electoral democracy. It poses the dilemma of distinguishing a “good” use of violence to achieve a political objective, compared with a “bad” use of violence for similar purposes.
January 21, 2017