Gambian Leader Jammeh Declares State of Emergency, Days Before New President to be Sworn In

Some celebrated when Adama Barrow won the elections, but there are fears of possible violence now. Getty Images

A political crisis is growing in The Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh, whose term in office expires on Thursday, Jan. 19, has declared a state of emergency after refusing to admit defeat in last month’s elections.

What is the significance of the state of emergency?
Jammeh’s declaration of a state of emergency has raised the stakes in his battle to remain in power. The outgoing Gambian president said the state of emergency would prevent a power vacuum while the Supreme Court considered his legal challenge to December’s election result. However, the high court cannot sit until at least May, due to a lack of judges, who must be provided by The Gambia’s West African neighbors.

Analysts said the move clearly signaled Jammeh’s rejection of mediation efforts and his intention to continue governing after his term ends.

Where does this leave election winner Adama Barrow?
Barrow, who is in neighboring Senegal, said before the declaration of the state of emergency that his inauguration would go ahead on Thursday on Gambian territory as planned. The plan was for the swearing-in ceremony to take place at the National Stadium in Bakau but, given Jammeh’s latest move, those plans are in doubt.

There also has been no word on who would conduct the swearing-in of Barrow, a function usually handled by the country’s chief justice. However, lawyers say that, under the Gambian constitution, it can be carried out by a commissioner of oaths.

How are the Gambian people reacting?
Tension is high in the Gambian capital of Banjul over concerns that the political conflict will continue to escalate. Checkpoints across the city are being manned by heavily armed security forces. Thousands of people have fled to neighboring countries or rural areas, fearing that violence may erupt. Before the declaration of the state of emergency, Barrow’s coalition urged Gambians to “exercise restraint, observe the rule of law and not to respond to provocation.”

The BBC’s Umaru Fofana, who is in Banjul, says people there are petrified. They are stocking up on food and water and everyone is praying for a peaceful resolution, he says.

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