The African Union says it will cease to recognize Gambian President Yahya Jammeh as the West African country’s legitimate leader as of January 19, the date he is slated to hand power to the winner of a last month’s election. The AU’s Peace and Security Council announced the decision in a statement issued following a meeting of West African leaders in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Friday where the participants made their last-ditch effort to persuade Jammeh to accept his recent election defeat and step down.
The statement warned of “serious consequences in the event that his [Jammeh] action causes any crisis that could lead to political disorder, humanitarian and human rights disaster, including loss of innocent lives and destruction of properties.” Jammeh, who has been in power for 22 years, lost the December election to the opposition coalition’s candidate Adama Barrow by a thin margin. The veteran leader initially conceded, but later changed his mind and called for a new vote, saying he would challenge the result in the Supreme Court.
Barrow has nevertheless asserted that his inauguration will go ahead regardless of the court case. Jammeh has slammed the United Nations Security Council, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which have called on him to concede defeat in the election, for taking “unprecedented and hasty resolutions against our republic and constitution.”
The incumbent president has also ordered that “nobody be arrested or prosecuted” for acts during the pre and post election period. West African leaders have repeatedly pursued mediation to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in The Gambia. Last month, after a visit to the country, they declared that ECOWAS did not yet intend to deploy its standby military force and sought a peaceful transfer of power.
Nevertheless, if Jammeh refuses to step down by the end of January 18, when his term expires, ECOWAS may use military intervention. Jammah has already dismissed ECOWAS mediation efforts and accused the body of declaring a war against his country. The Gambia’s army announced loyalty to Jammah last week, going back on its initial pledge of allegiance to President-elect Adama Barrow.