Two Presidents for one country: A day Gambians will never forget !

Jammeh: I am not a coward. My right cannot be intimidated and violated. This is my position. Nobody can deprive me of that victory!Barrow: This is a victory for the Gambian nation. Our national flag will fly high among those of the most democratic nations of the world.

Barrow: This is a victory for the Gambian nation. Our national flag will fly high among those of the most democratic nations of the world.


Jammeh congratulating Barrow on his victory

On December 1st, 2016, Mr. Adama Barrow was declared the winner of The Gambian Presidential elections by the electoral commission of the West-African country. The Outgoing-President, Yahya Jammeh, initially acknowledged Barrow as the winner, but later rejected the results stating irregularities and filed a legal challenge. The results were indeed revised by the electoral commission on December 5th, when it emerged that the ballots for one area were added incorrectly, swelling Barrow’s vote. The error, which also added votes to the other candidates, “has not changed the status quo” of the result, the commission said. However, it narrowed Mr. Barrow’s margin of victory from 9% to 3,7%. This is a non-negligible difference for a country of only 1.849 million (World Bank 2013), especially when Barrow ended up winning with 43,3%. Does this mean that more than half of the country’s population might have voted against him? Well, one thing is certain, the army has recently pledged support to the Outgoing-President and the Supreme Court is due to hear an election petition filed by Jammeh’s party in respect of Article 49 of the Gambian’s Constitution. Gambia has been in a political impasse since then and the population is held hostage of this fight between two men with different kinds of support. A recurrent situation in the region!

Indeed, a similar situation happened a few years ago in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), when President Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner of the Presidential elections against the then Outgoing-President Laurent Gbagbo. I can remember the day when Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo both were inaugurated as Presidents. It was on December 4, 2010. Huge contestations immediately gained the country and until this day an important number of people, including some members of the military, continue to pressurize the current government which they think illegitimate. After multiple civil unrests, the government is desperately negotiating to maintain a peaceful climate within the country.


Barrow being sworn-in as President at the Gambian embassy in Dakar on January 19, 2017

Few miles away, Mr. Adama Barrow is being sworn in as Gambia’s new president in the country’s embassy in the neighboring Senegal. The fact that regional leaders from the ECOWAS bloc (West African countries) have decided to organize President-elect Barrow’s inauguration in a foreign country, with their regional army standing by the borders of The Gambia threatening to invade the country, completely undermines the mandate of our continental institutions who were at a time respectful of the principles of sovereignty, democracy and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Recent developments

President Jammeh refused to hand over executive powers following the expiration of his mandate on January 18. However, before the end of this deadline, he fired few country’s Ambassadors, including the Head of Gambia’s mission to Senegal, declared a national state of emergency, and yesterday Gambia’s national assembly approved a resolution to extend his term by 90 days. Has ECOWAS abode by the rules when allowing Barrow’s Presidential Inauguration to take place in such conditions?  What is the legal basis of this decision? And, what impact will this have on the future of The Gambia and the rest of African countries, which for a clear majority will have their own Presidential elections between now and next year?

While some might argue that an embassy represents another country’s authority within a foreign territory, part of its mission is to advance and promote the interests of the country it represents. An embassy ought to act as the representative of a nation’s executive within a foreign country, under the authority of the government of the sending country. Outgoing-President Jammeh has posed acts, such as the recalling of the Ambassador, that show that he was still the Head of The Gambia’s diplomacy. Further, can the president of the electoral commission preside such ceremony in the absence of representatives of the three constitutional branches of the Gambia? Does that mean that Gambians are currently living in a country without government, legislative or judiciary branches?

According to the Nigerian foreign Minister, “the swearing-in of Barrow and subsequent international recognition will legitimize possible assistance from other countries”. On the other hand, this seems to be a clear act of interference that undermines the sovereignty of The Gambia. The question of the legitimacy might emerge again, this time on Barrow’s side.

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