Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said a standoff with neighboring West African states over his refusal to step aside after losing December’s election will escalate into war if the alliance doesn’t back down from its stance.
Speaking in a televised New Year’s address, Jammeh said a vow by the Economic Community of West African States to take “all necessary actions” to enforce the Dec. 2 election results violates a principle of “non-interference” and is “in effect a declaration of war.” He said the stance would disqualify member countries from brokering any mediation between the president and opposition leader Adama Barrow, who was declared the election winner.“Let me make it very clear that we are ready to defend this country against any aggression and there will be no compromise,” he said. “Defending our sovereignty and total independence of our country is a sacred duty of all patriotic Gambians, moreso of the Gambian Armed Forces.”
Jammeh reversed himself last month after initially accepting Barrow’s victory, then a few days later reject the results as illegitimate. The 51-year-old leader has called for a new vote after the Independent Electoral Commission summoned political leaders on Dec. 5 to flag tally errors in the original results.
“What we are simply and rightly asking for is a return to the polls and allow the Gambians to elect who they want to be their president in a free and fair election,” Jammeh said.
At a Dec. 17 meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Ecowas leaders agreed to guarantee the safety of Barrow and to appoint Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his Ghanaian counterpart, John Mahama, as mediators. It also called on the African Union and the United Nations to support the block’s initiatives.
Jammeh won landslide victories in four previous polls after seizing power in a 1994 coup at the age of 29. He has been criticized by human rights groups for brutally stifling dissent. His leadership style has been marked by bellicose statements and claims of extraordinary powers: Jammeh has said he could cure AIDS and infertility, and has proclaimed himself a doctor as well as a professor.