A humanitarian crisis appears imminent as thousands of Gambians are fleeing their country ahead of the January 19 deadline for incumbent president Yahya Jammeh to hand over to power to newly elected president Adama Barrow.
The international charity, Save the Children, has warned of a possible humanitarian emergency on both sides of the border between Gambia and Senegal if the political crisis in The Gambia results in an outbreak of violence, the BBC reports.
The UN estimates that up to 50,000 people, most of them women and children, have fled major urban centres in The Gambia, including the capital Banjul and Serekendou, the commercial nerve centre. About a half of that number are headed inland into villages in other parts of the country with the other half crossing the border into Senegal.
A spokesman for Save the Children, Bonzi Mathurin is quoted as saying, “Migration between Gambia and Senegal has always been relatively fluid because often people have family members on both sides of the border. However, any sudden mass movement of people would simply overwhelm public services which are already struggling and raise the possibility of a humanitarian emergency.”
The BBC reports that the NGO has cautioned that children and other vulnerable groups in periods of social upheavals such as in the Gambia presently, face an increased risk of exploitation including gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriage. They also face an increased exposure to disease due to the large scale displacements which cause them to lose the protective environment of school, family and community.
Meanwhile the UN is scheduled to vote Thursday on a draft resolution on whether to support a west African regional force that has announced plans to oust Jammeh if he remains in power beyond the January 19 deadline.
Also in response to the ongoing political impasse in The Gambia, Botswana, one of the shinning models of democratic ideals and all round development in Africa, has issued a statement announcing that it no longer recognises Yahya Jammeh as Gambia’s leader.
Botswana, in the statement said: “Mr Jammeh’s decision not to respect the will of the Gambian people undermines the ongoing efforts to consolidate democracy and good governance in The Gambia and Africa as a whole. This is also in direct contravention of the spirit and aspirations of the African Union Constitutive Act.”
“The Government of Botswana therefore continues to appeal to the international community to do all within its power to exert pressure on Mr Jammeh to hand over power in order to ensure a smooth transition.”
After more than 2 decades in power, Gambian strongman Yahya Jammeh lost the December 1st presidential election in a shocking defeat to political newcomer and property developer Adama Barrow. Jammeh both surprised and impressed many when he graciously accepted defeat and congratulated Mr. Barrow, only for him to make an about turn days later when he annulled the election citing spurious irregularities.
A UN backed Ecowas ultimatum requiring Jammeh to step aside or risk being removed forcefully on or before Friday, 12.00 local time has passed. There is however yet no sign that the Gambian strongman has relinquished his more than 2-decade hold on power in The Gambia.
Instead, Jammeh in negotiations with the Ecowas on Thursday made a number of demands without which he would not quit office, including an amnesty for all crimes he may have committed during his 22 years in office and that he be permitted to remain in the Gambia in his home village of Kanilai, according to AP reports. Ecowas Commission Chairman Marcel Alain de Souza has described the demands as “not acceptable.”
A series of last minute negotiations being brokered by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdul Aziz and Guinean President Alpha Conde are currently ongoing to fashion out a soft landing for Jammeh. Mauritania has already offered to grant Jammeh asylum if he decides to go into exile.
Reports say troops from the west African region led by Senegal had advanced into Gambia Thursday. The Ghanaian army announced it was sending in a contingent of 200 ground forces, with Nigeria also contributing a similar number.