President Muhammadu Buhari, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, who is the current chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, arrived this morning in Banjul, capital of the Gambia, for talks aimed at averting chaos and violence in the impoverished West African country.
Earlier, Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama, who was last week defeated in a presidential election, had arrived in Banjul to join the peace effort by President Buhari and the other leaders. A source told SaharaReporters that President Idris Derby of Chad should join the high-powered UN/AU/ECOWAS delegation later today.
The Gambia was thrown into uncertainty after the country’s longtime ruler, Yahya Jammeh, who had conceded his defeat in a presidential election held a week and a half ago, suddenly reversed course a few days ago, alleging in a national broadcast that the elections had been rigged.
Mr. Jammeh also demanded fresh polls to be conducted by what he called an impartial and “God-fearing” electoral commission.
A statement issued today by President Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, disclosed that the visiting West African leaders would meet President Jammeh, who first came to power in a military putsch in 1994, at the CoCo Ocean Resort and Spa, Banjul.
In a break with protocol, Mr. Jammeh failed to be at the airport in Banjul to welcome the visiting leaders. Instead, he sent Gambian Vice President, Isatou Njie-Saidy, to receive Mr. Buhari and the other West African heads of state. A source close to President Buhari told SaharaReporters that the Nigerian leader, who has close personal relationship with the mercurial Gambian president, was “slightly taken aback” by Mr. Jammeh’s absence at the Banjul airport to welcome the visiting delegation.
In a sign that the peace talks may not go smoothly, Gambian and Nigerian sources told SaharaReporters that Mr. Jammeh has been demanding a power-sharing arrangement with the winner of the presidential election, Adama Barrow. But a spokesman for Mr. Barrow, a businessman, told SaharaReporters, “The Gambian people made a clear choice in the recent elections. Their choice did not include a scenario where outgoing President Yahya Jammeh would remain in power, even in a partial capacity. So we are not going to entertain the idea of sharing power.”
President Buhari and the ECOWAS delegation appear to share the same sentiment. Mr. Adesina’s statement disclosed, “President Buhari and the ECOWAS leaders will discuss the ensuing impasse in The Gambia with President Jammeh, and insist on the sanctity of the electoral process, and respect for the wishes of the people.”
The statement added that the visiting team of presidents “would also ask their host to respect the Constitution of his own country, and maintain the inviolability of an electoral process that had been concluded, and in which he had admitted defeat, and congratulated his main challenger.”
A prominent Gambian opposition politician told SaharaReporters that Mr. Jammeh’s response to the entreaty of the visiting West African leaders could shape the political atmosphere in the beleaguered Gambia. “If Jammeh remains intransigent after talks with the ECOWAS leaders, then this country [the Gambia] may inch closer to bloodshed that would do nobody, least of all President Jammeh, any good,” said the politician.
Mr. Adesina disclosed that Mr. Buhari and the visiting heads of state “are also scheduled to meet the President-elect, Adama Barrow.”