Wars and Military Conflicts

Q+A: The crisis in The Gambia


In contrast to the smooth and orderly transfer of power in the U.S., military forces had to enter the small African nation of The Gambia this week in order to help the new democratically-elected president take office.

What's happened?

The Gambia held presidential elections in December last year, in which long-term incumbent Yahya Jammeh, who has held power for 20 years, lost to opposition leader Adama Barrow.

Jammeh initially conceded his defeat. However, on December 9th, he changed his mind and rejected the result. Jammeh has declared a state of emergency and tried to get the country's Supreme Court to overrule the results of the election.

Earlier this week, several of his government's ministers resigned over his failure to concede defeat.

MOUSSA SOW | AFP | Getty Images

Why have troops entered the country?

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) gave Jammeh a deadline of January 19th to step down, otherwise they would militarily intervene unless he stepped down. The African Union added that it would stop recognizing Jammeh from the 19th.

As the deadline passed, troops from Senegal entered the country. Nigeria has also committed troops, aircraft and a warship to the mission.

Will there be much conflict?

There is unlikely to be a prolonged period of violence, according to Seán Smith, West Africa analyst at global risk analysis company Verisk Maplecroft.

"Even among the regular armed forces, there are very few people who appear willing to risk their lives for Jammeh," he told CNBC via email.

"Jammeh is completely isolated diplomatically and has very little popular legitimacy in The Gambia."

Workers prepare to remove an electoral poster of Gambia's outgoing president Yahya Jammeh on December 4, 2016.
Seyllou | AFP | Getty Images

Why did ECOWAS intervene?

Smith says it was absolutely necessary for ECOWAS to send in troops, in order to demonstrate it was serious about upholding the election results and to avoid a major embarrassment – The Gambia is the smallest state in the region.

"ECOWAS has given Jammeh multiple opportunities to avert a military intervention, but in the end it simply had to call his bluff and deploy troops," he said.

"The use of force to uphold an election result marks a historic moment for democracy in Africa. But, as the continent's smallest state, The Gambia is an exceptional case."

Where is Barrow?

After Jammeh rejected the election results, Adama Barrow was moved to a safe house for protection and was later moved into Senegal in the days before his inauguration.

He has been recognized internationally as the leader of the country. Yesterday, he was sworn-in as president in the Gambian embassy in Senegal.

How will this impact the country?

The crisis has impacted tourism, which is important to the country's economy.

"The military intervention and the crisis that Jammeh's intransigence has caused will undoubtedly hit tourism – the country's most important source of foreign revenue − for at least the next two years," said Smith.

"This will be the case even if the crisis is resolved swiftly because the evacuation of thousands of tourists has damaged The Gambia's reputation for safety and stability."

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