The Gambia’s state of emergency & the responsibility to protect



Gambia’s Army Chief


Declaration of a 90-day state of emergency by President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia few days to the end of his tenure as President of that country may sound laughable; but it carries threats in tremendous proportions to lives and property of Gambian and foreigners there.


Mr. Jammeh has ruled the Gambia for the past 22 years, during which he allowed regular elections which he always won. But his recent shocking defeat in the elections took place late last year. After the elections, he conceded defeat to Adama Barrow, the winner. What was left was handing over of power to the winner scheduled for today, January 19, 2017.

One clear week after he accepted defeat in the elections however, he changed his mind, raised credibility concerns and rejected the results. He alleges that there were irregularities in the election process, including the turning away of some of his supporters from polling stations, as well as undisclosed errors made by the electoral commission.


With the declaration of the state of emergency, operation of the constitution of The Gambia has been truncated. Strangely, the National Assembly which is a creation of the constitution has extended its own tenure by 90 days and done so for the President, who should be handing over today, according to the provisions of the same constitution. The National Assembly is made up of only members of Jammeh’s party.

For those who are familiar with Mr. Jammeh’s human rights record as a leader, the state of emergency triggers fear, panic and anxiety.  It is also a big blow to the country’s tourism sector, which has become the fastest-growing sector of that country’s economy, and affectionately branded as “the smiling coast of West Africa.”


Since Mr. Jammeh rejected the results weeks ago, thousands of The Gambians, made up of women and children, have been fleeing to neighbouring countries. At least five ministers of state and members of Jammeh’s government have fled the country and issued their resignation letters once they felt safe and secure in foreign lands.

Tourists and holiday makers in the country are rushing out. Governments around the world are taking steps to evacuate their citizens from The Gambia. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has made it clear it will not tolerate the idea of Jammeh’s desire to stay in power.

Responsibility to protect

Regional body, ECOWAS, must be commended for staying on The Gambian case to ensure that transition takes place for the will of the people at the polls to be respected. Global response to the imminent chaos in The Gambia however, looks very weak. The United Nations (UN), African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) etc., are moving too slowly for comfort.

The international community needs to be reminded of the principle of the responsibility to protect adopted by the UN General Assembly. “The Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP) is a global political commitment which was endorsed by all member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

Mr. Jammeh’s human rights records are definitely bad. With his 90-day state of emergency in his pocket anything could happen to the people of The Gambia. Should the international community wait for “something” to happen before they respond? I am convinced that Mr. Jammeh does not intend to leave peacefully. The threats contained in the state of emergency statement must be taken seriously.

If persuasion fails, force must be applied.


By William Doworkpor

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