Mali’s president has called for Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh to step down and avoid an unnecessary “bloodbath” by clinging to power and forcing a potential military intervention. The Gambia’s political crisis dominated a summit co-organised by Mali and France as Gambian president-elect Adama Barrow made a surprise appearance to meet with west African leaders seeking their help to end the impasse. “On January 19, I dare to hope that African wisdom will convince our brother (Jammeh) that the good Muslim that he claims to be understands the greater good for The Gambia, which does not need a bloodbath,” President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita yesterday told journalists.
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Barrow is expected to take power on January 19 when Jammeh’s mandate runs out, but the strongman has refused to cede power after disputing the result of a December 1 election won by Barrow. Barrow flew to Bamako unexpectedly on Friday after holding crisis talks in Banjul with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ghana’s John Mahama.
Malian and Ghanaian sources confirmed to AFP heads of state had also received Barrow on the margins of the summit. The leaders of at least 30 nations had gathered in Bamako to discuss jihad on the continent and Africa’s impact on the European migrant crisis — but the Gambian crisis ended up topping the agenda. The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-nation bloc, has repeatedly called on Jammeh to respect the result of the vote and leave after 22 years in power.
The spectre of a military intervention rose after declarations by the United Nations and African Union in recent days that boots on the ground could get the green light without a rapid resolution of the crisis. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, said on Friday that ECOWAS would ask the Security Council to approve the deployment of troops to The Gambia if Jammeh continues to refuse to leave office.
ECOWAS has made clear in the past force will not be ruled out as a last resort.
Meanwhile, west African defence chiefs met in Abuja to discuss the crisis, Nigeria’s chief of defence staff said, “as part of efforts to mitigate the political impasse,” notably including neighbouring Senegal. In a sign of Barrow’s growing international clout, French President Francois Hollande met the president-elect and was pictured shaking his hand. There are just four days left of Jammeh’s five-year term, but he warned the international community on Tuesday that “undue external interference” was unnecessary.
Jammeh has said he will not stand aside until the country’s Supreme Court decides on his legal challenge seeking to annul the result of last month’s polls, which he had initially conceded. The ruling however is unlikely to happen before May. It was Hollande’s last trip to Africa as president before his term ends, and Keita described him as the “most loyal” of French presidents to the continent.