BANJUL, Gambia — President Yahya Jammeh once predicted that his rule could last a billion years.
Now, the fate of his nation is hanging on one more anxiety-filled day.
After acknowledging defeat in an election last month, Mr. Jammeh abruptly changed his mind, refusing to step aside for the inauguration of the new president scheduled for Thursday and threatening to drag the nation into a bloody standoff.
Mr. Jammeh, who has long been criticized for human rights abuses and grandiose claims like being able to cure AIDS with little more than prayer and a banana, has insisted on a do-over election. He declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, warning the nation not to engage in any “acts of disobedience.”
West African nations are preparing to enter the country and force Mr. Jammeh’s ouster if he does not leave. In response, Mr. Jammeh has threatened that his own military is prepared to defend Gambia’s sovereignty against foreign interference.
Senior officials in his government have resigned in protest or left the country. At least 26,000 Gambians have fled to across the border into Senegal, the United Nations says. Hundreds of tourists on beach vacations were also being evacuated by travel operators.
Now, his opponent in the election, Adama Barrow, who has retreated to Senegal but has the overwhelming support of Gambians and international leaders, is forging ahead with plans for an inauguration ceremony on Thursday, throwing continental Africa’s smallest nation into uncertainty.
“What we are simply and rightfully asking for is to return to the polls and allow Gambians to elect who they want to be their president,” Mr. Jammeh told the nation, rejecting the previous vote as riddled with irregularities.
Parliament added to the confusion on Wednesday, voting to extend Mr. Jammeh’s term for three months, state television reported, although it was not clear whether the move was binding.
“Right now all we want is for Jammeh to go,” said Lamine Ceesay, a taxi driver. “Even if they inaugurate Barrow in Jamaica or America, he is already our president. We want change. That’s all”
Dueling claims to the presidency have upended nations in the region before, coming to a violent end in Ivory Coast in 2010.
Back then, Laurent Gbagbo, the president, refused to step down after the challenger, Alassane Ouattara, won a presidential election. Mr. Gbagbo declined to vacate the presidential palace, while Mr. Ouattara was forced to hide in a hotel with United Nations peacekeepers watching over him.
The standoff led to months of turmoil and the deaths of more than 3,000 people as armed groups swept across the country and battled for control. Finally, France, the former colonial power, attacked Mr. Gbagbo’s compound and helped drive him out, culminating in his arrest in April 2011.
Many Gambians are worried about a repeat in their country. Samsudeen Sarr, Gambia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, predicted that military intervention in Gambia would lead to a similar civil war if foreign forces intervened.
“Starting a war may be easy, but the aftermath of the war is what should be our major concern,” Mr. Sarr said. “The Gambian Army has been very loyal to President Jammeh, and it should not be underestimated.”
At first, Gambia seemed on track for a surprisingly simple transition. Mr. Jammeh has stiffly ruled the nation for 22 years since seizing power in a coup. His government has prosecuted and imprisoned critics, some of whom wound up dead. Thousands of citizens have fled the country amid soaring unemployment. Threats of imprisonment have been a fact of life for years.
Barely a few hours before his mandate expires, President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia is reported to have accepted a last-minute deal to relinquish power peacefully and go into exile.
According to reports from Banjul which are yet to be independently confirmed, Mr Jammeh agreed to step down in the interest of peace and stability of the Gambia after a tense closed door meeting with the visiting president of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Reports added that Mr Jammeh will leave for Mauritania tonight with President Aziz.
It is not clear whether he will settle there permanently or move to another country.
Mr Jammeh’s mandate expires at midnight tonight after his surprised defeat in last month’s election by opposition candidate Adama Barrow.
He had vowed to cling to power after accusing the country’s electoral commission of rigging the election in favour of the opposition.
His attempt to overturn the election result at the Supreme Court has been delayed because of a shortage of judges as most of the judges come from neighbouring countries.
Neighbouring Senegal and Nigeria have threatened to storm Banjul militarily and enforce last month’s election results unless he steps down by midnight.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh is refusing to step down despite efforts to persuade him to leave office ahead of a deadline set by Senegal.
Adama Barrow is due to be inaugurated as the new president on Thursday, and West African military forces are poised to move in.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz met Mr Jammeh for last-minute talks before flying on to meet Senegal's President Macky Sall.
Mr Barrow won elections last month.
Senegalese troops remain stationed at the Gambian border, as the deadline for Mr Jammeh to stand down passed at midnight.
The threat of military action is supported by Nigeria and other states in the region.
However Gambian army chief Ousman Badjie said his troops would not fight Senegalese forces should they enter into the country, AFP news agency reports.
"We are not going to involve ourselves militarily, this is a political dispute," he said. "I am not going to involve my soldiers in a stupid fight. I love my men."
About half of those Gambians who have fled their homes have gone to Senegal
The NGO Save the Children has warned of a possible humanitarian emergency on both sides of the border between The Gambia and Senegal if the political crisis in The Gambia results in an outbreak of violence.
It quotes the UN as saying that up to 50,000 people, mostly women and children, have already left urban centres in The Gambia, with about half heading to villages in other parts of the country and half crossing the border into Senegal.
Save the Children's Bonzi Mathurin said public services could be overwhelmed:
''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 NGO said children were at increased risk of gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriage as well as disease during large scale displacements because they lose the protective environment of schools, family and community.
Health facilities in The Gambia were still operating but the majority of foreign doctors had left the country, Save the Children said.
Many schools remain closed and some that are open were advising parents to keep their children at home, it said, reports the BBC
PARIS, JANUARY 19, 2017: (DGW) NIGERIA'S Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, says President Muhammadu Buhari has exceeded his legal powers for deploying Nigerian troops in a planned operation to oust the longstanding ruler, President Yahya Jammeh.
He faulted the President's action describing it as a sheer constitutional breach for not seeking the approval of the National Assembly as provided by the constitution before deployment of troops to the West African country for a military campaign.
Nigerian troops and fighter jets were deployed in Senegal for the enforcement of a resolution of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to remove Yahya Jammeh if he refused to leave office as the president of the Gambia.
Ayodele Famuyiwa, spokesman for the Nigeria air force, on Wednesday confirmed the deployment to Senegal, as part of Nigerian contingent of Economic Community of West African States military intervention in Gambia (ECOMIG), a standby force tasked by ECOWAS heads of state to enforce the December 1, 2016, election mandate in The Gambia.
“The NAF today moved a contingent of 200 men and air assets comprising fighter jets, transport aircraft, light utility helicopter as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to Dakar from where it is expected to operate into Gambia. The deployment is also to forestall hostilities or breakdown of law and order that may result from the current political impasse in The Gambia,” he said.
However, raising a point of order on the floor of the senate on Thursday, Chukwuka Utazi, a senator from Enugu state, pointed out the illegality of the president’s action.
He said, according to the constitution, the national assembly must be briefed before troops are deployed in any country.
But Senate President Bukola Saraki only noted his argument, saying the president had at least seven days to inform the national assembly before deploying troops in a foreign country, and that that window had not elapsed.
However, Ekweremadu rose to explain that the constitution made it clear that the president must inform the national assembly before deploying troops in a foreign country – that is, before taking the action.
His argument was noted and recorded against the President in a series of previous constitutional breaches since he became president of Nigeria.
Botswana has become the first African country to announce that it no longer recognises Yahya Jammeh as president of The Gambia.
The southern African made its position known in a statement issued on Thursday. It also called on the international community to mount pressure on Jammeh to step down.
“Following Mr. Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to hand over power to the President-elect Adama Barrow, in accordance with the expressed will of the Gambian people, the Government of Botswana announces that it will no longer recognise Mr. Jammeh as the President of Gambia, together with his Government.
“This decision which takes effect immediately is consistent with Botswana’s position as articulated through the Press Release of 16th December 2016.
“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.”
Jammeh initially accepted the result of the election, but later made a U-turn, citing alleged irregularities.
Attempts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to make him accept the will of the people did not yield the desired result.
Senegal gave Jammeh up until midnight of Wednesday to end his 22-year rule, but he called the bluff of the neighbouring country, where Barrow is to be sworn in at 4pm on Thursday.
The incoming president disclosed this on Twitter.
You are all welcome to my inauguration today 4pm at The #Gambian embassy in #Dakar.
— Adama Barrow (@BarrowOfficial1) January 19, 2017
Barrow left his country amid the political crisis. He was to take the oath of office on Gambian soil, but the 90-day state of emergency declared by his rival made it impossible.
Barrow enjoys the support of continental leaders.
PARIS, JANUARY 19, 2016: (DGW) IF the reports reaching our newsroom here in the French capital of Paris is anything to go by, the Gambia's poll winner, Adama Barrow, has been reportedly sworn in at the Embassy of Gambia in Dakar, Senegal.
Mr. Adama Barrow clad in white as seen in the photographs below took his oath of office in a short ceremony before a small group of dignitaries and his family.
Reports, further, say in his capacity as the new 'President' of The Gambia, he would order an intervention force comprising the ECOWAS regional military force to oust Jammeh from power.
Below are some of the photographs emailed to our newsroom a while ago.
ATLANTA… Twenty-one clinicians specializing in child and adolescent mental health graduated today in Kakata City, Liberia, from a training developed by The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program in partnership with the Liberia Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. These graduates, the second cohort of clinicians focused on children and youth from the partnership, will provide mental health and psychosocial care in schools, clinics and other child and youth-centered settings.
The graduates add to the 187 mental health professionals previously trained in the collaboration to significantly increase access to mental health services in Liberia. Those clinicians are now working in primary care clinics and hospitals across all 15 counties to provide much needed care as the country seeks to strengthen its mental health services. The group of Liberian nurses, physician assistants, and registered midwives completed a free, six-month, Child and Adolescent Post-Basic Mental Health Training Program at the Kakata Rural Teacher Training Institute, in Margibi County, Liberia.
"Liberia is making a brighter future for all of its citizens by investing in the mental health of adults, children, and adolescents," said former U.S. First Lady and Carter Center Co-founder Rosalynn Carter.
Liberia is on course to reach its goal of expanding access to mental health care to 70 percent of the population within the next few years. Previously, this nation of 4.3 million had one psychiatrist to meet the needs of at least 300,000 Liberians suffering from mental illnesses.
Graduates of The Carter Center program passed a credentialing exam in February from the Liberian Board of Nursing and Midwifery and the Liberia Physician Assistants Association to practice as licensed mental health clinicians. This allows them to return to their counties of practice as child and adolescent mental health specialists and to practice in primary care settings that focus on children and adolescents or to begin working in school-based clinics. These graduates are also critical to Liberia's post-outbreak psycho-social response to Ebola.
"This class of graduates greatly enhances our mental health services in Liberia. The Carter Center program graduates have provided life-changing mental health and psychosocial support services throughout Liberia, especially for those facing the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic," said Dr. Bernice Dahn, Minister of Health in Liberia.
Since 2010, mental health clinicians trained by the Carter Center program have made a lasting impact in their communities by establishing new services at the ground level. Clinicians have opened 14 clinical practices in prison systems, trained nurse midwives to screen for maternal depression, treated refugees from the Ivory Coast conflict, supported the nation's first mental health consumer organization, worked in Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) and provided psychosocial supports to individuals and families affected by the Ebola virus. This new cohort of child and adolescent mental health clinicians is assisting in these efforts by providing specialized care to Liberian youth. Seven schools now have clinicians in their clinics or have regular visits by mental health clinicians.
"With every group of clinicians trained, there is enthusiasm around how they will contribute to gaps in the still emerging mental health system. As a child mental health specialist, it is a personal fulfillment to have child and adolescent health mental health providers in our workforce. We are proud to add to our specialized group of child and adolescent mental health clinicians from all over the country," said Dr. Janice Cooper, a native Liberian and project lead for the Carter Center's mental health initiative in Liberia.
The Child and Adolescent Post-Basic Mental Health Training program is part of a three-year initiative to address the psychological effects of Liberia's Ebola crisis and to promote psychosocial health in the country. The project, Supporting Psychosocial Health and Resilience in Liberia, is funded by Japan through the Japanese Social Development Fund, a trust fund administered by the World Bank. The project is expected to reach approximately 18,000 beneficiaries in Montserrado (housing Monrovia) and Margibi counties.
In addition to promoting long-term health and resilience through the newly credentialed child and adolescent mental health clinicians, the project provides support to respond to the intermediate psychosocial impact of Ebola. The Carter Center, in collaboration with Liberian stakeholders, has trained Ebola first responders in self-care, facilitated Community Healing Dialogues for Ebola-affected families, and trained health and social workers to provide community-based mental health care and family psycho-education. These and other efforts through this project offer support and capacity-building for individuals and communities affected by Ebola.
The psychological impact of more than a decade of civil conflict, which ended in 2003, has contributed to a mental health crisis in Liberia that has been intensified by: misconceptions, stigma, and the resulting discrimination surrounding mental illnesses; lack of mental health care training for health professionals; and inadequate supplies of necessary medications. The Ebola crisis exacerbated these needs.
While every Liberian county now has at least three mental health clinicians, there remains a need to build up services in places with immense treatment gaps. The largest concentration of Carter Center-trained clinicians, 56, serves a population of more than 1 million in Montserrado County, where the capital, Monrovia, is located. Outside Montserrado, the average number of mental health clinicians per county is seven. Remote counties like Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, Lofa, River Gee and Grand Kru all boast of mental health clinicians leading and shaping mental health services.
The Carter Center's Mental Health Program in Liberia is supported by contributions from individuals, governments, corporations, and foundations such as the UBS Optimus Foundation and the John P. Hussmann Foundation.