By Saikou Kalleh and Alpha Kamara
BANJUL, Gambia and DAKAR, Senegal
Gambian President-elect Adama Barrow landed in neighboring Senegal Sunday where he will remain until his planned inauguration this Thursday, Senegalese media reported, following a meeting with West African leaders in the Malian capital, Bamako.
A cloud hangs over Barrow’s expected inauguration, as Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s longtime strongman president, has refused to accept his defeat in last month’s elections, ignoring a chorus of regional and international leaders imploring him to step down peacefully.
Senegalese President Macky Sall accepted a request to host Barrow in Dakar "until his inauguration," the official Senegalese news agency, APS, reported.
"The Senegalese president accepted the request of his Liberian counterpart Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the current president of ECOWAS,” the regional economic bloc, said APS.
Barrow’s spokesperson Halifa Sallah declined to comment on Barrow’s overnight stop in Senegal, saying that they are waiting for an ECOWAS communiqué from Mali before commenting.
Sallah added, however, that their plans for Barrow’s “inauguration goes on as far as we are concerned…. There is nothing stopping that.”
Failed mediation, thousands flee
Meanwhile, Gambians have started fleeing the country amid rising tensions and fears of military intervention. Security officials in Senegal, Gambia’s much larger neighbor which encircles it on three sides, have confirmed to Anadolu Agency that thousands have crossed the border since the crisis began.
Thousands were also confirmed to have fled to neighboring Guinea Bissau and Guinea as the Dec. 19 inauguration nears and the streets of the capital Banjul empty out.
Barrow flew to the Malian capital Bamako to attend the Africa-France summit after West African leaders failed to convince Jammeh to cede power on Friday.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Liberia’s Johnson Sirleaf, and former Ghanaian President John Mahama have tried to mediate the crisis twice in person, without success.
The leaders of at least 30 nations gathered in Bamako to discuss a number of issues, but Gambia's political impasse dominated events.
Jammeh has vowed that he will not stand aside until the country's Supreme Court rules on his petition to annul the election results.
Jammeh said he has a strong case that the electoral process was tainted with “unacceptable anomalies,” but a ruling on his challenge is unlikely before May.
Threat of military action
The regional leaders have made their position clear that they will use all means necessary to ensure that Jammeh steps down when his term expires on Jan. 19.
Already the regional leaders are preparing for the use of military force, and Saturday the Nigerian chief of Defence Staff, Abayomi Olonisakin, hosted colleagues from other West African countries as ECOWAS steps up preparation to oust Jammeh if he fails to cede power.
Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters said on its website that attending the event were the chair of ECOWAS Chief of Defence Staffs, Liberian Brigadier Gen. Daniel Ziankahn, as well as Senegal’s CH Gueye, ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs Hajiya Salamatu, Ghana’s chief of Defence Staff, and numerous other officers from various service branches.
Jammeh, the nation’s president for 22 years, has vowed to defend Gambia against “external aggression,” and recent military activities such as the placement of sandbags in strategic positions suggest his preparation to face a regional army.
The Gambian Bar Association has warned that under Gambian law, any attempt to stop Barrow’s inauguration would be tantamount to treason.
The African Union said Friday that as of Jan. 19, it will cease to recognize Jammeh as president.