The African Union will cease to recognise Yahya Jammeh as Gambia’s president as of January 19, the date he is due to hand power to the winner of the December election, the AU’s Peace and Security Council said on Friday.
Jammeh, whose authoritarian rule began with a 1994 coup, lost the December 1 election to Adama Barrow by a slim margin. He initially conceded defeat but a week later contested the result and called for another poll, refusing to give up power.
Whether Gambia can install Barrow as president is seen as a test for African democracy in a region accustomed to power changing hands at the barrel of a gun.
In a statement issued after a meeting in the Ethiopian capital, the council also warned of “serious consequences in the event that his action causes any crisis that could lead to political disorder, humanitarian and human rights disaster, including loss of innocent lives and destruction of property”.
In the past, the AU has often talked tough but backed away from any action that might lead to further conflict. However international pressure on Jammeh is growing.
A delegation of West African officials including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (who has also refused to obey ECOWAS court orders), Liberian leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Ghana’s President John Mahama arrived in the capital,Banjul, on Friday.
They will try to persuade Jammeh on behalf of regional bloc ECOWAS to make an honorable exit, rather than risk dragging the country into crisis or civil war.
“Only God knows whether Jammeh will accept to step down,” Buhari said.
While ECOWAS has voiced its commitment to seeking a peaceful solution to the impasse, it has also hinted of possible military action if Jammeh stays on beyond the end of his term next week.
“This talk is very, very crucial because it is on the basis of this talk that everybody can now begin to see which option to take,” said Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, also part of the delegation.