Hundreds of people fearing violence have fled Gambia’s capital in recent days as long-time President Yahya Jammeh refuses to step down in the wake of an electoral loss in December.
Instead, in spite of international pressure, Jammeh declared a state of emergency on Tuesday just two days before he is supposed to cede power to opposition leader Adama Barrow.
The measure was prompted by the “unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs of Gambia,” Jammeh announced on state TV.
The 90-day state of emergency forbids Gambian citizens from “any acts of disobedience” or violence and urges security forces to maintain order.
The National Assembly, in approving the state of emergency, condemned the “unlawful and malicious interference” by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council. The council said the continental body will no longer recognise Jammeh as Gambia’s legitimate leader as of Thursday, January 19.
But the president has shown little interest in diplomacy after rebuffing two high-level delegations by west African leaders in recent weeks pleading with him to go. Nigeria and other West African nations are said to be preparing to intervene militarily.
Meanwhile, four more cabinet ministers in Jammeh’s government defected, a source close to the regime told AFP on Tuesday, while citizens stream out of the country in fear of unrest.
People are queuing up at the ferry and bus stations in Banjul, the capital, to flee to towns like Basse and Bansang in Gambia, Guinea, and Casamance in the neighbouring country of Senegal.
One traveller said those arriving at 10 am would have to wait until the following day to board a ferry at Banjul port to cross the river headed for Senegal, unless they bribed officials, due to huge numbers exiting the city.
The UN’s refugee agency has said several thousand Gambians have crossed the border in the last few weeks to seek shelter with extended family while they await Thursday when Jammeh is due to hand over power.
President-elect Adama Barrow is also currently in Senegal and was urged by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to stay there until Thursday’s inauguration for his safety. However, no preparations for the inauguration are in sight at the venue, Bakau’s Independence Stadium.
On Monday, Barrow did not attend the funeral of his son who died after he was bitten by a dog.