The Gambia’s army chief on Wednesday reaffirmed his loyalty to President Yahya Jammeh despite the threat of a regional military intervention if the strongman refuses to step down.
Lieutenant General Ousman Badjie used a New Year message published in the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper to “renew to Your Excellency (Jammeh) the assurance of the unflinching loyalty and support of The Gambia Armed Forces”.
Regional leaders warned last month that the 15-member Economic Community Of West African States would “take all necessary action” to enforce the results of a disputed December 1 poll that Jammeh lost to Adama Barrow.
Barrow initially claimed the army chief had personally assured him of his support, but Badjie subsequently appeared at high-level mediation talks in Banjul in mid-December saying the incumbent was still his boss.
Jammeh, who has been in power for 22 years, stunned observers by initially accepting his defeat, but then flip-flopped a week later, rejecting the results and then filing a court challenge.
Diplomats in the region have voiced private concern that Barrow’s safety is not being guaranteed by the state, as he relies on unarmed volunteers to act as bodyguards.
The UN recently stopped Badjie from visiting troops serving as peacekeepers in Darfur, Sudan due to “serious concerns… given the situation in Banjul”.
The controversial army chief’s declaration came as the head of Gambia’s electoral commission fled to neighbouring Senegal fearing for his safety.
Alieu Momar Njie suspected a plot against him after his commission’s headquarters were locked down by the security forces for several days while Jammeh challenges the election result in the Supreme Court.
A crackdown in recent days by security agents has also shut two radio stations, while a group of traders selling t-shirts featuring Barrow’s image were briefly detained.