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Gambia: State of Emergency Lifted

(Jan. 30, 2017) On January 24, 2017, Gambia’s legislature ended the state of emergency in the country and rescinded the extension of executive power that had been granted to former President Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh had lost an election in December 2016 to Adama Barrow, but for a time refused to leave office and hand over control of the government. Barrow was initially sworn in on January 19 in Senegal, but entered Gambia after Jammeh agreed to step down and went to Equatorial Guinea on January 21. (Justin Cosgrove, Gambia Lawmakers End State of Emergency, PAPER CHASE (Jan. 25, 2017);  Gambian Lawmakers Revoke Jammeh’s State of Emergency, AFRICA NEWS (Jan. 24, 2017).)

Under the Gambian Constitution, a state of emergency can be declared by the president for the whole country or a part of it. Although the president can establish a state of emergency for only seven days, if the National Assembly concurs with a two-thirds vote, the emergency state can last up to 90 days. The National Assembly also has the power to end a state of emergency. (Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia (in force from Jan. 1997, as last amended 2001), art. 34, World Intellectual Property Organization website (click on link to download).) In the recent situation, the National Assembly did concur, and if the political situation had not been resolved, the state of emergency could have been in force for three months. (Gambian Lawmakers Revoke Jammeh’s State of Emergency, supra.)


Jammeh had been in office for 22 years and on January 12 he asked the Supreme Court to bar the inauguration of Barrow. (Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, BBC NEWS (Jan. 22, 2017); Autumn Callan, Gambia President Files Injunction to Bar Swearing in of President-Elect, PAPER CHASE (Jan. 13, 2017).) The Court stated, however, that it could not hear his challenge to the election results for several months. (Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh Declares State of Emergency, AL JAZEERA (Jan. 17, 2017).)

Jammeh had said that the reason a declaration of a state of emergency was needed was “to prevent a constitutional crisis and power vacuum pending the determination of the petitions at the Supreme Court and the application for an injunction against swearing in Mr. Adama Barrow, until the Supreme Court decides on the 1st December 2016 Presidential Election results.” (Gambian Lawmakers Revoke Jammeh’s State of Emergency, supra.) He also said that there had been extensive foreign interference in the election and cited intervention in “the internal affairs of The Gambia and the unwarranted hostile atmosphere threatening the sovereignty, peace, security and stability of the country.” (Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh Declares State of Emergency, supra.)

Regional and International Responses

Jammeh eventually left office and the country following considerable regional pressure. Troops from Senegal, which surrounds Gambia on three sides, had entered the country, prepared to enforce the election results. (Bryony Jones, Ben Westcott, & James Masters, Gambia: Defeated Leader Jammeh Leaves Country After Election Loss, CNN (Jan. 22, 2017).) In addition, the Presidents of Guinea and Mauritania consulted in person with Jammeh, encouraging him to leave office. The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, gave Jammeh a deadline to give up his position, with the threat, according to ECOWAS President Marcel A. de Souza, that if he did not leave office “troops will intervene militarily to remove him by force so we can install the new President with all his powers, in accordance with the Gambian Constitution.” (Id.)

The ECOWAS position was supported by the United Nations Security Council, which stated that it hoped the West African nations could “ensure, by political means first, respect of the will of the people” of Gambia. (Gambia: Security Council Backs Regional Efforts to Ensure Peaceful Transfer of Power to Barrow, UN NEWS CENTRE (Jan. 19, 2017).) The Security Council also asked that the Gambian military and security forces use restraint to maintain calm and said that they had a “duty and obligation to place themselves at the disposal of the democratically elected authorities.” (Id.)