Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gambia's empty streets and military checkpoints reflect fears of the people

Lama Jallow / youthjournalism.org

Serrekunda, a busy seaside city in The Gambia, is typically bustling, but with the president unwilling to cede power after losing the national election last month, people are fearful of political violence and are staying off the streets.

By Lama Jallow
Senior Reporter
SERREKUNDA, The Gambia – Deserted streets in this busy seaside city are one indication that citizens here are fearing war.
The sitting president, Yahya Jammeh, remains unwilling to step down after losing the Dec. 1 national election to challenger Adama Barrow, who leads a coalition party. Barrow is supposed to take office Thursday, Dec. 19.
Intervention by other African leaders has so far failed to convince Jammeh – who has ruled for 22 years – to take part in a peaceful transfer of power. Immediately after the election he conceded, but since then has rejected the results.
Two countries, Nigeria and Morocco, have offered him refuge in exchange for accepting defeat, but he remains here.
But still there are no signs of peace and soldiers are positioned with armored vehicles at military checkpoints here.  

Barrow's representatives have said no one should go out after midnight tonight. A spokesman for Senegal's army told Reuters that its troops will enter The Gambia at midnight if Jammeh doesn't leave power.


U.S. State Department map
The Gambia, on West Africa's coast, is surrounded on three sides by Senegal.

On Tuesday, Jan. 16, Jammeh declared a state of emergency in The Gambia. After that, terrified people ran to close their shops.
On Wednesday, local news and international media reported that the nation’s parliament had accepted the state of emergency and extended Jammeh’s rule for 90 days.
In Serrekunda, big stores were closed Wednesday and many usually crowded streets are empty.
The city’s large market, however, was full of people hurrying to stock up, much like they did before the election when people feared that unrest would follow.


Lama Jallow / youthjournalism.org
On Wednesday morning, people rushed to buy food at the market in Serrekunda, fearing that violence could keep them inside.

Those who can are buying food so if anything happens they will not be found wanting.
Most of the shops that remained open Wednesday are owned by foreigners from the northern part of Africa. People who were late in buying food for their homes are happy the shops are still open.

Lama Jallow / youthjournalism.org
Vehicles lined up at a Serrekunda garage to be picked up after repair. But with people fearful and fleeing, no one is picking them up, causing a loss of income to those who did the work.
Tourists were ordered early Wednesday by their own countries to leave The Gambia.
Some people are adamant that Jammeh will step down before the planned inauguration. It's a sign of hope, but not enough to convince people to stay.
Jammeh is showing no sign of stepping aside and Barrow making no indication that he will wait.
According to a report Wednesday in The New York Times, a multi-national military force from West African nations is “ready to intervene” if Jammeh doesn’t leave. In addition, the newspaper reported that a Nigerian warship is on the way to Gambia, though Nigerians are calling it a training exercise.
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