Gambian crisis poses threat to Senegal's stability

UNHCR confirms that Senegal has received thousands of Gambians seeking refuge amid political crisis

Gambian crisis poses threat to Senegal's stability

World Bulletin / News Desk

Gambia, once a relatively peaceful touristic paradise on Africa's western coast surrounded by Senegal on all three sides, has been mired in a political scandal and is bracing for a military showdown with regional forces, due to the refusal of its outgoing president Yahya Jammeh to cede power despite a defeat in last month's election.

Due to the porous nature of the Senegalese border with Gambia, which lies inside the French-speaking nation, experts say, the small nation’s crisis poses both an economic and national security threat to its neighbors. 

Sidi Sanneh, Gambian political analyst and blogger who has previously served under the Jammeh regime, told Anadolu Agency that Senegal could not tolerate a destabilized Gambia at its borders.

“Senegal will not sit idly by while Gambia is being destabilized,” said Sanneh. 

Since Jammeh rejected the election results on Dec. 9, regional leaders, namely through Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS, have vowed to uphold the vote, using all means necessary. 

Numerous reports on Tuesday and Wednesday citing Nigerian military officials have said troops were heading for Gambia, along with forces from other countries in the region, to oust Jammeh should he not leave on Jan. 19. 

A Ghanaian security analyst, Owusu Sekyere  Jr., has warned regional leaders that any military offensive in Gambia must be “precise, swift and timely to avoid massive casualties”. 

In an article published in local media, Seykere urged that the military offensive should be completely initiated by West African states “to avoid a Syria, Iraq and Libya episode where multiple interests could foster proxy wars and provide the platform for extremism or terrorism”. 

However, Sanneh said the “vulnerability to terrorist threats is one more reason why Senegal and the United States and their Western allies are concerned about Gambia under Yahya Jammeh, who has been flirting with [Lebanese group linked to Iran] Hezbollah for some time now”. 

Due to cultural and geographical ties, and most especially Senegal’s dependence on Gambia as an access route from its north to its trouble south, the Casamance region, in which a rebellion has been sporadically active since 1981, Dakar has always wanted a friendly government in Banjul. 

But relations have not been smooth during Jammeh's  22-year rule as protracted border closings as well as diplomatic wrangling have constituted the norm rather than the exception. 

Gambian human rights activist and civil society leader, Madi Jobarteh, told Anadolu Agency that Gambia’s current crisis posed both an economic and national security threat to its neighbors. 

“Since the advent of this tyrannical regime [Jammeh's], Senegal has been suffering because of what was happening in Gambia. In the first place, Senegal became the first port of call for various Gambian dissidents, opposition elements and common citizens on the run,” Madi Jobarteh said. 

“On many occasions the irrational policies and actions of the regime have caused the border between the two countries to close, causing lot of discomfort to both countries," he said.  

"It is safe to say if this military action goes off track, Senegal will suffer incredibly as we have already seen how thousands of Gambians are fleeing into the country right now. This will have huge social and economic consequences for Senegal, especially if the conflict is prolonged,” he added. 

The UNHCR has confirmed that Senegal has received thousands of Gambians seeking refuge in both its troubled south and through the north.  Ensa Njie, a Gambian political commentator, said that will surely worry the presidency in Dakar. 

"The impacts will be felt somehow by Senegal. We have seen the mass influx of Casamance people who ran away from the instability in the southern part of Senegal,” Njie argued. 

Senegal has been one of the leading countries in the region in terms of the strength of its democracy  and has enjoyed relative peace despite trouble in the Casamance region. 

Therefore, analysts have said, an unsettled  Gambia  geographically close to the troubled Senegalese province, Casamance, could  potentially destabilize the French-speaking country in a region where even the economic and military heavyweight, Nigeria, is battling an insurgency in its northern regions. 

Ghanaian security analyst Owusu Seykere Jr. argued that Jammeh “illegality overseeing a legal territory was not healthy for the West African sub-region in terms of image”.

On Tuesday, Yahya Jammeh declared a 90-day state of emergency.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 18 Ocak 2017, 17:28