Ambassador Alsup made the following remarks at an American Citizens Town Hall Meeting on January 6, 2017.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honor for me to welcome you all to our Town Hall meeting for Americans in The Gambia. Thank you all for being here this morning.
Today we are on the verge of a great change in The Gambia. As we all know all too well, there is currently an uncertain political environment in The Gambia. We know that the uncertainty is making a lot of people uncomfortable, so we thought it would be useful for us to get together to talk about what the U.S. is doing and about what you can do to prepare for potential unrest and to keep yourselves safe.
On December 1, 2016, incumbent President Yahya Jammeh lost the national election to the opposition candidate, Adama Barrow. Although he initially conceded, President Jammeh has since publicly rejected the results and filed an appeal of the outcome, including a request for a new election with the Gambian Supreme Court. In a meeting on December 17 in Abuja, The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided that if President Jammeh does not leave power at the end of his term on January 18, 2017, then ECOWAS will take all necessary actions to enforce the results of the Gambian elections, including a potential military intervention.
President Jammeh has called the ECOWAS decision to implement the December 1 election results illegal and a declaration of war. He has also shut down three radio stations, and restricted broadcasting of a fourth, and there are widespread reports of politically motivated arrests. On January 10, 2017, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear President Jammeh’s petition contesting election results, which is a potential flashpoint that could lead to civil unrest.
So, this is a time of great uncertainty, but also of great expectation. We are on the verge of a third Gambian Republic – one that promises to be truly democratic, free and prosperous for all Gambians. In all the people I meet with, I sense a new hope for the future.
However, that future has not yet arrived. With his refusal to cede power to President-elect Barrow, President Jammeh is standing between Gambians and the new future they chose for themselves. President Jammeh’s term of office expires on January 18, and President-elect Barrow’s inauguration is scheduled for January 19, two weeks from today. Two weeks to resolve this crisis peacefully.
The United States fully supports efforts by the United Nations and ECOWAS to help do just that by urging President Jammeh to respect the will of the Gambian people and step down. We applaud the proactive steps that our regional partners are taking to address the situation, and we will remain engaged as the international community supports the region in brokering a peaceful transition that upholds the results of The Gambia’s democratic election.
We continue to call on President Jammeh and his administration to engage with President-elect Barrow and his team in a respectful manner and in accordance with Gambian and international law.
We also implore the Gambian security forces to continue to ensure peace in the country, protect all civilians, guarantee the safety and security of President-elect Barrow, and to respect the democratic transfer of power.
We will continue to monitor the situation and urge all sides to remain calm and refrain from violence.
In the meantime, beginning on January 7, the U.S. Embassy in Banjul reduced our American staffing and ordered the relocation of family members of our American staff to safe haven in the region. We strongly encourage American Citizens in The Gambia to do the same, and we have issued a travel advisory to that effect.
I want to reassure you all that the United States of America are committed to continue working with the new Government of the Gambia to advance our shared goals. We look forward to the time – soon we hope! – when The Gambia will truly live up to its name, “Smiling Coast of Africa.”