The Gambia’s army chief has reaffirmed his loyalty to President Yahya Jammeh, who has spent more than two decades in power and refuses to step down.
Jammeh lost a December 1 election to Adama Barrow, a former real-estate agent.
Lieutenant General Ousman Badjie used a New Year message published in the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper on Wednesday to “renew to Your Excellency [Jammeh] the assurance of the unflinching loyalty and support of The Gambia Armed Forces”.
But Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of Vanguard Africa, a campaign group advising pro-reform African leaders, told Al Jazeera that Badjie’s declaration should be taken with a pinch of salt.“First of all, the only outlet really reporting this right now has been the state-run Observer newspaper which is essentially a propaganda mouthpiece for the Jammeh regime,” Smith said.
“Secondly, I was talking to a former Gambian minister earlier today and he told me that the letter that was published in the Gambian newspaper is actually a recycled letter. In fact, it is an annual letter that is sent to the president from the army, so in that sense it is not really entirely unique news.”
Smith added that by declaring his support for Jammeh, the army chief may simply be “trying to save his life”.
“The two most dangerous professions in The Gambia are being a journalist and being in the army, given the widespread disappearances, killings and torture that has occured for members in both sectors,” he said.
Jammeh, who has been in power for 22 years, stunned observers by initially accepting his defeat, but then made a U-turn a week later, rejecting the results and then filing a court challenge against the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).