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Gambia, another ECOWAS state nearing recession as tourists flee

An avoidable national economic tragedy; recession is about to surface in The Gambia following fears of war as Gambian President Yahya Jammeh looked determined to cling to power as his mandate comes to an end.

However, the recent twist injected into the confusion by the lawmakers who had passed a resolution extending Jammeh’s rule to another three months may weaken the spirit of ECOWAS in working towards Jammeh’s removal by force.

However, constitutional lawyers decry the resolution as abuse of process as all the lawmakers who took part in the resolution are by now out of office.

The fear stems from possibility of plunging the economy into recession as the sole foreign currency earner, tourism is becoming most hit following the massive exit of visitors since the Jammeh drama started to enter dangerous stage over time.

Jammeh said Tuesday the emergency measure was necessary due to interference of foreign powers in the country’s December 1 election, which the president of 22 years lost to opponent Adama Barrow.

Barrow, who is currently sheltering in neighbouring Senegal, maintains his inauguration will go ahead on Thursday on Gambian soil, putting the country on a collision course.

Jammeh’s declaration immediately triggered travel advisory warnings by Britain and the Netherlands, with around 1,000 British tourists expected to leave on special flights on Wednesday alone.

“It’s because of the uncertainty and the likelihood an ECOWAS standby force will have to be deployed,” a diplomatic source told AFP.

The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States has repeatedly urged Jammeh to respect the outcome of the vote and step aside, a call backed by the UN Security Council, African Union and others.

In Washington, the US State Department urged Jammeh to “peacefully hand over power” to Barrow, but a military option is becoming more likely by the hour.

A source at Nigeria’s military HQ told AFP a deployment to Senegal, whose territory surrounds The Gambia, would happen “very soon”.

Under the Gambian constitution a state of emergency lasts up to 90 days if the national assembly confirms it — which the legislature did late Tuesday.

Already, many of the leaving tourists are expressing disappointment over the impasse, saying  they were unaware of the potential risk of flying to the country 10 days ago and felt tour company Thomas Cook should have kept them better informed.

Brian Souch, an English tourist said “We didn’t know anything until we came down for breakfast,” while sitting in shorts and sleeveless T-shirt in the lobby of a hotel in the Kololi tourist strip.

A return visitor for the last six years, Souch came back for “the weather, the people, the beaches,” and was disappointed to be put on a hastily scheduled extra flight organised by the package holiday firm.

Thomas Cook said in a statement a programme of additional flights into Banjul airport would bring home the 1,000 package holidaymakers it has in The Gambia, followed by up 2,500 more at the “earliest possible flight availability”.

Holidaymakers were told that Thomas Cook flights would stop completely in a few days time, leaving them at risk of being stranded.