A military intervention to forcefully remove outgoing Gambian President Yahya Jammeh seems increasingly likely. The entrenched leader has said he will not step down when his mandate expires on 19 January 2017. The West African regional bloc, the Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas), expects Jammeh to meet this deadline.
Jammeh, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1994, lost the presidential election held on 1 December. Adama Barrow, head of a coalition of opposition parties and member of the United Democratic Party (UDP), emerged as winner of the vote.
Jammeh originally conceded defeat. He now intends to contest the vote at the Supreme Court due to what he says are "unacceptable abnormalities".
His U-turn has sent shockwaves across the region, with growing tensions exacerbated by the chief of army's decision to pledge loyalty to Jammeh instead of Barrow.
Earlier in December, four West African leaders – from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana – met Jammeh and urged him to accept defeat. The leaders left without managing to secure a deal, with Jammeh vowing he would resist pressure to step down.
Barrow told IBTimes UK he considered himself the "rightful leader" of the country and was confident the issue could be resolved peacefully.
However, the head of Ecowas has claimed that a military intervention to remove Jammeh was "possible" and that "stand-by forces" – likely led by Senegal – were on alert and would be deployed "to restore the people's wish".
One week before Barrow's scheduled swearing-in ceremony, Alieu Momar Njai – Gambia's Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chief who announced Yahya Jammeh's defeat – has gone into hiding.
Latest reports have now claimed Jammeh "has begun recruiting mercenaries" with ties to other West African governments.
"If Jammeh decides to take the route of resistance it will be in defiance to Ecowas, the Africa Union and the strategic position of Senegal both politically and in terms of proximity," David Otto, security analyst and counterterrorism expert at UK-based TGS Intelligence Consultants, told IBTimes UK.
"Senegal and Ecowas will have very little option but to intervene if Jammeh resists and it becomes clear that if Gambian people storm the streets, they will be brutalised by regime forces."
Otto, who is also a senior adviser for Global Risk International, believes that Jammeh will not succeed in his fight to remain in power due to lack of support among the population and some army generals.
"Jammeh may find a safe haven to seek refuge in neighbouring Mauritania or elsewhere. If he fights back for power, he may not last long as his military is not sophisticated enough and most of his soldiers who could back him up have lost morale because he has accepted defeat in the first place," Otto continued.
"To avoid a military intervention, the external community should help provide Jammeh with an alternative exit plan for him to leave the country peacefully. A serious threat of sanctions placed against his assets abroad could help pressure him to take exit."
Jammeh's U-turn followed an admission by the IEC that it had erred during vote counting, and Barrow's margin of victory had narrowed from 9% to 4%.
Despite the changes, the commission insists that the new tally leaves the outcome of the election unchanged with Barrow receiving 43.3% of the vote, and Jammeh 39.6%.
The country's High Court has adjourned the case until 10 January.