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Gambia: Will swearing in of president-elect at Dakar embassy be legal?

Barrow flanked by his supporters arrives for a meeting with African leaders on 13 December 2016.
Barrow flanked by his supporters arrives for a meeting with African leaders on 13 December 2016. Photo: Seyllou/AFP

Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow is expected to be sworn-in to office on Thursday at the Gambian embassy in the Senegalese capital Dakar, according to a spokesperson. The inauguration had been expected to take place in the Gambian capital Banjul, however the venue was changed due to President Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to step down and the failure to solve the political impasse. Holding a swearing in ceremony at an embassy in a foreign country is an unusual step, but does it undermine the legal validity of the president-elect’s inauguration?


"An embassy is not the sovereign territory of the relevant state,” said Robert Cryer, international legal expert, University of Birmingham, referring to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

“It is simply speaking not Gambian territory. It’s an often misunderstood notion that an embassy is the territory of the state it represents,” said Cryer in a telephone interview on Thursday.

“It would simply depend on the domestic law of the country concerned,” he said. “There's nothing in international law that would prevent that as long as it was lawful domestically and done so pursuant of the constitution of that country.”

It would not be the first time a president has been inaugurated at an embassy, Cryer points to the “deeply controversial” case in Grenada.

“The United States ambassador in Grenada inaugurated a new president who invited US military intervention back in 1984,” he said, explaining that this was under rather different circumstances than in Gambia.

What does the Gambian constitution say?

“No. There is no requirement of location,” Abdul Aziz Bensouda, secretary general of the Gambian Bar Association told RFI, in relation to the country’s legal requirements for the swearing-in.

The main requirement for the president-elect’s swearing in is the “prescribed oath”, according to Bensouda. “Traditionally, it has been a judge but any commissioner of oaths can or a lawyer even. In fact, he can self-administer and hold the Koran or Bible and swear,” he said.

The oath is likely to take the following form, according to Bensouda:

“I, Adama Barrow, do swear that I will well and truly execute the functions of the Office of the President of the Republic of The Gambia, that I will preserve and defend the Constitution and that I will do right to all manner of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. So help me God."

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