The move is bound to inflame tensions in Gambia and could hasten a possible military intervention by other West African countries that have stationed troops at the country’s border with Senegal since Wednesday night. In previous interventions, the Economic Community of West African Countries, of which Gambia is a member, sent forces after a request from the president.
Halifa Sallah, a spokesman for the coalition that heaved Mr. Barrow to victory in last month’s election, said he couldn’t confirm whether the incoming president would request an Ecowas intervention, but said the plan to proceed with the inauguration had been coordinated with the bloc’s leaders.
“I can only state the fact that after his swearing-in, Adama Barrow will be the commander in chief of the Gambian armed forces,” he said.
On Wednesday, the coalition cancelled its plans for a big inauguration ceremony at the national stadium in the city of Serrekunda. The decision to move the swearing-in to the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, where Mr. Barrow has been staying in recent days, eases the risk of clashes between his supporters and factions loyal to Mr. Jammeh.
“If Ecowas had gone ahead with having the inauguration in Gambia, there would certainly have been casualties,” said Maurice Toupane, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Dakar.
However, Mr. Barrow’s formal assumption of power increases the likelihood of an Ecowas intervention that could still be resisted by Gambia’s security forces, which have traditionally been loyal to Mr. Jammeh.
Streets in the Gambian capital, Banjul, were empty Thursday and most stores and government offices remained shut for the day.
A spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Senegal was preparing for as many as 100,000 refugees from Gambia. Some 26,000 had already crossed the border between Jan. 1 and 16, the spokeswoman said, citing Senegalese government figures. Since then, many more Gambians have left their homes.
If the Ecowas forces are successful in removing Mr. Jammeh from office, Gambia would see its first ever democratic transition. Mr. Jammeh, who has ruled the former British colony with an iron hand for more than 22 years, initially conceded the Dec. 1 election to Mr. Barrow, but days later said he would challenge the result in court, claiming the vote was flawed. Gambia’s highest court has said that it won’t be able to rule on the president’s case until at least May because it doesn’t have enough judges.