Gambia’s Jammeh backs down, quits the country
GAMBIA’S capital yesterday was awaiting the arrival of the country’s new leader and an era of democracy, hours after the authoritarian ruler of 22 years flew into exile with an extraordinary set of assurances from the international community.
Even as new President Adama Barrow remained in neighbouring Senegal after a whirlwind political crisis sparked by his December election win, former leader Yahya Jammeh was guaranteed the right to come home.
The unpredictable Jammeh, known for startling claims that bananas and herbal rubs could cure Aids, flew off late on Saturday with a wave as supporters and soldiers wept. He was last seen flying toward Equatorial Guinea.
Jammeh’s dramatic about-face on his election loss to Barrow, at first conceding and then challenging the vote, appeared to be the final straw for the international community, which had been alarmed by his moves in recent years to declare an Islamic republic, leave the Commonwealth and leave the ICC.
With global backing, Barrow was sworn-in on Thursday at Gambia’s embassy in Senegal for his safety, hours after Jammeh’s mandate expired at midnight.
A regional military force that had been poised to oust Jammeh if last-minute diplomatic efforts failed entered Gambia shortly after his departure and was securing the country and its capital, Banjul, ahead of Barrow’s arrival.
“President Barrow would like to leave (Senegal) as soon as possible. One can’t leave the country open,” Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the regional bloc, told reporters. But part of Gambia’s security forces needed to be “immobilised,” he said. He confirmed that Jammeh had had mercenaries by his side during the standoff.
De Souza also revealed details of the negotiations before Jammeh’s departure.
In response to his insistence on “a sort of amnesty” for him and his entourage, the West African regional body attempted to have Gambia’s national assembly vote on an amnesty law. “Sadly, we couldn’t reach a quorum. The deputies had fled,” De Souza said. “Most were in their villages. The others were in Dakar,” Senegal’s capital.
Jammeh had wanted to stay in his home village in Gambia, but regional heads of state preferred that “for the moment” he leave the country, De Souza said. – AP
Gambia’s defeated leader Yahya Jammeh departs from Banjul airport on Saturday. He announced early on Saturday he had decided to relinquish power after hours of last-ditch talks with regional leaders.