Gambians Celebrate as Jammeh Flees the CountryJanuary 24, 2017 in Gambia
Gambians across the country celebrated on Sunday 22 January after a West African regional military force entered the capital city Banjul and took control of the presidential palace. Former President Yahya Jammeh, who was in power for 22 years, had refused to accept defeat to opposition challenger Adama Barrow, who won the 1 December 2016 presidential election. He flew out of Banjul late on Saturday en route to Equatorial Guinea as the regional force was poised to remove him.
The regional military operation was first launched late on 19 January after President Barrow was sworn in as president at Gambia’s embassy in neighbouring Senegal. The operation however was halted hours later in a bid to give the former leader one last chance to leave peacefully. His departure followed two days of negotiations, which were led by Guinea President Alpha Conde and Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. This had prompted speculation over what, if any, terms were agreed upon to convince him to step down.
Hundreds of residents of the capital city assembled outside State House on Sunday after soldiers, who deployed on Sunday to secure the country, moved in to secure the compound. Senegalese army officials disclosed that the force, which also includes troops from Nigeria, Ghana and Mali, met no resistance as they advanced on Sunday.
However amidst the celebrations, troubling details of the former president’s departure began to emerge.
Speaking to radio station RFM in Senegal, where he is waiting to return to Gambia, President Barros stated that, upon initial inspection, it appeared that Jammeh had looted stat resources. The President stated, “according to information we received, there is no money in the coffers…It’s what we have been told, but the day we actually take office, we will clarify all of it.” During a news conference later in the day, Mai Ahmad Fatty, adviser to President Barrow, stated that 500 million dalasis (US $11.45 million) had been withdrawn by the former president in the past two weeks. Reports have also indicated that luxury cars and other items were reportedly loaded on to a Chadian cargo plane as Jammeh left the country.
The new president also disclosed that Jammeh had “…wanted to stay in Gambia,” adding “we said we couldn’t guarantee his security and said that he should leave.” President Barrow also denied that Jammeh had been offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for leaving the country.
Earlier in the day, the African Union (AU) and United Nations published a document on behalf of these two organizations and regional bloc ECOWAS. In it, they pledged, among other things, to protect Jammeh’s rights “as a citizen, a party leader and a former Head of state,” to prevent the seizure of property belonging to him and his allies, and to ensure he can eventually return to Gambia. President Barrow has since disclosed that the document had not been singed and did not constitute a binding agreement. He also stated that he planed to return to Gambia soon, however he did not disclose when.
Rights groups have accused Jammeh of jailing, torturing and killing his political opponents while acquiring a vast fortune, which includes luxury cars and an estate in the United States, as most of his people remained impoverished. Thousands of Gambians sought asylum abroad over the years. According to the United Nations, an additional 45,000 people fled to neighbouring Senegal amidst growing fears of unrest in the wake of last month’s presidential election. On Sunday, hundreds of Gambians carrying sacks, suitcases and cooking pots began returning by ferry from Senegals’ Casamance region.