On 1st December, Gambians voted to end sitting President Yahya Jammeh’s twenty-two year rule and elected Adama Barrow to become the country’s 3rd President. On 27th January, Barrow returned to Gambia to begin his Presidency.
When President Jammeh rejected an election result removing him from office, a week after conceding defeat to Adama Barrow, The Gambia prepared itself for a standoff. But on January 19th, Adama Barrow, a former economic migrant and real estate developer, was sworn in as president after an immigration ceremony at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal.
President Barrow, returned to The Gambia on the 27th January, but there proved to be tense moments in the lead up to his inauguration and the eventual departure of Jammeh on 21st January.
Since refusing to step down in the wake of election defeat, leaders within the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) had travelled to the Gambian capital, Banjul, attempting to persuade Jammeh to step down peacefully.
Jammeh took little heed. He asked the Gambian Supreme Court to reverse the election result, but they refused, ruling that it was not possible for them to produce a judgment on the issue until the 19th of January, one day after Jammeh’s mandate was set to expire, due to a lack of judges of neighbouring countries sitting on the court.
While Jammeh clung to power, Barrow was forced to leave his family and prepare for presidential life in neighbouring Senegal amid security fears. Only three days before Barrow’s inauguration, his eight-year old son, Habibu, was taken to hospital for emergency treatment after being bitten by a dog. He sadly passed away with Barrow unable to attend the funeral service due to concerns about his safety if he were to return to The Gambia.
With the inauguration approaching on January 19th, the ECOWAS gave Jammeh a January 19th midnight deadline to cede power of The Gambia and to respect the election result. Less than twenty-four hours before the deadline, there were fears of an impending descent into warfare as Jammeh seemed determined to hold on to power by force.
Fearing violence, British-based holiday company Thomas Cook flew home thousands of British holidaymakers in The Gambia as fears of unrest increased. The company in total flew home an estimated 3,000 tourists who had booked with their holiday and airline company as the potential closure of Banjul International Airport and violence increased.
On January 19th, Barrow was sworn in as the 3rd President of The Gambia. Hours later, as midnight struck, Jammeh remained in Banjul, refusing to cede power even after the deadline had passed. The following day saw the ECOWAS promise of deploy around 4,000 Ghanaian, Senegalese and Nigerian troops into the country to ensure the transition of power, expecting to use force to do so.
What they there were met by, however, was not a resilient dictator and a Gambian military prepared to defend him. Instead, Gambians were celebrating wildly in the streets of Banjul at the prospect of a new president. The Gambian military, once loyal to Jammeh, had put down their guns. General Badjie, a former loyalist of Jammeh, simply explained that “my army will not fight, this is a political matter” before joining in the celebrations engulfing the capital.
As more troops were deployed in The Gambia, Jammeh finally exited the country on 21st January. After shipping a few Rolls Royces, a Bentley and $11.5million from Gambian financial reserves Jammeh stepped onto a plane bound for exile to the island of Equatorial Guinea, waving goodbye to his last few tearful supporters.
The first democratic transition of power The Gambia has seen had eventually come to pass and it heralds the start of a new chapter in the tiny African nation’s history. The official Gambian tourism website has announced the arrival of President Barrow as “the birth of a new country”, and the new president will be tasked with restoring proper governance and job prospects in The Gambia.
Once promising that he would “rule for a billion years”, Yahya Jammeh’s regime, thankfully, has been abruptly cut short.
Featured Image: Wikimedia