Gambia skirts the brink

2017-01-22 06:10
Yahya Jammeh finally gives up power. Picture: Reuters

Yahya Jammeh finally gives up power. Picture: Reuters

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Gambia’s embattled ousted leader, Yahya Jammeh, said yesterday that he would step down from power in a statement made in the face of pressure from west African armies that entered his country to remove him after he refused to concede an election defeat to President Adama Barrow.

His decision ends a political impasse and will probably be welcomed by democracy advocates and viewed as a triumph for African diplomacy.

It also brings to a close a reign that began in 1994 when he seized power in a coup.

Jammeh’s authoritarian government established a reputation for torturing and killing perceived opponents to stifle dissent.

“I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation,” he said on state television, wearing a white robe and looking tired.

“All those who have supported me or were against me in this period, I implore them to put the supreme interest of our nation above all partisan interest,” he said.

Jammeh made no mention of whether he would go into exile, but said he was leaving power in the national interest after prayer and was proud to have served the Gambian people.

In practice, he had little choice but to step down.

Around 7 000 soldiers from Nigeria and neighbouring Senegal entered Gambia late on Thursday backed by tanks and warplanes and were poised to swoop into the capital as his army provided no resistance.

Jammeh lost to Barrow in December, but after initially conceding defeat, he changed his mind and said he would challenge the result.

In a bid to cling to power, he declared a state of emergency on Monday and dissolved the Cabinet and the National Assembly extended his term for three months.

More than half its members had resigned and 45 000 people fled to Senegal as refugees.

Barrow was sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Senegal on Thursday and immediately called for international support.

“The rule of fear has been banished from Gambia for good,” Barrow told a crowd at a Dakar hotel on Friday, once it became clear a deal had been struck for Jammeh to relinquish power.

“To all of you forced by political circumstances to flee our country, you now have the liberty to return home,” he said.

Barrow was also expected to return.

The crisis was a test for the Economic Community of West African States, not least because Jammeh had held office longer than any other current president in the grouping of states.

The African Union and UN Security Council supported military intervention.

Gambia’s Atlantic beaches make it a holiday destination for Europeans.

Tourism is a mainstay in the country of 1.8 million people and the economy is otherwise reliant on peanut production and remittances from overseas.

The economy is expected to grow 4.5% in 2017, bouncing from a projected contraction of 4% last year, according to World Bank figures. – Reuters

Read more on:    yahya jammeh  |  adama barrow  |  gambia
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