Gambia's new leader Barrow to stay at 'own residence until further notice'

President Adama Barrow (File: AFP)
President Adama Barrow (File: AFP)

Dakar - The Gambia's new president will return to his country's capital on Thursday, aides said, ending a prolonged political crisis sparked by disputed elections that forced him to flee to neighbouring Senegal.

The announcement capped days of anxious waiting in the tiny former British colony that was thrown into chaos when long-time president Yahya Jammeh refused to step down after losing elections.

Speaking to AFP in Dakar on Wednesday, Barrow's aide Mai Fatty confirmed the president would be arriving home "tomorrow afternoon."

A senior government official told AFP in Banjul. "New President Adama Barrow is coming "tomorrow at 16:00", adding "it is important for him to come to avoid the void".

The official said the priority would be "putting into place the pillars of reform and human rights", adding "people are very happy and it's elating".

Diplomats had urged Barrow to return quickly to curb the impact of the political crisis on the tourist-reliant economy, already in a fragile state.

In New York, the UN envoy for West Africa, Mohamed ibn Chambas, briefed the Security Council on The Gambia during a closed session and stressed that the United Nations was working to bolster stability.

Chambas is due to accompany Barrow on Thursday when he returns to Banjul.

Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog, who holds the Security Council's presidency, said: "We shouldn't just turn our back on Gambia now and walk away to the next situation but really make sure that we stay the course and support democracy."

Divisions 

Barrow will be staying at his own residence until further notice while State House, Jammeh's former seat of power, is assessed for potential risks.

His first job is to deal with an internal crisis after it emerged his pick for vice president, Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang, may be constitutionally too old for the role.

Around 4 000 west African troops remain in The Gambia charged with ensuring safety, as it is believed rogue pro-Jammeh elements remain in the security forces that were once under his personal control.

He must also deal with latent ethnic tensions between Jammeh's minority Jola people and the majority Mandinkas, to whom Barrow belongs.

Three residents of Foni Bajana in the country's central region told AFP on Wednesday a group of children and a family were set upon by a Jola gang while celebrating Jammeh's departure on Saturday.

"These people came out to attack them," said another resident. "The children said they were being chased. I met one of the assailants running and holding a bicycle chain," he added.

Beginning of the healing process 

The Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) supporters armed with machetes and cutlasses then attacked and threw stones into the residence, injuring seven people including a child.

"They thought Jammeh was there for them only. They think Barrow is there for Mandinkas," added the second villager.

Jammeh finally left the country for exile on Saturday by which time Barrow had been sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, the Senegalese capital.

Marcel Alain De Souza, head of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), told a briefing in Nigeria on Tuesday that the troops were working to secure Banjul and the surrounding area for Barrow's return.

Residents in the capital Banjul said Barrow's arrival would mark the beginning of the healing process after divisions created by Jammeh's regime.

'Change our attitude' 

"Not only the government has to change but all the Gambian people have to change, working hand in hand, and change our attitude," said one Gambian, who declined to give his name.

After more than two decades in power, Jammeh went into exile in Equatorial Guinea under threat of a regional military intervention.

Barrow has assured Jammeh he will have all the rights legally ensured to an ex-president, which under Gambian law include immunity from prosecution, barring a vote by two-thirds of the national assembly.

The new government has also confirmed Jammeh will be permitted to keep a fleet of luxury cars, while authorities have accused the former strongman of plundering state coffers before heading into exile, making off with $11m.

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