Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 January 2017
There are serious doubts tonight as to whether former president of The Gambia Yahya Jammeh has agreed to step down and leave the country, so as to allow the democratically elected president Adama Barrow to return from exile in neighbouring Senegal to form his government. (Photo: Is Jammeh the cunning fox taking Gambians and the world for a ride?)
After several hours of talks yesterday in the capital Banjul between Jammeh and peace emissaries of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) – presidents Alpha Conde of Guinea and Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, its was reported that an agreement had been reached.
According to a twitter message published by president Barrow, Jammeh had yesterday evening agreed to step down from office, after losing elections held in December, 2017, and was to have handed power last Thursday to the winner Adama Barrow.
But it now seems that the worst fears of sceptics, who had doubted Jammeh’s sincerity may have come true. Jammeh has no intention of leaving office quietly. At least, not on ECOWAS’ terms.
It is now more than twenty-four hours since it was reported that Jammeh had agreed to leave, yet he is still hanging on to power, despite the massive build-up of ECOWAS troops and artillery that are now poised outside the capital Banjul to forcibly remove him from office.
Is Jammeh stalling using negotiating tactics in order to dissipate the energy and will of the international community to forcefully remove him from State House?
What has Jammeh got up his sleeve? Can he be trusted? Jammeh may have agreed to step down, but on what terms and conditions, and when?
Reporting for the Wall Street Journal, Matina Stevis and Gabriele Steinhauser discuss the latest development:
Gambia’s long time leader Yahya Jammeh agreed to cede power after a drawn-out standoff, as troops from neighbouring countries remained stationed outside the capital to, if necessary, enforce the mandate of newly sworn-in President Adama Barrow.
“I have decided today to relinquish, in good conscience, the mantle of leadership of this great nation,” Mr. Jammeh said in a speech on state television early Saturday, his country’s flag hanging behind him.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who had spent more than 12 hours holed up in last-ditch mediation talks with Mr. Jammeh in the official Gambian presidential residence, confirmed that a deal for his exit had been reached.
Asked about the terms of Mr. Jammeh’s exit at the airport in Gambia’s capital, Banjul, Mr. Aziz said only that they would be made public in due time.
Still, some doubt remained over whether the tense power struggle with Mr. Barrow had truly been resolved. A day after his surprise election defeat in December, Mr. Jammeh gave a similar speech on live television and even called his rival to concede the race—only to change his mind days later.
“We are getting rid of this dictator, finally,” said Mohammed Jallow, a salesman at a small phone shop—one of just few Banjul stores that opened Saturday—clapping his hands twice excitedly. “But you know I will not be happy until he leaves the county, and he is crazy, so who knows?”
Most roads in the capital remained quiet, with just a few cars and bicycles making their way across town. Oceanfront resorts, usually busy with guests, were largely empty after international travel operators ferried out several thousand tourists over the past few days.
But in a sign that some form of normalcy was returning to the country,the messaging app WhatsApp started working again, having been cut off ahead of the elections.
If indeed final this time, Mr. Jammeh’s resignation is a victory for democracy on a continent where several leaders in recent year either outstayed their mandates or changed their constitutions to abolish term limits.
It is also a rare example of cross-border collaboration in a region where many such attempts have been undermined by nationalist policies.
The Economic Community of West African states, a regional bloc of which Gambia is a member, had spent weeks working to convince Mr. Jammeh to accept the election results.
After his term expired at midnight on Wednesday, it was Ecowas which decided, together with Mr. Barrow’s coalition, that he should take his oath of officeon Thursday, even though Mr. Jammeh hadn’t ceded power. The swearing-in took placein the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.
At that point, an Ecowas standby force was already stationed at Gambia’s border with Senegal. Hours later, they crossed.
But not a single shot was fired when armored vehicles, carrying soldiers toting automatic rifles, rolled into the country. Gambia’s army, which has traditionally been loyal to Mr. Jammeh, didn’t resist the invasion.
In a brief news conference early Saturday, the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Ousman Badjie, said he now recognized Mr. Barrow as commander-in-chief.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal and Sky News on Friday, Mr. Barrow didn’t rule out granting Mr. Jammeh amnesty from prosecution for alleged human-rights abuses, saying the issue would be addressed after he returned to Gambia and established his administration.
“We can’t make a premature decision,” Mr. Barrow said. “Once in office, we will look at everything.”
Human-rights groups have accused Mr. Jammeh, who once boasted that he would rule Gambia for a billion years, of arbitrarily jailing dissidents and critical journalists. They have also alleged the use of torture and poor conditions at the country’s prisons.
Mr. Barrow also set out his plans for improving living conditions in Gambia, one of the world’s poorest nations, pledging to concentrate on creating jobs in manufacturing and construction of new infrastructure.
Gambia’s gross domestic product is less than $1 billion and many of its 2 million citizens have fled to neighboring Senegal or Europe in recent years.
Since Jan. 1, an additional 45,000 Gambians and foreign nationals have left the country in anticipation of a possible Ecowas intervention, according to authorities in Dakar.