Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 January 2017
There was jubilation across The Gambia last night when reports of the former dictator Yahya Jammeh’s departure from the country were published.
As the images of Jammeh boarding a plane bound for Guinea spread like wild fire, the people of The Gambia waved goodbye to 22 years of tyranny and dictatorship.
Jammeh’s unceremonious departure serves as a lesson to other leaders in the West African region who are determined to hang on to power against the will of the people.
Last December, Jammeh lost elections to Adama Barrow, congratulated him and offered his services to provide guidance if and and when called upon. But after just few days of realising he was no longer the president, Jammeh declared the results of the elections null and void and called for a judicial review by the country’s Supreme Court.
But the people of the Gambia and the West African regional body – ECOWAS would have none of it, as they insisted that Jammeh must leave office on the 19th of January, 2017. Jammeh refused to quit.
After weeks of diplomacy and tough show of resolve and determination by ECOWAS threatening the use of lethal force to remove Jammeh from office, the dictator began to soften up.
He knew time was no longer on his side, but needed a face saving and graceful way out of the palace, where he had remained cooped since losing the elections in December last year.
ECOWAS troops lead by Senegalese military, with the support of the United Nations Security Council, had entered The Gambia ready for orders to take out Jammeh. But by last night it had become obvious that the use of ECOWAS fire power was no longer necessary. Jammeh had decided to go.
The Gambian military numbering less than 3,000 had throughout the standoff with Jammeh, proved to the world that their loyalty lies with the Gambia people. Not a single bullet was fired in support of Jammeh.
Such professional and patriotic character is rare in Africa, where most military generals and their soldiers owe deep allegiance not to the State, but to the head of state, from whose table crumbs may fall upon which they feed.
The Gambian troops have acted as a shining example to their counterparts across Africa. They have shown the rest of Africa that the military can and must remain the true guarantors of democracy and freedom in Africa, without becoming embroiled in politics themselves.
This morning the people of The Gambia will be waking up to a different Gambia – a Gambia without a dictator – a Gambia that is free to all its people irrespective of tribe and religious beliefs – a Gambia that can now look forward with confidence to a brighter and prosperous future.
As Yahya Jammeh leaves for exile in Equatorial Guinea, the exiled president Adama barrow who was inaugurated last week in neighbouring Senegal will be returning to The Gambia shortly to unite the people and begin the task of developing the country.
According to Aljazeera and other news media, Jammeh boarded a small, unmarked plane at an airport in the capital, Banjul, late on Saturday, alongside Guinea’s President Alpha Conde after two days of negotiations over a departure deal.
He landed in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, but set off again for Equatorial Guinea, where he will remain in exile, the president of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), Marcel Alain de Souza, told journalists
Will Jammeh face justice for crimes against his people?
“No legislative measures” would be taken that would infringe the “dignity, security, safety and rights” of Jammeh or his family, ECOWAS said in a joint declaration with the African Union (AU) and United Nations.
Jammeh could return to The Gambia when he pleased, the statement added, and property “lawfully” belonging to him would not be seized.
“The agreement essentially says there can be no prosecution against Jammeh, his family or his entourage; there will be no seizure of his assets, no witch-hunts, and he can be back to the country at any time, ” Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dakar in neighbouring Senegal, said.
“It might sound like a good deal for Jammeh but we have to bear in mind that this is a political document, not a legally binding one, so it still brings hopes for those wanting to prosecute Jammeh or those in the security services over alleged human rights violations.”
Human rights activists have repeatedly demanded that Jammeh be held accountable for alleged abuses, including torture and detention of opponents.
Barrow, who was sworn in as Gambia’s new president at the country’s embassy in Senegal on Thursday, is expected to return home imminently.
Speaking to the Associated Press on Saturday, Barrow urged caution after an online petition called for Jammeh to be arrested, and not be granted asylum.
Scenes of jubilation broke out almost immediately on streets near Banjul, after the news filtered out that Jammeh had gone.
“We are free now. We are no longer in prison,” Fatou Cham, 28, told AFP news agency.
“We do not have to watch our back before we express our opinions.”
Al Jazeera’s Haque said Jammeh’s departure marked a “historic moment” for people in Gambia and West Africa who believe that there can be democracy in the region.
“This was done by the votes of young Gambians who took to the street, who casted their ballot box and really got Jammeh out of power despite him not wanting to let go.”
“It was a peaceful protest that was done in Gambia and also on social media, and it was just too much for Jammeh to ignore.”
The new president, who had sought shelter in the neighbouring country, said he favours launching a “truth and reconciliation commission” to investigate possible crimes by Jammeh.
But president Adama Barrow’s priority now is to build on the political coalition that brought him to power, by ensuring that he establishes a government of national unity that respects the diversity of the country.
Whiles the truth about Jammeh’s crime against the people is important, it must not become an all consuming pastime for the new government.
There is much greater work to be done. And that work starts with a new Sustainable Economic Development Plan for The Gambia.
All political parties must contribute proposals to the formulation of such a Plan in the coming weeks, so as to energise and keep the hopes of a better future for Gambians alive.
But more importantly, they must all commit themselves to the implementation of this Plan for the next 20 years with the support of the IMF, World Bank and the international community, irrespective of any future change of government.
President Barrow must also order a quick review of political prisoners and ensure they are granted presidential pardon and set free, as part of a national reconciliation to lasting peace in The Gambia.
The people of The Gambia have spoken and today they are free.
This is the text of a Joint Declaration issued by the African Union, ECOWAS and the UN last night on the latest development in The Gambia:
JOINT DECLARATION BY THE ECONOMIC COMMUNITY OF WEST AFRICAN STATES, THE AFRICAN UNION AND THE UNITED NATIONS ON THE POLITICAL SITUATION OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF THE GAMBIA ON JANUARY 21, 2017
1. Following the Decision of the Summit of the ECOWAS Authority taken on 17th December 2016 in Abuja, Nigeria, Mediation efforts, including visits to Banjul, were undertaken by the Chair of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, HE President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Mediator, HE President Muhammadu Buhari and Co-Mediator on The Gambia, HE former President John Dramani Mahama, along with HE President Ernest Bai Koroma to mediate on the political impasse with Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh,
2. Following further mediation efforts by HE President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and HE President Alpha Conde of the Republic of Guinea Conakry with HE Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, the former President of the Republic of The Gambia, and in consultation with the Chairperson of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, the Chairperson of the AU Authority of Heads of State and Government and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, this declaration is made with the purpose of reaching a peaceful resolution to the political situation in The Gambia.
3. ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commend the goodwill and statesmanship of His Excellency former President Jammeh, who with the greater interest of the Gambian people in mind, and in order to preserve the peace, stability and security of The Gambia and maintain its sovereignty, territorial integrity and the dignity of the Gambian people, has decided to facilitate an immediate peaceful and orderly transition process and transfer of power to President Adama Barrow in accordance with the Gambian constitution.
4. In furtherance of this, ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that it assures and ensures the dignity, respect, security and rights of HE former President Jammeh, as a citizen, a party leader and a former Head of State as provided for and guaranteed by the 1997 Gambian Constitution and other Laws of The Gambia.
5. Further, ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that it fully guarantees, assures and ensures the dignity, security, safety and rights of former President Jammeh’s immediate family, cabinet members, government officials, Security Officials and party supporters and loyalists.
6. ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that no legislative measures are taken by it that would be inconsistent with the previous two paragraphs.
7. ECOWAS, the AU and the UN urge the Government of The Gambia to take all necessary measures to assure and ensure that there is no intimidation, harassment and/or witch-hunting of former regime members and supporters, in conformity with the Constitution and other laws of The Gambia.
8. ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to prevent the seizure of assets and properties lawfully belonging to former President Jammeh or his family and those of his Cabinet members, government officials and Party supporters, as guaranteed under the Constitution and other Laws of The Gambia.
9. In order to avoid any recriminations, ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia on national reconciliation to cement social, cultural and national cohesion.
10. ECOWAS, the AU and the UN underscore strongly the important role of the Gambian Defence and Security Forces in the maintenance of peace and stability of The Gambia and commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that it takes all appropriate measures to support the maintenance of the integrity of the [Defence and] Security Forces and guard against all measures that can create division and a breakdown of order.
11. ECOWAS, the AU and the UN will work to ensure that host countries that offer “African hospitality” to former President Jammeh and his family do not become undue targets of harassment, intimidation and all other pressures and sanctions.
12. In order to assist a peaceful and orderly transition and transfer of power and the establishment of a new government, HE former President Jammeh will temporarily leave The Gambia on 21 January 2017, without any prejudice to his rights as a citizen, a former President and a Political Party Leader.
13. ECOWAS, the AU and the UN will work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that former President Jammeh is at liberty to return to The Gambia at any time of his choosing in accordance with international human rights law and his rights as a citizen of the Gambia and a former head of state.
14. Pursuant to this declaration, ECOWAS will halt any military operations in The Gambia and will continue to pursue peaceful and political resolution of the crisis.
Dated 21st January, 2017 in Banjul, The Gambia.