Gambians celebrate imminent return of President Adama Barrow
Banjul (Reuters) Hundreds of people gathered along the streets of Gambia’s capital Banjul on Thursday to welcome home new President Adama Barrow after authoritarian leader Yahya Jammeh fled into exile under pressure from regional forces.
Barrow, a former real estate agent, won a Dec. 1 election but Jammeh refused to step down, forcing his opponent to be inaugurated at the Gambian Embassy in neighboring Senegal.
Jammeh fled to Equatorial Guinea on Saturday night as thousands of soldiers from the West African ECOWAS regional bloc were poised to remove him by force after 22 years of increasingly repressive rule marked by alleged torture and killings of opponents.
Along wide avenues leading to the airport, Gambians wearing T-shirts with Barrow’s picture blew whistles, banged calabash drums and sang in Fula language, “We welcome you our president, our hope, our solution,” as Senegalese soldiers looked on.
“The arrival is long overdue,” said Ebrima Bah, who was awaiting Barrow at the airport. “His arrival is raising my confidence in the new government.”
Jammeh’s political demise is a relief to many people in the small, sliver-like West African country who long were afraid to openly criticize the government for fear of his secret police.
Swiss police detained longtime former Gambian interior minister Ousman Sonko near the Swiss capital of Berne on Thursday after a complaint filed against him by non-governmental organization Trial International.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, UN Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, who was due to accompany Barrow back to Banjul, pledged to provide assistance to help Gambia’s new government investigate human rights abuses under Jammeh.
Barrow has asked the 7,000-strong West African military contingent to remain in Gambia for another six months, Chambas said.
An ECOWAS official said they were studying the proposal.
Gambia, a tiny riverine nation surrounded by Western ally Senegal on three sides, has a bloated army for its size but so far there have been no signs of resistance to ECOWAS forces.
However, lingering questions remain as to the loyalty of the Republican Guard, thought to number about 400, who in the past protected Jammeh from coup attempts.
The whereabouts of members of alleged assassination squads known in Gambia as the “Junglers” were not known.