Weeks of tension in Gambia since December 2016 have ended. Military and civil strife over the transitioning of power to the newly elected Gambian President has been averted. Adama Barrow, the President-elect, finally received the mantle of leadership from the former President Yahya Jammeh on 21 January 2017. Accompanied by the President of Guinea, Mr. Conde, Yahya Jammeh and his wife boarded a plane to fly out of Gambia into exile. Before boarding the plane, dignitaries, soldiers, and supporters who are loyal to Mr. Jammeh gave their final goodbyes to him at a formal ceremony. Non-supporters considered him a dictator who prevented freedom of speech and who showed little regard for human rights. “We do not have to watch our back before we express our opinions” commented one person celebrating on the streets, which sums up the views of non-supporters. During Mr. Jammeh’s twenty-two year leadership, the state became polarized.
The President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Marcel Alain de Souza, told journalists that Mr. Jammeh would remain in exile in Equatorial Guinea. A joint statement from ECOWAS, the African Union, and the United Nations noted there would be no prosecution against Mr. Jammeh, his family or his entourage and he could return to Gambia at any time. According to Nicolas Haque from Al Jazeera News, although initially appearing to be a good deal for Mr. Jammeh, it is not a legally binding document, instead, it is merely a political one. Those hoping to prosecute over Mr. Jammeh’s alleged human rights violations may get to do so. The new President, Barrow, said in a BBC interview that he favoured a “truth and reconciliation commission” to investigate allegations of human rights abuses during Mr. Jammeh’s time in office.
Mr. Jammeh’s belated announcement to relinquish his leadership and leave Gambia peacefully was a win-win situation under the tense circumstances that prevailed. It prevented violent action, which was the last resort, from having to be initiated. Although at this point the specific details of any negotiated agreement are unavailable, the threat of military action from regional states was very real. Many important people within Gambia and the surrounding region had called upon Mr. Jammeh to settle the political crisis peacefully. Nigeria offered him asylum if he willing step down, while the new President-elect called for peace talks with him. Unfortunately, these possibilities failed to produce positive outcomes. West African leaders from Mauritania and Guinea met with Mr. Jammeh in Banjul, the capital of Gambia, to de-escalate the situation and to mediate the crisis. A deadline, midnight 18 January 2017, was set for Mr. Jammeh to step down. Just before this deadline was reached the President of Mauritania informed Gambia state television “I am now less pessimistic Mr. Jammeh will work on a peaceful solution that is in the best interest for everyone.” This statement was the first glimmer of hope that Mr. Jammeh’s entrenched position could be changing. By talking, listening, and negotiating effectively, an outcome that allowed the democratic will of the Gambian people to be respected was achieved without violence. Such an outcome must be considered a successful result.
The behaviour of Mr. Jammeh has caused unease and unrest in Gambia. Many Gambians and tourists have fled the country as they feared that violence would erupt. Tensions were at such high levels that President Barrow’s inauguration ceremony was held in the Gambian embassy in Senegal, where the international community offered support. President Barrow has remained in Senegal on the advice of the President of ECOWAS. The West African Regional bloc threatened to invade Gambia and forcefully eject Mr. Jammeh if he did not step aside peacefully by the set time. The backing was given by the Security Council of the United Nations to use military action if all other means failed. Senegalese troops had been deployed to the Gambian border and Nigerian sources had confirmed a warship was heading towards Gambia for “training.” International voices also called for the democratic election results to be respected.
Now that former President Jammeh has ceded power to the democratic wishes of the Gambian people, the state can now govern in an inclusive and just manner. Uniting a fractured nation after twenty-two years of polarization, repairing and promoting human rights will be top priorities. Reflection, reconciliation, and reconstruction will be part of this process as all Gambian people will now be heard.