Dakar, Senegal | AFP |
The Gambia’s new president will return to the 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.
New President Adama Barrow is coming “tomorrow at 4pm (1600 GMT),” a senior government official told AFP. “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.”
Speaking to AFP in Dakar on Wednesday, Barrow’s aide Mai Fatty confirmed the president would be arriving “tomorrow afternoon.”
Diplomats had urged Barrow to return quickly to ensure the tourist-reliant economy, already in a fragile state, does not fall into further disrepair.
And residents in the capital Banjul said Barrow’s arrival would mark the beginning of the healing process after divisions created by Jammeh’s regime.
“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.
Barrow’s 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.
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.
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.
After more than two decades in power, he 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 includes 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 $11 million (10 million euros).