Banjul, Gambia | AFP |
Gambians including the country’s army chief took to the streets on Thursday in scenes of wild celebration after President Adama Barrow was inaugurated in neighbouring Senegal.
Young men shouted and sang while hanging out of cars, and children danced with their mothers on main roads near the capital, Banjul, where the long-serving leader Yahya Jammeh was believed to remain despite the expiry of his mandate and a military intervention that could remove him at any moment.
Gambians briefly forgot the Senegalese troops flowing over the border and the lack of resolution of the country’s political crisis, cheering the president they have wanted to see take power for so long.
In Westfield, a traditional opposition stronghold outside Banjul, AFP journalists witnessed dozens gathered in groups wearing “Gambia has decided” and opposition coalition T-shirts. Stern soldiers looked on but didn’t halt the proceedings.
“We are grateful that God has answered our prayers,” said Barrow supporter Soloman Jarja, grinning widely as he stood by the side of the road.
The chief of the Gambian army Ousman Badjie was spotted among the revellers in the area, after vowing on Wednesday night his men would not fight African troops approaching the capital.
Shortly after the inauguration, the UN Security Council unanimously backed efforts by the regional bloc ECOWAS to force Jammeh to hand over power, without formally authorising military action.
“I command the chief of defence staff and officers of high command to demonstrate their loyalty to me as commander in chief without any delay,” Barrow said at his inauguration.
“I command all members of the armed forces to remain in their barracks, those found wanting or in possession of firearms without my order will be considered rebels.”
Britain was among foreign powers to congratulate the new president.
Earlier, Senegal troops marched into Gambia after UN Security Council unanimously backed ECOWAS action.
A resolution drafted by Senegal won the support of all 15 council members including Russia, which stressed that the measure did not formally authorize military action in The Gambia.
The Economic Community Of West African States has repeatedly called on Jammeh to accept his defeat in the December 1 election and step down after 22 years in power.
The resolution calls on the council to give “its full support to the ECOWAS in its commitment to ensure, by political means first, the respect of the will of the people.”
The measure does not invoke Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which authorizes the use of force.
Hours earlier, Adama Barrow was sworn in as president at the Gambian embassy in Dakar and immediately demanded loyalty from the defense and security forces.
— Mete Sohtaoğlu (@metesohtaoglu) January 19, 2017
Russian Deputy Ambassador Petr Iliichev stressed that the resolution calls for political means to resolve the standoff and warned that military action could fail.
“For the time being, there is no bloodletting but if they intervene, who is going to take responsibility for that?” Iliichev told reporters ahead of the vote.
Nigeria and Ghana were sending troops and air power to Senegal to join a Dakar-led regional force preparing to carry out a possible military intervention in The Gambia.
UN diplomats said that if Barrow requests a military intervention in The Gambia, this would provide the legal basis for the use of force.
“We are hoping that there is a peaceful resolution to this, but it is very clear that if President Barrow asks for assistance, then that is something that, as the legitimate president of Gambia, he is perfectly entitled to do,” said British Deputy Ambassador Peter Wilson.
The resolution requests that Jammeh “carry out a peaceful and orderly transition process, and to transfer power” to Barrow.
It urges “all stakeholders, within and outside The Gambia …exercise restraint, respect the rule of law and ensure the peaceful transfer of power.”