After days of crisis talks and a miltary incursion, Yahya Jammeh has finally ceded power. Tens of thousands of Gambians fled the country for fear of violence.
Gambia’s ousted President Yahya Jammeh ceded power to democratically-elected Adama Barrow after days of negotiations and threats of military action, an advisor to Barrow confirmed on Friday.
The newly inaugurated leader told supporters “the rule of fear has been vanished from the Gambia for good.”
Jammeh had refused to step aside despite losing his mandate to rule on Thursday and Barrow being inaugurated in neighboring Senegal amid fears for his safety.
Regional leaders and United Nations negotiators had been meeting with the defeated leader in a last-ditch effort to get him to step aside.
A regional force assembled by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had been poised to march on the capital, Banjul, after Jammeh missed his midday deadline to step down, but halted their advance Thursday to allow for eleventh hour mediation talks.
Earlier Friday Jammeh’s Chief of Defense Staff and Jammeh loyalist, Ousman Bargie, defected and recognized President Barrow as the new commander-and-chief.
“This is a political misunderstanding. We are not fools! I love my soldiers and the Gambian people,” he told DW.
“Even if they [ECOWAS troops] come, we are going to welcome them with a cup of tea.”
He had previously stood by Jammeh, and his defection removed one of the last remaining pillar of support for Jammeh.
Jammeh had rejected Barrow’s election victory on December 1, after initially accepting it.
He then faced significant pressure from regional powers and the UN to leave office after more than 20 years.
Fears of violence had run high as Jammeh refused to let go of the presidency.
The UN had said about 45,000 people fled from Gambia into Senegal, fearing that the situation might turn violent. Another 800 were said to have fled further south, to Guinea-Bissau.
“The next few days will be critical and more people may leave the country if the current situation is not resolved peacefully soon,” said UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Babar Barloch warned.
Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, had initially conceded defeat to Barrow in the election but soon back-tracked and claimed the vote was flawed.
Late Thursday he dissolved the government – half of whom had already resigned – and pledged to name a new one.
Witnesses said his estate was heavily fortified on Friday.
The ECOWAS intervention, dubbed Operation Restore Democracy, comprised 7,000 troops with tanks and warplanes.
Official figures in the election gave Jammeh 39.64 percent of the vote compared with Barrow’s 43.29. Turnout was put at 59 percent.
aw/kl (AP, AFP, Reuters)