Over the weekend, as the focus of the world was fixated on the transfer of power in the United States, a political drama that would make the House of Cards writers proud was drawing to an end in the West African nation of The Gambia. Long-time Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has stepped down and gone into exile after a contentious post-election period that saw him attempt to maintain his hold on power after losing the 2016 presidential election to opposition candidate Adama Barrow.
The election was held on 1 December, 2016 and Barrow defeated Jammeh. who initially conceded defeat. One week later, though, Jammeh announced he was rejecting the election results and called for a new election, triggering a constitutional crisis. His rejection was condemned both internally and externally. Diplomatic efforts began right away but made little headway. Jammeh even declared a state of emergency to prevent Barrow from being sworn in as president. Barrow reacted by leaving The Gambia for Senegal where he was sworn in at the Gambian embassy. Jammeh was unmoved and still refused to step down, despite growing international pressure.
On 19 January, 2017 military forces from the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) entered The Gambia. Shortly after crossing the border, the force halted in order to give Jammeh one last chance to step down peacefully before they entered the capital city of Banjul. Jammeh agreed to step down and leave the nation for an ECOWAS-arranged exile in Equatorial Guinea. On 21 January, he left the country and the stage was set for Barrow to return as president.
Barrow will be faced with a crisis immediately upon his arrival back in Banjul. The Gambia is in financial distress. His predecessor raided the national coffers on his way out of the country. It is estimated that Jammeh took $11 million with him, and if that were not damaging enough, a cargo plane filled with luxury goods and cars followed Jammeh’s aircraft as it departed for Equatorial Guinea. This final act is criminal in every way and has enraged the majority of Gambians. But whether or not Jammeh is brought to justice remains to be seen. Barrow has indicated that he will be treated as an ex-president with all of the benefits and rights that were given to Dawda Jawara, The Gambia’s only other president since the nation achieved independence in 1965.
When Adama Barrow does return to his homeland he will have his work cut out for him.