A peaceful transition
Yahya Jammeh is now safely ensconsed in exile, in a comfort assured by his ill-gotten plunder. Gambia’s former president Jammeh will feel at home in his refuge in Equatorial Guinea, run by a regime modeled on the Gambia he left so abruptly a week ago. It too is one of the continent’s dwindling score or so of dictatorships that has seen arbitrary detentions and torture of critics, as well as disregarded election outcomes. And whose crooked leader has stolen state assets for personal enrichment.
Gambia today, by contrast, is a good news story, evidence that Africa’s – and particularly West Africa’s – burgeoning democracies are planting firm roots. The region, once a byword for coups, is leading the way across the continent, confident enough even to use force collectively to uphold democracy. As Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chair of the African Union put it, “If we fail the people of The Gambia, we will be failing Africa. We’ve come a long way. Democracy in Africa is thriving”.
December’s election winner President Adama Barrow, who returned on Thursday from Senegal where he had been inaugurated in his country’s embassy, was met by cheering crowds. The bloodless counter-coup against Jammeh was assured by disintegrating personal support and a gentle prod from a peaceable invading army from states in the region.
Barrow has asked the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which co-ordinated the intervention, to leave the troops in place for six months to ensure that any hidden pockets of resistance are tidied up. Although Gambia’s own tiny army appears well reconciled to the democratic transition, it had been implicated in some of the old regime’s repression and initially had appeared to be ready to defend Jammeh.
Barrow, who has never held public office, but will be assisted by UN officials, must also deal with latent ethnic tensions between Jammeh’s minority Jola people and the majority Mandinkas, to whom the president belongs.