Hours after the first ECOWAS forces entered The Gambia to remove former President Yahya Jammeh from power, the new head of state announced that Jammeh had agreed to step aside. Adama Barrow said on Twitter: “I would like to inform you that Yahya Jammeh has agreed to step down. He is scheduled to depart Gambia today”. Not only is this a massive step forward for Gambian democracy, it is a victory for diplomacy as not single shot was fired by ECOWAS forces, and a political solution was found. The people of The Gambia have their new leader, and hopefully the country can move forward.
The sudden change from imminent war to peaceful transition of power was brought about because the Gambian army refused to resist the ECOWAS forces. Indeed, Gambian Chief of Defence Forces Ousman Badjie, who had previously said that he would stand by Jammeh, did not mobilise soldiers against ECOWAS troops. There was an interesting story reported in The Daily Trust, an online Nigeria news site, saying that Badjie invited the Senegalese commander of the ECOWAS forces into where he was staying for a cup of tea. If this anecdote is true then I can only imagine that this conversation started off very tensely.
Yahya Jammeh’s future is now in question. Over the last few weeks meetings between Jammeh and other heads of state in the region had involved discussions over what could happen if he left office. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had previously offered to provide the former Gambian leader with safe passage to and sanctuary in Nigeria, however this offer was rejected at the time. Given that President Barrow has said that governing with Jammeh still in the country would be difficult, it’s clear that Jammeh will have to leave the country.
There are now rumours emerging that Jammeh may be extradited to the International Criminal Court to face trial for human rights abuses. The idea of going to the ICC clearly has some weight behind it because, at a meeting with ECOWAS representatives on Thursday, Jammeh demanded amnesty for his crimes however this was demand was rejected. It’s now unclear as to whether Jammeh will face trial for his crimes.
With Barrow sworn in, he can start making positive change in The Gambia. In the presidential election last year he stood on an left-wing anti-corruption platform that opposed the authoritarianism and social conservatism of Yahya Jammeh. Gambia’s political system vests legislative power in both the National Assembly and the government, and as such Barrow will be able to make progressive steps forward. It is important for the opponents of Yahya Jammeh to organise a movement in support of Barrow so that his coalition can capture seats in the National Assembly.
However, it is also important that Barrow rules for all Gambians. For example on social issues, as much as I would want to full equality before the law for all people, and that should be the end goal, I step forward would be the re-establishment of The Gambia as a secular state. Economic prosperity will give Barrow more political capital to make advances in social policy. Eradicating the crippling levels of poverty in The Gambia has to be the first step forward. By lifting people out of poverty, rhetoric from conservatives about womens’ rights, LGBT equality and so on, will not resonate as well. Countries around te world should stand shoulder to shoulder with The Gambia and turn this success for democracy into a success for the Gambian people.
Editor’s note: After this article was published, ECOWAS announced that Yahya Jammeh would live in exile in Equatorial Guinea.