The Gambia’s new president will cap a prolonged political crisis by returning to Banjul on Thursday, after fleeing to Senegal for his safety.
President Adama Barrow flew out of his tiny west African country on January 13 to meet world leaders in Mali as ex-leader Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to step down and hand over power threw the nation into crisis.
Barrow’s aide Mai Fatty confirmed to AFP on Wednesday that the new president was preparing to head home from Senegal, where he has been since January 15.
“Yes, tomorrow afternoon,” Fatty told AFP in Dakar.
Jammeh finally left on Saturday by which time Barrow had been sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, but unease has been growing over the new leader’s absence.
In Banjul, members of Barrow’s new government spoke of “elation” at the news he would finally arrive after anxious days of waiting.
“He is coming tomorrow at 4 pm (1600 GMT),” a senior official in his coalition administration told AFP. “It is important for him to come to avoid the void.”
The official said the priority would be “putting into place the pillars of reform and human rights,” adding “people are very happy and it’s elating.”
Jammeh, who had been in power for more than two decades after taking power in a coup, went into exile in Equatorial Guinea under threat of a regional military intervention.
Fleet of luxury cars
Around 4 000 troops west African troops remain in The Gambia charged with ensuring the country’s security, as it is believed rogue pro-Jammeh elements remain in the security forces that were once under his personal control.
Marcel Alain De Souza, head of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), told a briefing in Nigeria on Tuesday that the troops were working to secure Banjul and the surrounding area for Barrow’s return.
“Today or tomorrow, we will be able to indicate that President Adama Barrow, if he’s comfortable, can fly on,” De Souza had said.
Barrow has assured Jammeh he will have all the rights legally ensured to an ex-president, which under Gambian law includes immunity from prosecution, barring a vote by two-thirds of the national assembly.
The new government has also confirmed that Jammeh will be permitted to keep a fleet of luxury cars, while Fatty said Sunday that the former strongman had plundered state coffers before heading into exile, making off with $11 million (10-million euros).
Diplomats have expressed a desire for Barrow to return straight away to ensure the economy, already in a fragile state, does not fall into further disrepair.
Barrow must also deal with the first internal crisis of his government after it was revealed his just appointed Vice-President Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang may be constitutionally over age for the role..