Gambia is currently basking in joy, freedom and tears of emotion as former President Yahya Jammeh boarded a plane on Saturday night to start a life of exile in Equatorial Guinea after a stopover in Guinea-Conakry.
Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported that Jammeh got into the plane belonging to Guinea-Conakry President Alpha Condé at 9.19pm local time, after greeting a group of supporters, soldiers, members of his government and other onlookers.
“Yahya Jammeh will never return to Gambia. We no longer need him… Look, everyone is happy, even his own soldiers. Now it’s time for Gambia to be free,” one man was quoted by RFI as saying.
Jammeh, who ruled the impoverished tiny West African nation for 22 years with iron-fist, lost the December 1 presidential elections to little known Adama Barrow. However, he refused to step down arguing that the elections were plagued by irregularities.
The fallen dictator faced a midnight deadline to quit power and leave the country, or face military intervention by ECOWAS troops, who were already inside Gambia waiting for orders.
Nigeria Air Force warplanes were seen flying over the Gambia airspace and ground troops from 10 West African countries took position to kick off the operations meant to kill or capture him. But in the end, he chose to preserve the lives of his fellow citizens, as he put it in a speech broadcast on national TV in the early hours of Saturday.
Now, newly elected president Barrow faces a huge task of rebuilding Gambia, fighting corruption, restoring democracy and the rule of law, and reinstating its international pride after two decades of isolation, dictatorship and lack of foreign direct investment. No date has been set for the return of Barrow, who is currently in the Senegalese capital Dakar, where he was sworn-in.
However, it remains unclear if Equatorial Guinea – ruled with iron-fist by dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema for 38 years – will extradite Jammeh if he is summoned by an international court for massive human rights abuses, which include murder, torture and disappearances of journalists, political activists and human rights defenders.
Photo: Former Gambia President Yahya Jammeh leaves Gambia to begin a life of exile in Equatorial Guinea. Credit: AFP/RFI