ECOWAS mounting pressure to force Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh out of office paid off after all, as he has attributed his decision to step down to the pressure from West African armies which entered the Gambia this week.
Mr Jammeh had rejected the result of the presidential election he lost to Adama Barrow, even after he had earlier said he accepted the defeat.
Jammeh is yet to leave the presidential palace but his announcement on state television overnight appears to signal an end of a political impasse. It also brings to a close a reign that began in 1994 when he seized power in a coup.
While Jammeh held on to power, tension rose, countries withdrew their nationals from the tiny nation and some 7,000 soldiers from Nigeria and Senegal entered Gambia backed by tanks and warplanes. They were poised to move into the capital as Jammeh’s army provided no resistance.
ECOWAS delegations led by Nigeria’s leader, Muhammadu Buhari had at different journeys to the country tried to convince Jammeh to hand over power but he insisted he was staying on.
After talks failed to yield a positive result, ECOWAS said it would involve military in ensuring he handed over power.
“I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation,” said Jammeh, dressed in a usual white robe and looking tired.
“It was not dictated by anything else but by the supreme interest of you the gambian people and out dear country taking into consideration my prayer that peace and security continue to reign in the Gambia.
“All those who have supported me or were against me in this period, I implore them to put the supreme interest of our nation the Gambia above all partisan interest and endeavour to work together as one nation,” he added.
Jammeh made no mention of whether he would go into exile, but said he was leaving power in the national interest and was grateful there was no bloodshed during the political stalemate.
Reuters reports that he spent much of Friday in talks in Banjul with the presidents of Guinea and Mauritania over where he would live and whether he could be offered amnesty for alleged crimes committed during his years in power.
Those talks were yet to be concluded and some in Banjul said they were angry he was being allowed to bargain and sceptical he would in fact step down, not least because he first accepted he lost the December 1 election to Barrow and then changed his mind.
In a last bid to cling to power this week, he declared a state of emergency and dissolved the cabinet. More than half the government resigned and 45,000 people fled to Senegal.
“It’s hard because we want our freedom now. But this man he can say this today and tomorrow it can be different. That’s the kind of person he is,” said Ismaila Ndiaye, 61, a plumber and stone mason as he gathered with others close to State House.
Patience Williams, 50, a dental nurse, derided the West African leaders for not taking a tougher line and said: “He’s a stubborn man. It should be surrender, handcuffs or death.”
‘Rule Of Fear’ Banished
Hours to the inauguration set date, the parliament extended Jammeh’s rule by 90 days, but that did not stop the inauguration of Mr Barrow in Senegal.
Barrow, 51, is a soft-spoken man who worked as a property developer and led an opposition coalition few thought would win.
He was sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Senegal on Thursday and called for international support.
“The rule of fear has been banished from Gambia for good,” Barrow told a crowd at a Dakar hotel on Friday, once it became clear a deal had been struck for Jammeh to relinquish power.
“To all of you forced by political circumstances to flee our country, you now have the liberty to return home,” he said. Barrow was also expected to return to the country.
The crisis was a test for regional bloc ECOWAS, not least because Jammeh held office longer than any other current president in the grouping of states. The African Union and U.N. Security Council supported the military intervention.