Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh addresses UN
BANJULJan 23, 2017 - 12:00 am GMT+3
Jan 23, 2017 12:00 am
Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh flew out Saturday from the country he ruled for 22 years to cede power to President Adama Barrow and end a political crisis.
Jammeh refused to step down after a Dec. 1 election in which Barrow was declared the winner, triggering weeks of uncertainty that almost ended in a military intervention involving five other west African nations.
The longtime leader, wearing his habitual white flowing robes, waved to supporters before boarding a small, unmarked plane at Banjul airport alongside Guinea's President Alpha Conde after two days of talks over a departure deal.
He landed in Conakry, Guinea's capital but set off again for Equatorial Guinea, where he will remain in exile, the president of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), Marcel Alain de Souza, said at a Dakar press conference.
Jammeh could return to The Gambia when he pleased, the statement added, and property "lawfully" belonging to him would not be seized. Jammeh finally said he would step aside in the early hours of Saturday morning and hand power to Barrow, who has been in neighboring Senegal but is expected back in The Gambia imminently.
Jammeh took power in a 1994 coup from the country's only other president since independence from Britain, Dawda Jawara, making this Gambia's first democratic transition of power.
The choice of Equatorial Guinea for his exile helps ease concerns that Jammeh might interfere in his nation's politics if he stayed in Guinea, whose border is not far from The Gambia's eastern region.
Jammeh's departure followed days of mediation led by Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Guinea's Conde, who said in a statement he "welcomed the successful outcome of the crisis in The Gambia, which, through dialogue, avoided a bloodbath."
Jammeh attempted to build a personality cult and has left behind a small minority of diehard supporters, some of whom wept as his plane departed.
"We wanted to be behind this man for a century or more," said Alagie Samu, speaking on the tarmac. "He is the most successful, visionary leader in the entire world."
Dressed in green, the color of his political party, some were loyal to the end.
"No human being is perfect, but for 22 years in the country here he has tried hard for Gambians," said a woman with cheeks wet from tears, who did not wish to be named.
Gambia is one of the world's poorest nations and although education and health standards have lifted in recent years, poverty remains endemic.
With Jammeh gone, all eyes will be on the Barrow administration as they make their first steps as a government of reform and development.