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After decades in power, Jammeh leaves Gambia for exile

January 21, 2017

After over two decades in power, ousted leader Yahya Jammeh has fled the country he ruled with an iron fist. Elected President Adama Barrow has pledged to investigate alleged rights abuses by Jammeh's regime.

Ex-Präsident Jammeh verlässt Gambia
Image: Picture-Alliance/dpa/J. Delay

Defeated president Yahya Jammeh has left the country and is bound for exile in Equatorial Guinea, abandoning a weeks-long effort to cling to power after losing his bid for re-election in December.

His departure appears to have averted a bloody crisis as thousands of troops from Senegal and Nigeria had entered the tiny country on Thursday, and were poised to sweep into the capital, Banjul.

The country's new president, Adama Barrow, who took the oath of office at the country's embassy in Senegal on Thursday, is expected to return to Gambia shortly.

He said he would launch a commission to gather information about alleged human rights abuses committed during Jammeh's reign.

 "We aren't talking about prosecution here. We are talking about getting a truth and reconciliation commission," Barrow said. "Before you can act, you have to get the truth, to get the facts together."

Barrow's comments came hours after Jammeh announced on state television, on Saturday morning, that he would relinquish the presidency.

After hours of negotiations with the leaders of Guinea and Mauritania, Jammeh, who ruled Gambia for 22 years after seizing power in a coup, agreed to leave the country and go into political exile.

He was seen boarding an unmarked plane heading to Conakry, Guinea, with Guinea's president, Alpha Condé. Jammeh waved to supporters who had gathered on the tarmac and kissed a copy of the Koran before entering the plane. 

RFI Africa correspondent Daniel Finnan recorded Jammeh boarding the plane at an airport in Banjul.

Jammeh's exile in Equatorial Guinea is likely due at least in part to the fact that the country is not a party to the International Criminal Court. Morocco, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia had also reportedly offered him asylum.

Mauritania's Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz told the country's AMI news agency that the agreement "foresees the departure of Yahya Jammeh from The Gambia for an African country with guarantees for himself, his family and his relatives." 

"I have good news. President Jammeh is leaving today, without fail. Mai Ahmad Fatty, an advisor to Barrow, wrote on Facebook. "He is not spending the night in The Gambia today."

Gambia's Jammeh agrees to cede power

However, upcoming investigations into Jammeh's regime raise the possibly he may be forced to return to Gambia in the future to face charges. Barrow said it was too soon to speculate whether the former president could face trial in Gambia, the International Criminal Court or elsewhere. 

Jammeh, however, has reportedly insisted that protection from future prosecution be one of the conditions for his departure.

Critics alleged torture and disappearances

Jammeh, who once vowed to rule for a billion years, has long been accused of heading a regime that tortured opponents and silenced dissent. Human rights groups have also represented families whose relatives they say have effectively disappeared. 

He also claimed he had created an herbal cure for AIDS and advocated slitting the throats of homosexuals. 

Reports of abuses have led critics to insist the outgoing president should not receive amnesty. "Jammeh came as a pauper bearing guns. He should leave as a disrobed despot," Jeggan Bahoum of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Gambia said. "The properties he seeks to protect belong to Gambians and Gambia, and he must not be allowed to take them with him. He must leave our country without conditionalities."

An online petition called for Jammeh's arrest, although Barrow cautioned such a move was premature.

Barrow has been in neighboring Senegal, where he was inaugurated at the Gambian embassy on Thursday, amid fears for his safety during a political standoff that risked escalating into a military crisis.

Gambia Machtwechsel - Menschen fahren nach Banjul zurück
Many Gambians, who had fled the country amid the threat of violence, began to return home following reports that outgoing president Jammeh had steppted downImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Delay

Gambians prepare to return home

The UN said about 45,000 people had fled from Gambia into Senegal, fearing that the political standoff might turn violent as Jammeh refused to let go of the presidency. Another 800 were said to have fled further south to Guinea-Bissau.

"Never in our nation's history have we been gripped with anxiety and fear that provoked mass exodus of Gambians and non-Gambians alike," Gambian army chief Ousman Badgie said in a statement. 

However, following days of uncertainty, Banjul was peaceful Saturday and residents began to return home.

Isatou Touray, a top official in Barrow's team, said the new government's first priority was to help the tens of thousands who had fled the country return safely.

"We are now trying to request humanitarian support for them to return," she said Saturday, adding that some political prisoners had already been released and would be welcomed by their families later in the day.

dm, bik/jm,kl (AP, AFP, Reuters)