Yahya Jammeh agrees to cede power after 22 years as Gambia’s president
Troops from five African nations are stationed on the tiny west African nation’s borders in the event Jammeh does not keep his promise to leave office
Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh said on Saturday he would step down to keep peace in his country after 22 years in power, following last-chance talks with west African leaders before a military intervention.
Jammeh, a mercurial figure who seized power in a 1994 coup and then was elected to several terms, had boasted he would rule a billion years and said only God could remove him from power. But this week his isolation became complete after Gambian military leaders declared their loyalty to Adama Barrow, and West African troops entered the country from neighbouring Senegal to put more pressure on him to accept the results of last month’s election.
Jammeh spent hours with Guinea and Mauritania’s presidents on Friday in Banjul, where agreement was reached that he would hand power to Barrow, the declared winner of the elections.
“I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation with infinite gratitude to all Gambians,” Jammeh said in a statement broadcast on state television.
The leader declared his decision to leave office – after weeks of stalling through threats and legal action – was his alone, despite immense pressure from the international community.
However, agreement was not reached on where he would spend his life after his presidency.
“My decision today was not dictated by anything else than the supreme interest of you the Gambian people and our dear country,” Jammeh said in his speech, thanking Gambians for their support.
“At a time when we are witnessing trouble and fears in other parts of Africa and the world the peace and security of the Gambia is our collective heritage which we must jealously guard and defend.”
His actions will be carefully monitored in the hours and days after the declaration, as he has said once before he would step down and recognise Barrow as the winner, just after the election.
Troops from five African nations are stationed on the tiny west African nation’s borders in the event Jammeh does not keep his word, and it was thought Conde would stay into Saturday to iron out remaining disagreements.
The Gambian strongman did not mention any future plans in the state television address, meaning these details may have yet to be decided.
“Jammeh has accepted he will leave power. The discussions revolve around where he will live in exile and the conditions around that,” a Mauritanian source close to the delegation in Banjul said.
A highly placed Guinean source said the country of exile had to be far enough away to stop Jammeh interfering in his country’s affairs.
The Guinean source mentioned Equatorial Guinea as a possible option, while diplomats discussed the possibility of Morocco.
Isatou Touray, a top official in Barrow’s coalition, said there was “no deal yet” late on Friday.
Aziz and Conde met at Jammeh’s seat of power, State House, and the three men observed on Friday prayers together at a nearby mosque, while Barrow prayed with Senegalese ally President Macky Sall in Dakar.
Barrow, who was sworn in at Gambia’s embassy in Dakar on Thursday, will take over from Jammeh as soon as his safety can be guaranteed.
The new president hailed a “victory of the Gambian nation” and demanded loyalty from his armed forces in his swearing-in speech.
Jammeh’s actions sparked a major political crisis that has sent Gambians and tourists – vital for the tiny country’s economy – fleeing.
A Banjul-based diplomatic source said the final deal would be “a joint statement between Barrow and Jammeh,” but cautioned the mercurial strongman could “quite easily” change his mind.
That source spoke of a three-day grace period for Jammeh with foreign troops on standby until he definitively quits the country.
An imminent military operation, dubbed operation “Restore Democracy”, was suspended late on Thursday to allow the final push to convince Jammeh to leave.
As white flags reportedly flew from Gambian army posts in the countryside, sources suggested there was a gradual acceptance of Barrow, even among units known for loyalty to Jammeh.
A diplomatic source said a faction had “switched sides” among the elite Republican Guards who assure Jammeh’s personal protection, following meetings among themselves at their Bakau barracks close to Banjul.
Gambia’s army chief Ousman Badjie said foreign troops would be welcomed “with a cup of tea” rather than gunfire if they intervene to ensure Jammeh stands down.
“Why should we fight? This is a political misunderstanding,” he said. “There is no military solution to a political problem, let me tell you. We are not fools. I love my soldiers. I love the Gambian people. Nobody is going to be hurt here.”