January 24, 2017
BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia’s new vice president will be a female leader of the opposition coalition that helped bring new President Adama Barrow to power, a presidential spokesman announced Monday, as regional troops continued security sweeps to prepare for Barrow’s return to the country he now rules.
The appointment of Fatoumata Tambajang as vice president was announced at a news conference by coalition spokesman Halifa Sallah. He said the rest of Barrow’s cabinet would be revealed Tuesday. A former U.N. Development Program staffer, Tambajang was instrumental in helping Gambia’s opposition parties overcome their differences and unite against ousted President Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a coup and ruled for 22 years.
Barrow remained in Senegal Monday, where he traveled more than a week ago when it was uncertain whether Jammeh would acknowledge defeat in the December election and step down. After days of frantic mediation, and as a regional intervention force deployed to apply pressure, Jammeh finally agreed to leave, flying out late Saturday night. Mediators said his destination was Equatorial Guinea, though that notoriously secretive country has yet to confirm Jammeh’s arrival.
Barrow’s return date has not been fixed, and this week’s appointments are aimed at filling a void created by his absence. The armed forces have pledged loyalty to him, though regional forces from the West African body known as ECOWAS on Monday continued to push Gambian soldiers out of the official residence, State House, in advance of Barrow’s arrival. They also took over a Republican Guard barracks training center in Bakau, just outside Banjul.
The presence of ECOWAS troops was cheered by many in the capital, and some emboldened Gambians even tried to cross the gates of State House — a place they didn’t dare attempt to enter before. Abass Hydra said it was his first time back near State House since his father was arrested inexplicably during prayers and held for three months. “It was very difficult for us at that time, and it was traumatizing, and now finally we are free because Jammeh is gone,” he said. “I hope for peace and unity. We need ECOWAS here so that they can help stabilize things.”
Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea’s opposition denounced the government’s decision to welcome Jammeh. President Teodoro Obiang will be held responsible “for what might occur” as a result of Jammeh’s presence on the country’s soil, according to a statement emailed Monday by Andres Esono Ondo, secretary general of the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy.
Jammeh should not qualify for political asylum because he triggered Gambia’s crisis by refusing to step down, the Democratic Opposition Front said in a separate statement Sunday. “We are not against Pan-Africanism, but we are in favor of a more objective Pan-Africanism that does not consist in just bringing over the waste of Africa,” the group said.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said preventive diplomacy in Gambia avoided bloodshed, restored democracy and averted what it calls a “humanitarian disaster.” Dujarric said the unity of ECOWAS, with U.N. backing, was critical to Jammeh’s handover of power and if diplomacy had not worked, “we would have seen a far worse situation.”
Associated Press writer Robbie Corey-Boulet contributed from Abidjan, Ivory Coast.