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Posts tagged ‘Ivory Land of Gambia’

British foreign secretary: Gambia to return to Commonwealth

February 15, 2017

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia will soon return to the Commonwealth under its new government, Britain’s foreign secretary said Tuesday after meeting with President Adama Barrow and pledging London’s support for this small West African nation following the departure of its leader of 22 years.

Barrow has vowed to reverse actions taken by his predecessor, Yahya Jammeh, who announced last year that Gambia would withdraw from the International Criminal Court. Three years earlier Jammeh Gambia from the Commonwealth, a 52-nation group made up mostly of former British colonies.

“We are here to help. The United Kingdom has a close relation with The Gambia,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said after his private meeting with Barrow. The visit comes after longtime ruler Jammeh flew into exile last month under international pressure and the threat of a regional military intervention after refusing to accept his December election loss to Barrow. Jammeh, who seized control in a bloodless coup in 1994, is accused of overseeing an administration that tortured and imprisoned opponents.

Barrow’s new government promises democratic reforms, freeing political prisoners and a truth commission. Johnson said after meeting with Barrow that the countries would “build on longstanding friendship and partnership.” He said key areas such as education, health and security would take center stage.

Last week, the European Union announced an $80 million package of support for Gambia as nations warm to the new government. The United Nations has received the Gambia government’s formal notice reversing the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, deputy U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq announced earlier Tuesday.

Gambia was one of three African countries that informed the U.N. chief last year that they were withdrawing from the court. The others were South Africa and Burundi.

Gambia’s new president to arrive in the country on Thursday

January 25, 2017

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia’s new president finally comes home on Thursday, a week after taking the oath of office outside the country during a whirlwind political crisis that sent the tiny nation’s longtime leader into exile.

President Adama Barrow is set to arrive Thursday afternoon from neighboring Senegal, where he has waited out the chaos for his safety, a spokesman for the coalition backing him confirmed Wednesday. Gambians eagerly await Barrow, who has promised to reverse many of the actions taken by former leader Yahya Jammeh. Barrow defeated Jammeh in December elections that the ruling party challenged.

Jammeh finally left the country over the weekend after international pressure, ending a more than 22-year rule. He has been accused by rights groups and others of leading a government that suppressed opponents with detentions, beatings and killings.

A West African regional military force that was poised to oust Jammeh if diplomatic talks failed has been securing Gambia for Barrow’s arrival. He has been waiting for the force to confirm that it was safe for him to return, spokesman Halifa Sallah said.

A new inauguration will be held on Gambian soil, said Sallah, speaking on Senegalese radio. “We will organize a ceremony soon at the stadium. It will be an occasion to show strength. Everyone will be invited. The president will address his people.”

Barrow has requested that the regional force remain in Gambia for six months, but it is unclear whether heads of state with the regional bloc, known as ECOWAS, will approve a deployment for that long.

The new president has been busy this week forming his Cabinet and has named a woman, Fatoumata Tabajang, as vice president. She has vowed to seek prosecution for Jammeh, who flew with family and close aides to Equatorial Guinea.

On Tuesday, Gambia’s lawmakers lifted the country’s state of emergency and revoked a three-month extension of Jammeh’s term, as the new government began dismantling his final attempts to cling to power.

Gambia’s new president, still in Senegal, names female VP

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.

Gambia awaits new leader, but exiled one has right to return

January 22, 2017

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia’s capital on Sunday was awaiting the arrival of the country’s new leader and an era of democracy, hours after the authoritarian ruler of 22 years flew into exile with an extraordinary set of assurances from the international community.

Even as new President Adama Barrow remained in neighboring Senegal awaiting a triumphant return after a whirlwind political crisis sparked by his December election win, former leader Yahya Jammeh appeared to be guaranteed the right to come home.

A joint declaration issued shortly after Jammeh left by the United Nations, African Union and West African regional bloc ECOWAS said the bodies will work with Barrow’s government to make sure Jammeh, his family and his close associates are not the target of punishment.

But a top Barrow adviser, Mai Ahmad Fatty, said the declaration didn’t have the new leader’s approval. “I was very shocked to learn from Facebook that the document we had rejected was already posted at the websites of both ECOWAS and the AU,” he said Sunday. “Gambia will neither respect nor honor what was contained in that joint declaration. We don’t consider it legally binding on us.”

Although the declaration was written to provide Jammeh with maximum protection, “it doesn’t give him an amnesty, and under international law in fact you can’t amnesty certain crimes like torture and massive or systematic political killings,” international rights lawyer Reed Brody said in an email. “Depending where Jammeh ends up, though, the real obstacles to holding him accountable will be political.”

The unpredictable Jammeh, known for startling declarations like his claim that bananas and herbal rubs could cure AIDS, flew off late Saturday with a wave as supporters and soldiers wept. He was last seen flying toward Equatorial Guinea, which is not a state party to the International Criminal Court.

Jammeh’s dramatic about-face on his election loss to Barrow, at first conceding and then challenging the vote, appeared to be the final straw for the international community, which had been alarmed by his moves in recent years to declare an Islamic republic, leave the Commonwealth and leave the ICC.

With global backing, Barrow was sworn in Thursday at Gambia’s embassy in Senegal for his safety, hours after Jammeh’s mandate expired at midnight. Meanwhile, Jammeh was abandoned by his defense chief and many Cabinet members.

A regional military force that had been poised to oust Jammeh if last-minute diplomatic efforts failed entered Gambia shortly after his departure and was securing the country and its capital, Banjul, ahead of Barrow’s arrival.

“President Barrow would like to leave (Senegal) as soon as possible. One can’t leave the country open,” Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the regional bloc, told reporters. But part of Gambia’s security forces needed to be “immobilized,” he said, and he confirmed that Jammeh had had mercenaries by his side during the standoff.

De Souza also revealed details of the negotiations before Jammeh’s departure. In response to his insistence on “a sort of amnesty” for him and his entourage, the West African regional body attempted to have Gambia’s national assembly vote on an amnesty law. “Sadly, we couldn’t reach a quorum. The deputies had fled,” de Souza said. “Most were in their villages. The others were in Dakar,” Senegal’s capital.

Jammeh also wanted to stay in his home village in Gambia, but regional heads of state preferred that “for the moment” he leave the country, de Souza said. With Jammeh gone, a country that had waited in silence during the standoff sprang back to life. Shops and restaurants opened, music played and people danced in the streets.

As he waited for the arrival of the regional force in Banjul, Gambia defense chief Ousmane Badjie said the military welcomed it “wholeheartedly.” With proper orders, he said, he would open the doors to the notorious prisons where rights groups say many who have disappeared over the years may be kept.

“We are going to show Barrow we are really armed forces with a difference, I swear to God,” Badjie said. “I have the Quran with me.” Some of the 45,000 people who had fled the tiny country during the crisis began to return. The nation of 1.9 million, which promotes itself to overseas tourists as “the Smiling Coast of Africa,” has been a major source of migrants heading north toward Europe because of the situation at home.

“I think it will be safer now,” said 20-year-old Kaddy Saidy, who was returning to Banjul with her three young children. Barrow, who has promised to reverse many of Jammeh’s actions, told The Associated Press on Saturday that at he will launch a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the alleged human rights abuses of Jammeh’s regime.

“After 22 years of fear, Gambians now have a unique opportunity to become a model for human rights in West Africa, in which no one need to be afraid to stand up or speak out,” Amnesty International’s deputy director for West and Central Africa, Steve Cockburn, said in a statement Sunday.

Associated Press writers Krista Larson and Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

Gambia’s defeated leader leaves country, ends standoff

January 22, 2017

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia’s defeated leader Yahya Jammeh and his family headed into political exile Saturday night, ending a 22-year reign of fear and a post-election political standoff that threatened to provoke a regional military intervention when he clung to power.

As he mounted the stairs to the plane, he turned to the crowd, kissed his Quran and waved one last time to supporters, including soldiers who cried at his departure. The flight came almost 24 hours after Jammeh announced on state television he was ceding power to the newly inaugurated Adama Barrow, in response to mounting international pressure for his ouster.

Though tens of thousands of Gambians had fled the country during his rule, Jammeh supporters flocked to the airport to see him walk the red carpet to his plane. Women shouted: “Don’t go! Don’t go!” Jammeh landed in Guinea an hour later. He and his family then took off for Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, according to an airport official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak to the press. Equatorial Guinea, unlike Guinea, is not a state party to the International Criminal Court.

“What is fundamental here is he will live in a foreign country as of now,” Barrow told The Associated Press earlier Saturday. Barrow won the December elections, but Jammeh contested the results as calls grew for him to be prosecuted for alleged abuses during his time in power. A regional force had been poised to force out Jammeh if last-ditch diplomatic efforts failed to persuade him to leave.

The situation became so tense that Barrow had to be inaugurated in neighboring Senegal at the Gambian Embassy on Thursday, after Jammeh’s mandate expired at midnight. Barrow told The Associated Press he would return to Gambia once it is “clear” and a security sweep is completed.

Shortly after Jammeh’s departure, the United Nations, African Union and the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, issued a declaration saying that any country offering him and his family “African hospitality” should not be punished and that he should be free to return to Gambia in the future. It said Jammeh was leaving “temporarily.”

The joint statement did not include promises of amnesty but said the world and regional bodies “commit to work with the government of the Gambia to prevent the seizure of assets and properties lawfully belonging to former President Jammeh or his family and those of his Cabinet members, government officials and party supporters.”

Jammeh, who seized power in a coup in 1994, once vowed to rule for a billion years. He represented one of a dwindling number of West African leaders staying in office without apparent limit. The success in getting him to leave peacefully may help the vast region move toward more stable transfers of power.

His departure has brought an end to the political crisis in this impoverished nation of 1.9 million, which promotes itself to overseas tourists as “the Smiling Coast of Africa” while being a major source of migrants heading north toward Europe.

As Jammeh prepared to leave the country after hours of last-minute negotiations with the leaders of Guinea and Mauritania, human rights activists demanded that he be held accountable for alleged abuses, including torture and detention of opponents.

“Jammeh came as a pauper bearing guns. He should leave as a disrobed despot. 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,” said Jeggan Bahoum of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Gambia.

An online petition urged that Jammeh not be granted asylum and should instead be arrested. Barrow, though, cautioned that was premature. “We aren’t talking about prosecution here, we are talking about getting a truth and reconciliation commission,” Barrow told the AP. “Before you can act, you have to get the truth, to get the facts together.”

In recent days, Jammeh had been holed up in his official residence in Banjul, increasingly isolated as he was abandoned by his security forces and several Cabinet members. The West African regional bloc had pledged to remove Jammeh by force if he did not step down. The group assembled a multinational military force that rolled into Gambia on Thursday, after Barrow’s inauguration and a unanimous vote by the U.N. Security Council supporting the regional efforts.

The joint statement late Saturday announced a halt to the military operation in Gambia. But the force already in Banjul would stay to secure the capital before Barrow’s arrival, Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the regional bloc, told reporters in Senegal.

Gambia’s unrest had more than 45,000 people fleeing the country, the United Nations said. But when Jammeh left, the deserted streets came back to life. Restaurants opened, music played and people danced in the streets.

“It’s New Year’s Eve in Gambia. We are just about to start a new democratic Gambia,” said Momodou Janneh. “For the Gambia to truly move on, President Barrow must reside in State House and begin the task of governing,” Jeffrey Smith, executive director of Vanguard Africa, wrote in an email. “In an ideal scenario, Jammeh will also face justice for the many crimes he has committed since 1994.”

Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writers Abdoulie John in Karang, Senegal; Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal; and Aboubacar Diallo and Youssouf Bah in Conakry, Guinea, also contributed.

Gambia’s defeated leader agrees to cede power, leave

January 21, 2017

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia’s defeated leader Yahya Jammeh announced early Saturday he has decided to relinquish power, after hours of last-ditch talks with regional leaders and the threat by a regional military force to make him leave.

“I believe it is not necessary that a single drop of blood be shed,” Jammeh said in a brief statement on state television. He promised that “all the issues we currently face will be resolved peacefully.”

He did not give details on any deal that was struck, and it was not immediately clear when Adama Barrow, who beat Jammeh in last month’s election, would return from neighboring Senegal to take power. But the speech signaled an end to the political crisis that has seen this tiny West African nation caught between two men claiming to be in charge. Late Friday, Barrow declared that “the rule of fear” in Gambia had ended.

Shortly before Jammeh’s address, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz told reporters that a deal had been reached and that Jammeh would leave the country. He and Guinean President Alpha Conde had handled the talks.

A State House official close to the situation said Jammeh would leave within three days, possibly on Saturday with Conde, who was spending the night in Gambia’s capital, Banjul. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak about the situation to press.

The famously mercurial Jammeh at first shocked Gambians by conceding his election loss to Barrow, but with the possibility of prosecution hanging over him for human rights abuses alleged during his 22 years in power, he decided to change his mind. Barrow was inaugurated Thursday at Gambia’s embassy in Senegal because of concerns for his safety.

The defeated Gambian leader, who first seized power in a 1994 coup, has been holed up this week in his official residence in Banjul, increasingly isolated as his security forces abandoned him and he dissolved his Cabinet.

Defense forces chief Ousmane Badjie on Friday told The Associated Press that Gambia’s security services now support Barrow and would not oppose the regional force that was ready to move against Jammeh if he refused to step down.

“You cannot push us to war for an issue we can solve politically,” Badjie said. “We don’t see any reason to fight.” The force, including tanks, had rolled into Gambia without facing any resistance, said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS. At least 20 military vehicles were seen Friday at the border town of Karang.

The force included troops from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Mali, and they moved in after Barrow’s inauguration and a unanimous vote by the U.N. Security Council to support the regional efforts. Fearing violence, about 45,000 people have fled Gambia for Senegal, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Jammeh earlier had agreed to step down but demanded amnesty for any crimes he may have committed while in power and wanted to stay in Gambia, in his home village of Kanilai, de Souza said Friday. Those demands were not acceptable to ECOWAS, he added.

In his address early Saturday, Jammeh expressed “infinite gratitude to all Gambians” and said not a single person had been killed during the political crisis. “Our decision today was not dictated by anything else but by you, the supreme interest of our Gambian people, and our dear country.”

Even before Jammeh’s address, some of Gambia’s diplomatic missions began switching their allegiance to Barrow, while a growing number of African nations announced they no longer recognized Jammeh. “We embrace and support the new president Adama Barrow,” said Almamy Kassama, an official at the Gambian mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in an email.

Banjul remained peaceful as the political crisis played out. Senegalese radio station RFM reported 30 Gambian soldiers had crossed into Senegal to join the regional forces. Soldiers at checkpoints in Banjul appeared relaxed Friday, with one telling visitors, “Welcome to the smiling coast.”

Late Friday, Barrow addressed members of Gambia’s diaspora and urged them to return home and rebuild their lives. “I wish to congratulate all of you and welcome you to the new Gambia,” he said.

Associated Press writers Babacar Dione and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal; Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed.

Gambian leader told to cede power or be forced out

January 20, 2017

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) —  Gambia’s defeated President Yahya Jammeh must cede power by noon Friday or he will be dislodged by a regional force that has already moved into the country, West African officials said.

If Jammeh refuses to leave Gambia by midday the regional troops will force him out, said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS. A West African regional force including tanks moved into Gambia Thursday evening and has met no resistance, said de Souza. The regional force charged into Gambia after the inauguration of Adama Barrow as the country’s new president and the U.N. Security Council voted to approve the regional military intervention.

Barrow, who won Gambia’s presidential election in December, was sworn into office at the Gambian embassy in neighboring Senegal, where he was for his safety.

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