“I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation with infinite gratitude to all Gambians,” Yahya Jammeh said in a late night address on state television yesterday [Friday, 20 January].
The man who has ruled The Gambia for the past 22 years has finally agreed to give up power and leave the country after hours of marathon negotiations with Presidents Alpha Condé of Guinea and Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania in Banjul.
“My decision today was not dictated by anything else but by the supreme interest of you the Gambian people and our dear country taking into consideration my prayer and desire that peace and security continues to rain in the Gambia. At a time when we are witnessing chaos and trouble in other parts of African and the world, the peace and security of the Gambia is our collective heritage, which we must jealously guard and defend,” Jammeh continued.
Jammeh said he had always put above and everything else the independence of “the free and proud people” of The Gambia and would always work together with Gambians to defend that independence they have so dearly fought for and won.
Details of the deal that made Jammeh agree to leave are yet to be published. He was given an ultimatum by ECOWAS to leave the State House or be forced out by 16:00 GMT on Friday.
West African troopsas, part of “Operation Restore Democracy” of the ECOWAS Intervention Group, had entered the country on Thursday to force Jammeh out of the State House in Banjul, but military operations were suspended to give Presidents Condé and Abdel Aziz to convince Jammeh to exit peacefully.
Gambia’s chief of defence forces Ousmane Badjie yesterday pledged his allegiance to President Adama Barrow, who was sworn in in Dakar, Senegal, on Thursday.
According to sources close to the embattled leader, Jammeh and his family will leave The Gambia latest by tomorrow with Guinea rumoured as his most likely destination.
Jammeh started negotiations with ECOWAS on Thursday. He demanded an amnesty for any crimes that he may have committed during his more than two decades in power and that he be permitted to stay in Gambia, at his home village of Kanilai.
Those demands were not acceptable, said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of ECOWAS Commission. Jammeh’s continued presence in Gambia would “create disturbances to public order and terrorist movements” he said.
Speaking to Al Jazeera’s reporter Nicolas Haque to the development, Barrow, who is still in Dakar, said: “A stable Gambia has to be without Jammeh in the picture. That’s why this news is quite significant for all those that have left the country – 46,000 since January 1 … They hope he leaves so they can come back.”
Jammeh for weeks had refused to step down after losing the 1 December election, which he had in fact initially conceded, sparking a major crisis.
With his departure, an eventful era in modern Gambian history would come to a close. The then 22-year old second lieutenant Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994, transforming himself to a civilian leader two years later. His ruling party has governed the country of about 2 million people since then.