Jubilant Gambians on Thursday, 26 January welcomed home their new president, who was elected almost two months ago but forced to flee to Senegal when his predecessor, Yahya Jammeh, refused to step aside.
Dressed in flowing white robes and cap, Adama Barrow stepped off the plane at the Banjul International Airport with heavily-armed troops from Senegal and Nigeria standing by to provide security. He flew in from neighbouring Senegal, where he had taken shelter on 15 January.
Barrow, who was accompanied by his two wives and some of his children, was welcomed by military officials, senior members of his coalition government and diplomats accredited to the country.
Barrow took the oath of office at his country’s embassy in Dakar on 19 January and a West African military force then entered The Gambia, a nation of about 2 million people, to ensure Jammeh’s departure.
Barrow, who was greeted by hundreds of his supporters, has his job cut out for him, say analysts. His first task is to establish his authority without having to always look over his shoulders. This is the first time since The Gambia became independent in 1965 that the country has changed government through the ballot box.
The security forces are still of Jammeh loyalists and Barrow and his government have to remove these without destroying the morale and discipline in the military, say observers.
Around 4,000 troops of the ECOWAS intervention force remain in The Gambia to ensure security and prevent rogue elements in the Gambian military from attempting to take over power by force or destabilise the country.
“President Adama Barrow has asked us to remain for two or three weeks to see if there are arms caches or mercenaries hiding out,” said Marcel Alain de Souza, head of the 15-nation ECOWAS commission.
Barrow’s second major challenge is to harmonise the views of the seven political parties that jointly sponsored his candidacy at the 1 December election. Already there have been discordant voices.
For example, the president’s nominee for vice president, 67-year-old Madam Fatoumatta Jallow-Tambajang, is said to be above the maximum age of 65 prescribed by the Gambian constitution for such appointment. Barrow’s aides have hinted that he would review the appointment.
Thirdly, the new president has to quickly normalise the situation in the country so that the economy can begin to recover. For example, tourism, the major economic sector, has been severely affected by the crisis. Thousands of tourists fled The Gambia during the election standoff in a period that is actually the high season of the industry. This has worsened the unemployment situation.
However, Barrow’s supporters are optimistic that the reign of the new president will be good for the country. They’re savouring the new freedom that the new dispensation has brought. The feel good mood is however not expected to last long as the hard economic realities will demand quick solutions from the new government. The new president now has onerous task to deliver on his promise to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity to the country.
Ken Kamara & Ousainou Bayo