Gambia’s Jammeh Agrees to Quit After West African Mediation

  • Former president’s decision ends crisis in West African nation
  • Barrow to take office after Jammeh makes televised address

Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh agreed to step down after more than two decades in power, bringing an end to a political dispute that sparked a military intervention by neighboring states in the tiny West African nation.

Jammeh, 51, relinquished power in a televised address early on Saturday after Guinean President Alpha Conde and Mauritanian leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz flew to the Gambian capital, Banjul, to persuade him to allow the winner of last month’s presidential election to take office. West African military forces entered the country the day before but halted their intervention before reaching Banjul to give time to the last-ditch mediation efforts.

“I believe in the importance of dialogue and the capacity of Africans to resolve among themselves all the challenges on the way toward democracy,” Jammeh said in the broadcast on state-owned GRTS. “I have decided, in good conscience, to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation.”

Pressure intensified on Jammeh after Adama Barrow, who defeated him in the Dec. 1 election, took his oath of office in neighboring Senegal on Thursday and the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution giving “full support” to the Economic Community of West African States to enforce the outcome of the vote. Jammeh, who once vowed to lead Gambia for a billion years, surprised the nation of fewer than 2 million people by initially acknowledging his loss and changing his mind a week later, saying he objected to the results.

Fighter Jets

Mauritania’s Abdel Aziz said Jammeh had agreed to leave for “an African country, with all the guarantees for his family, those close to him and himself,” according to state-controlled Agence Mauritanienne d’Information. He didn’t specify the country. Under the deal, Jammeh can return to Gambia whenever he wants, Abdel Aziz said.

The regional states decided to take military action after Jammeh declared a 90-day state of emergency late Tuesday. Nigeria and Ghana sent men and fighter jets to Senegal, while a convoy of Senegalese soldiers rolled into Gambia on Friday. They then suspended the operation to allow time for the talks, even after the Ecowas deadline for Jammeh to step down had expired. Gambia’s army chief of staff told reporters in Banjul that his men would not engage in fighting the regional troops.

The swift deployment of a West African intervention force to Gambia was unprecedented, according to Sean Smith, West Africa analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

“Ecowas’s use of force to uphold an election result marks a historic moment for African democracy -- it’s the first time they have intervened in such a manner,” he said by phone from London on Friday. “However, the case of Gambia is exceptional because it’s by far the smallest country on the continent and I’d be wary to see this as a model to be replicated in bigger nations.”

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