EU Commissioner for Development Neven Mimica and foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini have welcomed the change of government in Gambia, after elections last week saw the end of the 22-year rule of Yahya Jammeh.
Jammeh lost power in what was largely a free and fair election, despite the entire country suffering an unexplained internet blackout. Former businessman Adama Barrow won the election, against most predictions.
The small, relatively-stable West African country of just under two million, almost entirely encased within Senegal, is a former British colony which received around €76m in aid from the EU in the period 2008-2013.
Interestingly, few other African leaders have congratulated Barrow so far, according to Africa news website Quartz.com
In a joint statement, Mogherini and Mimica welcomed the peaceful transition of power in the capital, Banjul, adding, “The European Union stands ready to fully support the President-elect, Mr Adama Barrow, his future government and the Gambian people on the path of democratic reforms, which Mr. Barrow has outlined in his election campaign.”
They said the “Gambian voters have expressed their will to see a change of leadership. The European Union wishes to commend the commitment of the Gambian population to democratic principles.”
Although they did not mention that Jammeh came to power in a military coup, in 1994, before being elected president and ruling subsequently, they pointedly added, “President Jammeh’s swift acceptance of the result is a further signal of strengthening democracy in The Gambia.”
Jammeh had once promised to rule Gambia “for a billion years”.
In a hopeful sign, Amnesty International today (5 December) announced that an opposition leader and 18 other peaceful protestors had been released by outgoing president Jammeh.
Sabrina Mahtani, a researcher for Amnesty International in West Africa, said, “The release of Ousainou Darboe and the 18 other peaceful protestors on bail is a big moment for them and their families, and we hope that this positive step indicates that they will be fully acquitted in due course.”
“We must also not forget others prisoners of conscience who still languish in jail simply for having expressed their opinion or participated in peaceful protests. These include three Imams arrested by the security forces over a year ago and not seen since. Their only ‘crime’ – presenting a petition to the government.”
Jammeh’s rule in Gambia was marked by frequent allegations of rights abuses and the regular arrests of politicians, journalists and activists, often on spurious charges.
Barrow, a businessman and political novice, met with the eight leaders who make up the coalition that sealed his remarkable rise to power in last Thursday’s vote, with the talks focusing on the challenges facing the administration.
Back in the ICC?
Barrow has pledged to rejoin the International Criminal Court and the Commonwealth, both institutions which Jammeh railed against and withdrew from.
A UN envoy also told AFP he was “willing to work with the Gambians to establish a truth and reconciliation commission”, but would not be drawn on whether Jammeh could face prosecution.
Allegations of rape, torture and execution at the hand of the National Intelligence Agency, which reports directly to Jammeh, have long tarred Gambia’s image.
Barrow told French media on Saturday (3 December) that “we are not witch-hunting anybody, nothing is personal” when asked whether Jammeh would be prosecuted.
Due process would be followed, Barrow said, adding he had “no problem” with the outgoing president remaining in the country.
The strongman’s whereabouts are currently unknown after Gambian television broadcast an unexpected statement to the nation in which he promised he would step down in line with voters’ wishes.
Jammeh congratulated Barrow late Friday for his “clear victory” in a jovial conversation that saw him joking about becoming a farmer in his hometown, with the exchange caught on film and broadcast.
It was a shock for many to see Jammeh, who had promised to bury critics “nine feet deep” and whose regime has prosecuted peaceful protesters, calmly accept defeat.