Exactly a year ago today, many Gambians and the West African regional body ECOWAS heaved a sigh of relief when Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh, who had ruled for over two decades, agreed to step down and leave the country into exile in Equatorial Guinea.
The move came after days of negotiations over his refusal to relinquish power after he lost the December 2016 elections to current president Adama Barrow.
It took a military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), threats from the international community, visits by about half a dozen heads of state and an immunity deal for him and his family before he agreed to leave the country.
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A joint ECOWAS military force was stationed in nearby Senegal awaiting an order to strike after the military in the Gambia were suppressing dissent and intimidating Gambians for disagreeing with the president. Jammeh had annulled the elections, which he called fraudulent, and ordered for a new one to be held.
The head of the electoral commission, victor in the elections and many other officials had fled the country in an attempt to save their lives.
The joint-military force stepped in and took control of the capital city. It later halted its operation after the Gambian military surrendered to allow mediation efforts to prevail. The joint military operation was halted and civilians were given utmost protection.
A final mediation team led by Guinea’s President Alpha Conde and Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz dragged through the deadline given by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to take military action.
They succeeded in getting the former president and military ruler to agree to leave the country with his luxurious assets and wealth, his aides and a signed immunity agreement for his family and aides. He gave a final national address relinquishing power and left the country under the watchful eyes of the media foreign dignitaries and supporters.
In his usual white apparel, he waved at his supporters and boarded the flight with his family to Equatorial Guinea where he has since engaged in agriculture.
There are plans to try him for crimes during his era including the murder of opposition politicians, journalists and massive corruption disclosed after his exit. Millions of dollars of state funds were transferred to his personal account and he had acquired illegal properties using state funds.
Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo Nguema said in a recent interview with RFI that he will only agree to a court’s decision to hand over Jammeh for prosecution if his legal team thinks it’s the right thing to do.
If there is a request, I will analyze it with my lawyers … Fortunately, I received a letter from ECOWAS exonerating President Yahya Jammeh as a citizen of Gambia, when he wants to return to that country, he will return. But I am not aware of the judgment about which you are now telling me. But I think what we have to do …. he gave up power, it’s over. But to prosecute someone who took the decision to give up power might be a bad political idea … I would like to see the judgment against him, I would like to receive the indictment, I will examine it, consider it, with my lawyers.