Gambia: After the celebration, many questions
On 18 February, Adama Barrow was officially inaugurated as the third President of the Republic of The Gambia, timely coinciding with Gambia’s Independence Day. After more than a month and a half of uncertainty about the future of the country following President Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to recognise his defeat after the 1 December 2016 elections, he finally agreed to step down under the threat of ECOWAS soldiers and went into exile in Equatorial Guinea. This allowed Barrow, the victorious winner who was himself exiled in Senegal, to return to the country.
The outcome of the Gambian crisis has provoked different reactions. On the one hand, several observers have criticised Jammeh’s amnesty deal. On the other hand, the involvement of the West African regional community, through mediation and the threat of military intervention made it possible to put a relatively quick end to Jammeh’s power grab after he lost the elections. Of course, Senegal played a major role - very happy to bring down the protector of the last rebels in the Casamance - and the Gambian army was not a real threat. But while disagreements have often had an effect on how regional responses are deployed, ECOWAS’s action in Gambia deserves to be highlighted.
Nonetheless, Jammeh’s departure and the triumphant return of Adama Barrow to Banjul should not make us forget that the future of Gambia remains uncertain. West African soldiers are maintaining the security of the new regime and their mandate was renewed for three months at the beginning of February. A few days later a man who was a soldier and a former member of Jammeh’s presidential guard was arrested by Senegalese police at the mosque where Adama Barrow used to pray in possession of a gun.
If the former president’s supporters and networks constitute a potential source of instability, this underscores the need for Gambian authorities to retake control over the security forces in order to allow the ECOWAS forces to leave. But this is not the only challenge for the new president. The country is heavily indebted, with a poverty rate of 50%. As for parliament, it is still tightly controlled by members of the former president’s party, at least until the scheduled legislative elections in April. In this respect, for the former real estate agent turned president, the coming months are crucial for him to both hold together a heterogeneous Gambian opposition coalition and get them to unite around him in order to initiate the reforms necessary to breathe new life into the country.
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