(UK Telegraph) Gambia’s newly sworn-in president has ordered the country’s armed forces to abandon any loyalty to dictator Yahya Jammeh, as troops from neighbouring Senegal crossed the border to oust him.
Adama Barrow, who won Gambia’s elections in December but left the country last week for fear that Mr Jammeh’s security forces might kill him, took his oath of office in an improvised ceremony at the modest Gambian embassy office in Senegal.
In a brief televised speech made in a cramped function room, he hailed his inauguration as a “victory for the nation”, but warned Mr Jammeh’s security forces that they would now be deemed “rebels” if they did not switch sides.
Mr Barrow spoke as a force of more than 1,000 troops, mandated by the regional ECOWAS power bloc, crossed into Gambian territory after two days massing at the border.
They have instructions to march on the capital, Banjul, if Mr Jammeh does not step down.
Last night, Abdou Ndiaye, a Senegalese army spokesman, confirmed the move over the Gambian frontier, although it was not clear whether they would head immediately to Banjul.
Meanwhile Mr Barrow, who made his speech clad in a white gown and cap, warned that any soldiers who resisted his commands would be legitimate targets for the ECOWAS force.
“I call personally on the armed forces and security agencies to be loyal to their republic, and I command all members of the armed forces to demonstrate their loyalty to me,” he said.
Mr Barrow was supposed to have been inaugurated at a much grander ceremony yesterday at Banjul’s Independence Stadium, but was advised that returning to Gambia while Mr Jammeh was still at large could be a security risk.
In the event, the extraordinary low-key nature of the oath-taking endeared him all the more in the eyes of ordinary Gambians, who gathered round television screens nationwide to watch.
Elizabeth Khan, 45, who runs a catering business in Banjul, stood to attention with her colleagues as first the Gambian national anthem played, and then Mr Barrow took his oath.
“I feel very excited and relieved, even though Mr Jammeh has still not gone yet,” she told The Telegraph. “It’s sad that Mr Barrow couldn’t be inaugurated here in Gambia, of course, but we can wait to have a big party when he does came back.”
The inauguration drew also drew praise internationally, as world leaders condemned Mr Jammeh for trying to cling to power.
Boris Johnson, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, led the tributes, saying: “I congratulate His Excellency Adama Barrow on his inauguration as the new President of The Gambia…It is vital that former President Jammeh now stands aside to allow an orderly transition.”
However, as dusk fell on Banjul, the knowledge that Mr Jammeh and his inner circle were still holed up in State House meant that celebrations were deemed premature.
A few Gambians drove around blasting their car horns, encouraging others to follow suit, but there was no repeat of the spontaneous street parties that took place after last month’s elections, when Mr Jammeh was voted out.
Although there is graffiti all over the city reading “Jammeh must go”, many large posters of “His Excellency Sheikh Dr Professor President”, as he prefers to be known, still stare down from roadside billboards.
As of Thursday evening, diplomats from nearby Mauritania claimed they were still hopeful of persuading Mr Jammeh to accept a last-minute offer to step down.
The Gambian strongman is not popular among his fellow regional leaders, who consider him a throwback to Africa’s undemocratic past, but they have offered him asylum in Mauritania, Nigeria, Morocco, and Sudan, among other places, if it would lead to him leaving peacefully.
On Thursday, an official close to Mr Jammeh’s inner circle said that his presidential guard, who are thought to be mostly with Mr Jammeh at State House, would fight the Senegalese troops rather than surrender. However, they are thought to number no more than 300 at most, and with little popular support for Mr Jammeh any more among the Gambian people, diplomats believe they may ultimately opt to hand him over rather than die at his side.
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