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Celebrations erupt in Gambia after Barrow inauguration

23 January 2017, 10:29

Banjul - Gambians, including the country's army chief took to the streets on Thursday in scenes of wild celebration after President Adama Barrow was inaugurated in neighbouring Senegal.

Young men shouted and sang while hanging out of cars, and children danced with their mothers on main roads near the capital, Banjul, where the long-serving leader Yahya Jammeh was believed to remain despite the expiry of his mandate and a military intervention that could remove him at any moment.

Gambians briefly forgot the Senegalese troops flowing over the border and the lack of resolution of the country's political crisis, cheering the president they have wanted to see take power for so long.

In Westfield, a traditional opposition stronghold outside Banjul, AFP journalists witnessed dozens gathered in groups wearing "Gambia has decided" and opposition coalition T-shirts. Stern soldiers looked on but didn't halt the proceedings.

"We are grateful that God has answered our prayers," said Barrow supporter Soloman Jarja, grinning widely as he stood by the side of the road.

Army chief among revellers

The chief of the Gambian army Ousman Badjie was spotted among the revellers in the area, after vowing on Wednesday night his men would not fight African troops approaching the capital.

Living under the uncertainty of a state of emergency, citizens had earlier gathered in their homes to witness Barrow's inauguration on television.

On a near-deserted street in another suburban neighbourhood, the Kah family and their friends stood to attention with heads bowed for the moment Barrow took his oath.

Gambia

Picture: AFP

Singing softly along to their national anthem, the extended family sat in near silence to hear Barrow's speech from Dakar promising reforms and a new future for one of the world's poorest nations.

"We have decided!" shouted musician Mohammed Kah when Barrow finished, jumping up from his sofa and causing an outbreak of laughter.

"Gambia has decided", is the phrase that has come to define the population's resilience in the face of Jammeh's efforts to stay in office despite losing the December 1 election to Barrow.

"Thanks God that we all witnessed it, it is history that we will never forget, said Ibou Mbye, an entertainment manager who joined the Kahs to watch the ceremony.

"I am very proud to be part of it," he said, smiling from beneath a black baseball cap.


Gambia

Picture: AFP

"For the last 22 years we were living under a state of dictatorship," his friend Mohammed's cousin Corra Kah added. "Now we are free".

Acknowledging that as of late Thursday Jammeh remained firmly installed in Banjul while Barrow was sworn in, Kah said he welcomed the deployment of African troops.

"Right now the president, he doesn't want to step down. The Ecowas force is preparing to come... and remove him."

Jammeh remained in Banjul on Thursday despite the expiry of the deadline for his mandate, and made clear when declaring a state of emergency Tuesday that protests would be unwelcome.

Joy in Senegal too 

Gambians who have fled to Senegal, many fearing violence during the political crisis, were also jubilant.

Gambia

Picture : AFP

When they heard that Barrow was to be sworn in, many crowded into the narrow street where their Dakar embassy is located, dancing, cheering and waving the national flag.

Organisers set up a giant screen outside the embassy to allow them to watch the ceremony.

"He (Jammeh) has been in power for 22 years. It's time for him to leave", said Alieu Momar Njie, the former head of Gambia's electoral commission who fled to Senegal recently.

Said Mody Cisse, who has lived in Senegal for five years: "I came to Senegal because of the economic problems in Gambia. I would like to return" after Jammeh leaves.

- AFP

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