From Senegal to Italy, Gambians who fled President Yahya Jammeh’s brutal rule are now hoping to return, freed of the fear of one of Africa’s notorious dictators after his defeat.One of them, Fatty Ousman, stayed up all night in Italy to watch results of Gambia’s presidential election.
A Gambian court had freed a prominent lawyer and 18 other political prisoners on bail on Monday (December 5) pending an appeal of their jail term for “unlawful assembly,” in a sign that President Yahya Jammeh’s shock election defeat last week could end years of repression.
Ousainou Darboe along with other senior members of the United Democratic Party (UDP) had been jailed for three years in July for taking part in a small protest near the capital Banjul.
We have a new the Gambia today. There will be freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and people will be free to practice any religion they want.
President-elect Adama Barrow, 51, became the leader of the UDP, the country’s largest opposition party, in September. He succeeded Darboe after he was jailed following rallies calling for electoral reform.
“We have a new the Gambia today. There will be freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and people will be free to practice any religion they want. Gambians have been tolerant for 22 years. Yahya Jammeh, it’s clear to him today that the power belongs to the people.” said Darboe’s wife Mymuna.
The United States and the United Nations have called for all political prisoners in Gambia to be freed. Barrow has said he will free political prisoners.
Back in Dakar and Senegal, Gambians who fled Jammeh’s autocratic rule spoke of their relief and joy after hearing the election results.
A former police officer Ebrima Sanneh left for neighbouring Senegal in 2013 after losing his job for standing up to corruption.
“It was all joy and dancing, but for me, I am a very emotional person, I cried a lot! I thought a lot of things. I thought about when I lost my job. I had a very good police career in my country. I have never been wanted or charged with a crime in the police. I have never done anything wrong. I lost my job. I left my family. I was forced into exile,” he said.
Thousands of Gambians have fled Jammeh’s iron-fisted 22-year rule for Europe, or sought work abroad as the economy sagged.
Now, many are re-evaluating after businessman Barrow beat Jammeh in the Dec. 1 poll, promising to boost the economy and an end to repression.
Nevertheless, it is a jubilant turnaround for Gambian families torn apart by exile, and Barrow has promised to revive the economy.
Back in Gambia’s seaside capital of Banjul, the election result sparked days of wild celebrations and Barrow supporters gathered outside his house.
The election result, and Jammeh’s decision to accept it on a continent where veteran leaders rarely lose, took Gambians and international observers by surprise and sparked days of wild celebrations across the seaside capital Banjul.