By Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Alex Enumah in Abuja with agency report
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and the United Nations have commended former Gambian President, Yayha Jammeh, for putting the interest of the people of the Gambia far above his personal interest, after he decided to step down as president, following pressure from the international community.
The country was on the verge of war following Jammeh’s refusal to hand over power to his successor, Adama Barrow, who was declared winner in the December 1, 2016 presidential election.
Jammeh had initially declined all overtures, particularly by the ECOWAS Mediatory Team to relinquish power peacefully, forcing Barrow’s inauguration to be held in The Gambian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal and ECOWAS raising a stand-by force for his ouster.
However, following further mediation by the presidents of Mauritania and Guinea Conakry, Jammeh finally agreed to bow out of office preventing his forceful eviction by the ECOWAS force.
In a joint declaration by the regional and global bodies, they commended Jammeh for acting statesmanly and assured him of his safety and dignity as a former president.
“ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commend the goodwill and statesmanship of former President Jammeh, who with the greater interest of the Gambian people in mind, and in order to preserve the peace, stability and security of The Gambia and maintain its sovereignty, territorial integrity and the dignity of the Gambian people, has decided to facilitate an immediate peaceful and orderly transition process and transfer of power to President Adama Barrow in accordance with the Gambian constitution.
“In furtherance of this, ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that it assures and ensures the dignity, respect, security and rights of former President Jammeh, as a citizen, a party leader and a former Head of State as provided for and guaranteed by the 1997 Gambian Constitution and other Laws of The Gambia,” they declared.
Apart from the former president, the international bodies also committed themselves to the safety and wellbeing of Jammeh’s immediate family, cabinet members, government officials, security officials and party supporters and loyalists.
“ECOWAS, the AU and the UN urge the Government of The Gambia to take all necessary measures to ensure that there is no intimidation, harassment and/or witch-hunting of the former regime members and supporters, in conformity with the Constitution and other laws of The Gambia”, they urged the new administration.
They pledged to work with the government of The Gambia to prevent the seizure of assets and properties lawfully belonging to former President Jammeh or his family and those of his cabinet members, government officials and Party supporters, as guaranteed under the constitution and other laws of The Gambia.
“ECOWAS, the AU and the UN will work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that former President Jammeh is at liberty to return to The Gambia at any time of his choosing in accordance with international human rights law and his rights as a citizen of the Gambia and a former head of state,” they declared.
“ECOWAS, the AU and the UN will work to ensure that host countries that offer “African hospitality” to former President Jammeh and his family do not become undue targets of harassment, intimidation and all other pressures and sanctions,’ they added.
West African leaders did not agree to immunity for former Gambia President, Yahya Jammeh, during negotiations that persuaded him to flee into exile, Reuters quoted Senegal’s foreign minister as saying yesterday. Jammeh, who has been accused of serious human rights violations, led his country for 22 years but refused to accept defeat in a December 1, 2016, presidential election. He flew out of the country’s capital Banjul late last Saturday as a regional military force was poised to remove him.
Regional leaders had not gone as far as agreeing immunity despite Jammeh’s attempts to secure this, Senegalese Foreign Minister, Mankeur Ndiaye told Reuters.
“President Jammeh and his team concocted a declaration to be endorsed by (regional bloc) ECOWAS, the United Nations and the African Union that gave him every guarantee, essentially impunity; this declaration was signed by no one, “ Mankeur Ndiaye, further told Reuters.
The foreign minister made his comments after the AU and the UN published a joint declaration from the three bodies “with the purpose of reaching a peaceful resolution to the political situation in The Gambia.”
In it, they pledged, among other things, to protect Jammeh’s rights “as a citizen, a party leader and a former head of state,” to prevent the seizure of property belonging to him and his allies, and to ensure he can eventually return to Gambia.
However, Ndiaye played down the significance of the document.
“I want to be clear on the fact that no ECOWAS head of state validated this declaration,” said Ndiaye, who added that Barrow had not been made aware of the document before its publication.
Human rights groups had accused Jammeh of jailing, torturing and killing his political opponents while acquiring a vast fortune – including luxury cars and estate in the United States-as most of his people remained impoverished.
Jammeh flew to Equatorial-Guinea with a brief stopover in Guinea’s capital Conakry, the office of Guinea’s President Conde said yesterday.
West African troops from Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana and Mali were deploying in Gambia yesterday as part of efforts to secure the country and allow Barrow to take charge.
“We will look for arms caches and detect mercenaries, so that we can restore calm. “Adama Barrow hopes to go back as quickly as possible,” Marcel de Souza, President of the ECOWAS commission, told journalists.
A Reuters witness yesterday saw war planes flying over Banjul, which remained calm despite some concern over how the army, a pillar of Jammeh’s regime, would react to his departure.