Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Exiled strongman Jammeh ‘plundered’ Gambia coffers

Gambia’s exiled strongman Yahya Jammeh plundered millions of dollars in his final weeks in power leaving state coffers “empty”, an aide to new President Adama Barrow said as West African troops prepared to secure his arrival.

Jammeh flew out of the Gambia on Saturday, ending 22 years at the helm of the small west African nation, and headed for Equatorial Guinea where he is expected to settle with his family.

A West African military force entered the Gambia Sunday – greeted by cheers from relieved residents – to provide security and allow Barrow, who has been in neighbouring Senegal for more than a week, to return and take power.

But amid growing controversy over the assurances offered to Jammeh to guarantee his departure, Barrow aide Mai Fatty said the new administration had discovered that some $11-million had recently been stolen.

“The coffers are largely empty,” he told reporters in the Sengalese capital Dakar.

“Over two weeks, over 500-million dalasi ($11 million) were withdrawn” by Jammeh, he said. “As we take over, the government of the Gambia is in financial distress.”

Following Barrow’s win in the December 1 election, Jammeh refused to step down, triggering weeks of uncertainty that almost ended in a full military intervention.

Jammeh slunk off in the early hours of Sunday on an unmarked plane. Barrow is eager to return “as soon as possible”, Mai Fatty said, warning however, that “the state of security in the Gambia is still fragile.”

On Sunday, “additional forces crossed into the Gambia to beef up the numbers already on the ground,” Barrow said, according to a statement read out by Mai Fatty.

The new administration wants the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) forces to stay on. “We want their mandate to be extended,” Mai Fatty said, adding that Barrow was waiting for assurances of loyalty from the security forces, including the police and the army.

Jammeh personally controlled certain sections of the security forces, and his long tenure was marked by systematic rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detention.

The Senegalese general leading a joint force of troops from five African nations said soldiers would “control strategic points to ensure the safety of the population and facilitate… Barrow’s assumption of his role”.

Marcel Alain de Souza, a top ECOWAS official, said the country “could not be left open” for long, and that Barrow must be in place “as soon as possible”.

A senior Senegalese military source told AFP that his forces had met little resistance on Sunday, as army chief Ousman Badjie has already declared his loyalty to Barrow.

Comfortable terms
Critics have raised concerns over the wording of a statement issued by the UN, ECOWAS and the African Union that seemed to offer Jammeh comfortable guarantees for his future.

“No legislative measures” would be taken that would infringe the “dignity, security, safety and rights” of Jammeh or his family, it said, noting that property “lawfully” belonging to him would not be seized.

However, experts told AFP the document was not legally binding.

Equatorial Guinea is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, meaning Jammeh would not be extradited in the event he was charged with crimes against humanity or other serious offences.

His expected arrival in the country was met with ire as the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) blasted President Teodoro Obiang Nguema for showing “contempt” towards Equatorial Guinea and “thinking only of his personal gain” by granting Jammeh “political exile”.

Obiang is a similar strongman to Jammeh and has been in power since ousting his uncle in 1979.

Jammeh took power in a 1994 coup from the country’s only other president since independence from Britain, Dawda Jawara, making this the Gambia’s first democratic transition of power.

The new administration’s first priority will be to ensure the safe return of tens of thousands of people who have fled in recent weeks fearing a bloody end to the crisis.

The crisis had also sparked the exodus of thousands of foreign visitors, dealing a potentially devastating blow to a country which earns up to 20 percent of its income from tourism. – Agence France-Presse

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Joe Sinclair
Joe Sinclair works from London. Deputy head of video at the FT Joe Sinclair has over 810 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Kenya’s beach boys fall into sex tourism, trafficking

In the face of their families’ poverty, young men, persuaded by the prospect of wealth or education, travel to Europe with their older female sponsors only to be trafficked for sex

High court reinstates Umgeni Water board

The high court has ruled that the dissolution of the water entity’s board by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was unfair and unprocedural

Mkhize throws the book at the Special Investigating Unit

It’s a long shot at political redemption for the former health minister and, more pressingly, a bid to avert criminal charges
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×