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“Over two weeks, over 500-million dalasi ($11 million) were withdrawn” by Jammeh, he said.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 to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

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

Related stories

A distress signal from Soweto in 1977

A Window on Soweto by Joyce Sikakane-Rankin provided insight during apartheid censorship

Review: Cohen’s fire lacks fuel in ‘Borat’ sequel

The film interrogates patriarchy, but the baseness of the US means there’s nothing left to send up

‘Again She Reigns’: In communion with a pantheon of saints

Multidisciplinary project Again She Reigns by Carla Fonseca and Nthato Mokgata finds firm footing as an album

30 October 2020

The Digital Edition is an exclusive product available to our subscribers The Digital Editions are an online...

Joe Biden’s debate guests run the only Zimbabwean restaurant in America

A Zimbabwean restaurant feeding people in need formed an unlikely addition to Joe Biden’s election campaign

The Portfolio: Saaiqa

Photographer Saaiqa shares the story of how she captured this picture that reflects both the socioeconomic realities of our country and simple companionship
Advertising

Subscribers only

The shame of 40 000 missing education certificates

Graduates are being left in the lurch by a higher education department that is simply unable to deliver the crucial certificates proving their qualifications - in some cases dating back to 1992

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

More top stories

Joe Biden’s debate guests run the only Zimbabwean restaurant in...

A Zimbabwean restaurant feeding people in need formed an unlikely addition to Joe Biden’s election campaign

The high road is in harm reduction

While the restriction of movement curtailed the health services for people who use drugs in some parts of the world, it propelled other countries into finding innovative ways to continue services, a new report reveals

Khaya Sithole: Tsakani Maluleke’s example – and challenge

Shattering the glass ceiling is not enough, the new auditor general must make ‘live’ audits the norm here in SA

State’s wage freeze sparks apoplexy

Public sector unions have cried foul over the government’s plan to freeze wages for three years and have vowed to fight back.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday