The Gambia's Jammeh may be gone but life is far from normal

By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Banjul, The Gambia

Media caption, Hundreds of people celebrated in Banjul as West African troops entered the presidential compound

They cheered and chanted, sang the national anthem, waved the Gambian flag at the gates of thestate house and celebrated their new-found freedom.

But the object of their celebration was a column of foreign troops: Senegalese soldiers from the regional force, first assembled to threaten former President Yahya Jammeh to leave.

Now they are in Banjul, at army barracks and strategic buildings, supporting President Adama Barrow's transition to power.

It was the first time many Gambians in the city had the chance to show their emotions after the departure of their president of 22 years.

But at the same time it seemed strange that it was foreign troops, and not their new president, whom they were welcoming to the capital.

Since Yahya Jammeh left on Saturday night there's been a vacuum left in the absence of the newly inaugurated leader.

It is a vacuum which is hopefully being filled by technocrats and reliable aides, ensuring his arrival will be smooth.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Regional forces have been deployed to Banjul, The Gambia's capital

There had been different emotions on display at the airport as former President Jammeh arrived, listened to a military band play him ceremonial music for the last time, and walked the long red carpet to climb aboard an unmarked plane.

With a kiss of the Koran and a wave to the crowd he was gone - and many of those dignitaries and soldiers who had gathered to see him off were in tears.

"What he did was the best thing for the country and we are thanking him for that," said a former mayor of Banjul as she watched the plane take off - en route to Equatorial Guinea where it was agreed he would make his new home.

"Thank you President Yahya Jammeh for leaving The Gambia without blood, coming in without bloodshed, going out without bloodshed," she said.

Image source, AFP
Image caption, Mr Jammeh first conceded, then challenged the result, but has now finally left office
Image source, Reuters
Image caption, President Barrow hasn't yet returned to the country from Senegal, where he was sworn in

Three luxury cars - two Rolls Royce and a Bentley - were loaded onto a cargo plane which followed.

Ten other vehicles remain on the tarmac, loaded and ready to fly, but being held back by officials.

But questions are now being raised over what else he took with him.

President Barrow's close advisor Mai Ahmad Fatty specifically claimed more than $11m (£8.8m) was missing from the state coffers, but didn't give evidence to back up this allegation of theft levelled at the former president.

Media caption, Yahya Jammeh withdrew nearly 500m dalasis from the government in a two-week period, an adviser says

There were conflicting reports from the president's spokesman in Banjul.

It is understood senior civil servants will brief President Barrow's aides in an effort to establish if any state assets are missing - as well as to help smooth the long-awaited transition.

Gambian troops are working with the Senegalese elements of the regional force to ensure security.

It is not yet known when President Barrow will arrive back - he is still in Senegal waiting for assurances that the police and military are now loyal to their new leader.

And he has a tough challenge ahead.

Image source, EPA
Image caption, Many of those who left The Gambia fearing an outbreak of violence have already returned
Image source, EPA
Image caption, Despite Mr Jammeh's departure, things are unlikely to change fast in the country

Coalition politics are never easy, especially after 22 years of strong leadership, and this is The Gambia's first ever peaceful transfer of power since the end of British rule in 1965.

Mr Barrow has made the economy a priority: The Gambia is one of the world's poorest countries and, as a percentage of its population, has one of the largest number of migrants leaving for Europe.

Taking "the back route" is often spoken of here - describing the well-trodden migrant path across West Africa to Agadez in Niger, and then across the Sahara into Libya and over the Mediterranean to Europe.

But things aren't going to change overnight.

Image source, AFP
Image caption, Celebrations erupted in the streets of Banjul after news of Mr Jammeh's departure

"Some people are thinking that once Yahya Jammeh is gone everything is going to be normal - but no, it's going to take time because a lot of damage has been done already," said reggae dance floor artist Silky Criss.

His love song Red Card became the anthem of the opposition, and his graffiti calling on Mr Jammeh to step down led to his crew being pursued by security officials. They feared being caught.

"Seriously I think I was going to be one of those who would have been made missing or killed… but I was, like, it's really worth it."

Now T-shirts bearing the slogan "#GambiaHasDecided" are on sale on the streets - something impossible just a week ago.

The markets are coming back to life after people locked themselves indoors or fled the country, afraid there could be violence.

Tens of thousands are returning from Senegal with high hopes for the future they voted for.

But they need leadership, they need to see change, and they need to see their new president back on Gambian soil.

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