After more than 22 years in power in the west African nation, Yahya Jammeh ends a political crisis as he goes into exile. The Gambia's former leader Yahya Jammeh has flown into political exile in Equatorial Guinea after stepping down from power.
Mr Jammeh travelled to the airport in The Gambia's capital Banjul with mediator Alpha Conde, the president of Guinea, as he headed into exile. As he climbed the stairs to the plane, Mr Jammeh kissed his copy of the Koran, and waved to supporters before going inside.
Mr Jammeh had refused to step down after he lost an election to President Adama Barrow, but bowed to pressure from the West African military that had entered The Gambia to force him to recognise the election outcome.
Speaking earlier on Saturday, he told state television: "I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation."
Mr Barrow was inaugurated on Thursday in neighbouring Senegal, with support from the international community. He said on Saturday he would return to Gambia once it is "clear" and a security sweep is completed.
Mr Jammeh's departure ended hours of last-minute negotiations with the leaders of Guinea and Mauritania.
Human rights activists have demanded he is held accountable for alleged abuses - including the torture and detention of opponents. It was concerns about prosecution that led to him challenging the election in December, days after he had initially conceded defeat.
Jeggan Bahoum, of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Gambia, said: "Jammeh came as a pauper bearing guns. He should leave as a disrobed despot. "The properties he seeks to protect belong to Gambians and Gambia, and he must not be allowed to take them with him." An online petition also called for him to be denied asylum and instead arrested.
Mr Jammeh seized power in 1994 in a coup, and had been holed up in his official residence in Banjul as he was abandoned by his security forces.
The history of Africa’s oldest psychiatric hospital is written on the walls of its isolation units, desperate messages chiselled into the woodwork like scars. “I came here for I don’t have any money,” reads one note in a corner of the room. “People want me to run from my father’s house,” reads another. “You go nowhere,” announces a third. “Stay out.”
Since the hospital opened in the early 19th century, most Sierra Leoneans have aspired to do exactly that, avoiding this imposing building perched high on a hill above the capital, Freetown.
Still the country’s only mental healthcare facility, the Sierra Leone psychiatric hospital is known in the local Krio language as the “crase yard” or “place for crazy people”. During the civil war in the 1990s, rebel fighters got as far as the staff quarters before turning back, too afraid of what they might find inside, witnesses say.
When the world’s worst Ebola outbreak began there two years ago, Sierra Leone had just 136 doctors working in the public sector, according to the World Health Organisation, a massive shortfall for a population of 6 million.
There was only one psychiatrist: Edward Nahim, a wry, Soviet-trained 70-year-old who spent his mornings scribbling prescriptions in the foyer of the hospital, where many patients were kept chained and treatment consisted of little more than a daily dose of expired antipsychotic drugs. Electricity flickered and rusting buckets served as makeshift toilets on the days the pipes ran dry, which was most of the time.
The mental health toll that Ebola exacted – depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder – was massive. But the hospital’s fearsome reputation meant few of those affected considered looking there for support. In the early days of the outbreak, many people considered hospitals to be dumping grounds for the dying or, worse, the places that had made them sick.
Those suffering from the virus’s psychological side-effects viewed the psychiatric facility in a similarly negative light.
“Because we have so few professional resources, people are used to understanding mental illness in their own way and most would never even think of coming to a hospital for psychiatric treatment,” says Stephen Sevalie, who this year became the country’s second psychiatrist, working for the Sierra Leone armed forces.
But Nahim says this caution may not be entirely a bad thing. Places such as Sierra Leone needs fewer formal mental health services than western countries, he says, because its people are able to rely so heavily on community structures – families, traditional healers and religious leaders – during times of emotional distress.
“We do counselling, though it’s not the type they do in America or Europe,” Nahim says. “Here, if you have a problem, someone talks to you. Your parents talk to you. Your church talks to you. Your traditional healers treat and counsel you. In America they need professional counsellors because no one talks to anybody – if you try to talk to somebody, they’ll probably call the police.”
But a lack of formal treatment options for those struggling the most has led to desperation, too. Bars selling cheap sachets of gin and whisky are crowded long before noon, and weather-battered men wander the streets of Freetown, mumbling to themselves and begging for change and discarded food. Drug abuse is rampant, particularly among the war veterans, many of whom were children when they fought.
For those working in the mental health sector, this is not the way things were supposed to be. In the years after the decade-long civil war which, according to the UN, led to the deaths of more than 70,000 people and to hundreds of thousands being maimed by amputation, international charities poured into Sierra Leone with promises to heal its emotional wounds.
“Many of these programmes were excellent,” says Dr Florence Baingana, who works for the World Health Organisation’s Sierra Leone office. But they were also temporary. “You can’t run a mental healthcare system with outsiders – NGOs have a life cycle; they come and they go.”
Mental health in particular proved a hard sell to international donors over the long term – the wounds it healed were largely invisible and the progress drawn out.
Slowly, the international money dwindled, says Edward Bockarie, executive director of the Community Association for Psychosocial Services (Caps), a Sierra Leonean NGO that has provided counselling since the end of the war.
On a recent morning, counsellors at one of his regional offices in the eastern province of Kailahun hunched over a few shared computers, planning projects. None of them had been paid for nearly six months, after their last spurt of funding ran dry.
“This is our initiative. We can’t just leave it,” says Maxwell Makieu, a counsellor who has worked with the association since its launch in a refugee camp in Guinea 20 years ago.
Back then, he and the other Caps counsellors were refugees fleeing conflict in Sierra Leone, hired by an American nonprofit organisation to provide peer counselling to others in the camp. When the centre retreated from Sierra Leone a few years later, its local counsellors started their own group.
For the past decade, they have scraped together grants to keep their shoestring operation running in two districts in the war-ravaged east.
That meant that when Ebola broke out they were among the only counsellors prepared to respond. Their staff were quickly scooped up by Médecins Sans Frontières and other international charities to work in their treatment centres.
But when the outbreak ended, predictably, so did most international interest in their work.
At the Kailahun district hospital, there are signs that changes to the mental health system are at last being institutionalised.
Martin Senesie, Kailahun’s first trained mental health nurse, arrived last year as part of a programme that placed 21 such nurses at hospitals around the country, and now has a bright office.
However, he admits the work at times feels never-ending. He has grown used to whispers of “crase man doctor” when he walks through town. His pay of approximately 750,000 leones (about £108) a month, feels like a slight, given the many years he spent earning his qualifications.
Each month, dozens of Ebola survivors and their families queue outside his office seeking help for depression and anxiety. Without him, he wonders, where would they go?
In Freetown, Sevalie hopes the enthusiasm around mental health services will continue. “Whether Ebola is here or not, these systems are essential. This is an opportunity for us. It could be the turning point.”
As a way of complementing President Ernest Bai Koroma's, Recovery Priorities and Agenda for Prosperity in the education sector, the Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone, H.E Wu Peng, yesterday awarded scholarships to 15 students from Fourah Bay College, (FBC) Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) and the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS) respectively.
Speaking during the award ceremony at their Spur Loop Embassy in Freetown, H.E Ambassador Wu Peng, said the scholarship represents the cooperation between the University of Sierra Leone and the Chinese Embassy, which he said signifies their devotion to promoting education in Sierra Leone.
He congratulated the 15 outstanding students, adding that each of them was awarded scholarship for their excellent performances in the past academic year.
He continued that one of the recipient students would be selected and awarded the Chinese Government Scholarship and would have the opportunity to do further studies in China in 2017.
"Ladies and gentlemen, youth are the future of a nation and education creates better future for the young people. President Ernest Bai Koroma announced that he is dedicating his government to the development of youth of his country. The president's Recovery Priorities and Agenda for Prosperity also focus on the aspects of youth and education of the nation. The Chinese Ambassador's Scholarship is the response to President Koroma's efforts for helping youth," he said.
He said Sierra Leone has been a long-time friend of China, and that the Chinese Government attaches great importance to the field of youth and education in the country's bilateral cooperation.
He disclosed that since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1971, the Chinese Government has provided more than 500 scholarships to Sierra Leone, and that he wishes to contribute his own part and bring hope to more young students through the Chinese Ambassador's Scholarship.
"Last month, President Ernest Bai Koroma visited China and during the fruitful visit, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping witnessed the signing of 6 mutual-beneficial agreements and jointly raised the bilateral relationship to the strategic partnership of Comprehensive Cooperation. I am confident that under this new momentum, the ties between China and Sierra Leone will get closer and closer and more Sierra Leonean young people will benefit from the ties," he said.
Also speaking at the ceremony, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, Professor Ekundayo Thompson, said the act of awarding scholarships evidenced the deepening of the relationship between the people's republic of China and the republic of Sierra Leone on one hand, and the process of solidifying the partnership between the Chinese Embassy and the University of Sierra Leone on the other hand.
He said it also evidenced the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Embassy and the university to award 15 scholarships annually to deserving students of the University of Sierra Leone comprising Fourah Bay College, Institute of Public Administration and Management and the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences.
He further stated that by the award of scholarships, students of the university were supported to pursue further studies in the People's Republic of China and qualify in various fields of study and practices, adding that the scholarship awards contributed in no small measure to the development of Sierra Leone's human resource capacity.
"Human Resource Development is the single most important contribution to the overall process of social and economic development of the country. It is the catalyst which not only provides and expands choices which people elect to make, but also sustains growth and induces positive change," he said.
"Let me, on behalf of the senate and court of the University of Sierra Leone thank, very sincerely the Ambassador for the award and hope that it will further strengthen our relationship. To the awardees, I say hearty congratulations; you were selected for the award because you deserve to be awarded, given your record of work and achievement. We hope that other students will be motivated to work hard and archive."
The Gambia's long-term leader Yahya Jammeh says he will step down, after refusing to accept defeat in elections. In an announcement on state TV, he said it was "not necessary that a single drop of blood be shed". The statement followed hours of talks between Mr Jammeh and West African mediators. He gave no details of what deal might have been struck.
Mr Jammeh has led the country for 22 years but was defeated in December's election by Adama Barrow. Mr Barrow has been in neighbouring Senegal for days and was inaugurated as president in the Gambian embassy there on Thursday.
Troops from several West African nations, including Senegal, have been deployed in The Gambia, threatening to drive Mr Jammeh out of office if he did not agree to go. Mr Jammeh's decision to quit came after talks with the presidents of Guinea and Mauritania. "I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation with infinite gratitude to all Gambians," he said. "I promise before Allah and the entire nation that all the issues we currently face will be resolved peacefully."
Shortly before the TV address, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said that a deal had been struck and that Mr Jammeh would leave the country. He gave no further details.
Mr Jammeh was given an ultimatum to leave office or be forced out by UN-backed troops, which expired at 16:00 GMT on Friday. The deadline was set by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), a regional grouping backed by the United Nations.
The first signs of a breakthrough came on Friday when a senior aide to the new president told the BBC's Umaru Fofana that Mr Jammeh had agreed to step down. Mr Jammeh had at first accepted defeat in the election but then reversed his position and said he would not step down. He declared a 90-day state of emergency, blaming irregularities in the electoral process. The electoral commission accepted that some of its early results had contained errors but said they would not have affected Mr Barrow's win.
Mr Jammeh had vowed to stay in office until new elections were held.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh is refusing to step down despite the threat of military intervention by neighbouring states.
Adama Barrow, who beat him in elections last month, is due to be inaugurated as the new president on Thursday, but Mr Jammeh has ignored the deadline.
West African military forces are ready to enforce a transfer of power.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz failed to break the deadlock at last-minute talks with Mr Jammeh. Mr Abdel Aziz flew in to the Gambian capital Banjul on Wednesday evening to meet Mr Jammeh before flying on to Dakar airport for further discussions with Mr Barrow and Senegal's President Macky Sall. "I am now less pessimistic [that Mr Jammeh] will work on a peaceful solution that is in the best interest for everyone," Mr Abdel Aziz said.
Senegalese troops remain stationed at the Gambian border, despite the deadline for Mr Jammeh to stand down passing at midnight. The threat of military action is supported by Nigeria and other states in the region.
However, Gambian army chief Ousman Badjie said his troops would not fight Senegalese forces should they enter into the country, AFP news agency reports. "We are not going to involve ourselves militarily, this is a political dispute," he said. "I am not going to involve my soldiers in a stupid fight. I love my men."
Mr Jammeh has ruled The Gambia since taking power in a coup in 1994. Wednesday was meant to be his last day in office but parliament granted him three more months in the post.
Mr Barrow, who was said to be preparing to be sworn in as president "on Gambian soil" on Thursday, remains in neighbouring Senegal.
At least 26,000 Gambians, fearful that violence could erupt, sought refuge in Senegal this week.
Meanwhile, thousands of UK and Dutch tourists continue to be evacuated from the tiny West African state on special charter flights. Gambia is a popular beach destination among European holidaymakers, especially in winter.
Why is Mr Jammeh refusing to leave office?
Mr Jammeh initially accepted that Mr Barrow had won the election but later reversed his position and said he would not step down. He declared a 90-day state of emergency calling for "peace, law and order" after what he said were irregularities in the election process. He said that along with errors made by the electoral commission, some of his supporters were turned away from polling stations.
The commission later accepted that some of the results it initially published contained errors, but said they would not have affected Mr Barrow's win. Mr Jammeh has said he will stay in office until new elections are held. Retaining power would also ensure he was not prosecuted in The Gambia for alleged abuses committed during his rule.
The African Union (AU) says it will cease to recognize Yahya Jammeh as president of the Gambia effective January 19, when his mandate officially expires.
The continental political bloc arrived at the latest decision after a Peace and Security Council (PSC)meeting held on Friday 13 January 2017, the same day as ECOWAS mediators returned to the country to mediate in the post election impasse.
Under point 5 of its 11 point resolution after the meeting, the AU outlined measures it will take ‘‘with a view to ensuring respect for the will of the Gambian people.’‘
Whiles declaring the support for the December 1, 2016 poll results the AU Council said it ‘‘strongly reaffirms the AU’s zero tolerance policy with regard to coup d’état and unconstitutional changes of government in Africa;
‘‘Further Declares that, as of 19 January 2017, outgoing President Yahya Jammeh will cease to be recognized by the AU as legitimate President of the Republic of The Gambia;
‘‘Warns outgoing President Yahya Jammeh of serious consequences in the event that his action causes any crisis that could lead to political disorder, humanitarian and human rights disaster, including loss of innocent lives and destruction of properties,’‘ it added.
The AU reiterated its support for the ECOWAS mediation efforts which according to reports ended in deadlock after the mediators – Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, co-mediator Ghana’s ex-president John Dramani Mahama and ECOWAS Chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf met with parties to the impasse.
Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Mohammed Ibn Chambas told the media after the meeting that ECOWAS will consult the AU Peace and Security Council on its next move.
“A High-level delegation has returned to Banjul today, as we meet here, January 13th, in an attempt to persuade President Jammeh to abide by the elections results and to step down. They plan to leave no doubt about the determination of ECOWAS to use all necessary means, including force, to have the will of the Gambian people upheld.
“Should this be deemed necessary, ECOWAS intends to seek the endorsement of the African Union Peace and Security Commission and the formal approval of this Council to deploy troops to the Gambia,” he stressed.
Jammeh initially accepted his loss at the polls before reversing his position citing irregularities in the results. His party have filed a poll petition which the court failed to sit on for lack of judges.
Their latest court application is an injunction to be placed on the inauguration of Barrow but the court has yet to set a date to sit on that. Jammeh’s term expires on January 19 when his successor is expected to be sworn in.
Scared Gambians fleeing
Thousands of Gambians fearing unrest in their country, plunged into a political crisis for more than a month, have fled to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Guinea-Bissau has disclosed.
“Several thousand Gambians have traveled to Senegal in the last ten days to escape the strain on the outcome of the presidential election,” UNHCR said in an article on its regional website.
They are “mainly children”, according to this UN agency, explaining that many parents “fearing potential disturbances” have decided to evacuate their children to Senegal.
I Care Children’s Foundation (ICCF) has commenced the rehabilitation of the ICCF Anne-Ulf Charity Home situated on Sallu Street, Wellington in the eastern part of Freetown.
The Foundation was formed in 2014 to support Ebola orphans, children with disabilities and less privileged children. The founder of ICCF, Mohamed Bah, said the project covers not only the running of an orphanage but also the operations of a school.
The school hosts 65 children who are not orphans. “Though it was established for orphans, the school is however open to the public. For them, they pay for extra charges though they will not pay tuition waiver. Funding and payment of the teachers is coming from me. This we did in order to get the orphans interacts with other children”, Bah explained.
He went on to say that the Foundation is presently taking care of 60 children around the country adding that they will enrol more children into that home by the time it is ready for operation.
The Foundation has been partnering with international donors who have been funding the project. Afize Mohamed, a Sierra Leonean model based in the United Kingdom, is helping. He told Awoko that he was pleased to give back to his country. He said “this is our home so we need to come back and do what we have to do.”
Children who were presently attending the school also expressed appreciation to the Foundation for the establishment of the school. Henry Sellu is a class six pupil. He said he was pleased with the education standard of the school. He called on parents to get their children enrolled in the school.
A senior partner of the Gambia’s opposition coalition has laughed off President Yahya Jammeh’s injunction against the inauguration of Adama Barrow as the third president of the Gambia.
Mai Ahmad Fatty said Mr Jammeh’s efforts are futile and incapable of stopping President-elect Adama Barrow from being sworn-in as president.
“Let me be categorically clear here, you can file a thousand injuctions but President-elect Barrow will be sworn-in on January 19th Allah willing and there is no injuction that can stop that,” he said.
Mr Barrow is due to be sworn-in next Thursday after he was declared winner of last month’s presidential election by the country’s electoral commission.
President Jammeh who declared the results null and void citing huge and unacceptable mistakes by the electoral commission, has filed a petition at the supreme court.
But the court is unable to hold a hearing until May – as most of the judges come from neighbouring countries – and Mr Jammeh’s mandates ends on January 18th.
He has since filed another motion asking the supreme court to issue an order restraining Mr Barrow from presenting himself before the chief justice of the Gambia or any judicial or quasi-judicial officer or any person in whatever capacity whatsoever for swearing-in or inauguration as president of the Gambia on January 19th 2017 or any other date pending the determination of the election petition.
But Mr Fatty said he is certain that Mr Jammeh will not be in power in May when his petition against the election results is being heard in the supreme court.
“Whatever President Jammeh and his followers would like to do, I am absolutely certain that he will be a former head of state in May. He can pursue whatever remedies he would want to pursue, but he can do so as a former head of state because on January 19th President-elect Adama Barrow would be sworn in as new president of the Gambia Allah willing and nothing is going to change that,” Mr Fatty said.
He added: “On that date, Mr Barrow will be sworn-in and Mr Jammeh will become a former head of state or rebel leader and will be treated as such. If he wants to toe the path of honour and dignity, I am convince come January 19th he will cede power and if he has any grievances to pursue in a court of law, we guarantee him that there is going to be due process and fair play.
“In a Barrow administration, the judiciary of the Gambia will be fully independent and his rights and whatever controversies are in place will be looked upon by a panel of impartial judges who will render a verdict that is in consonance with justice.
“We know the courts are not properly constituted and it is not [Jammeh’s threats to cling to power] grounded on law since the outgoing president seem to be ignoring every provision in the constitution. We call upon him to respect the constitution as chief executive of the state and uphold and enforce the laws of the country. But most importantly, we call on him not to continue to flout or abuse the process of the courts. This is not going to help him and does not augur well for a person who ruled this country for 22 years.
“As a soon to be former head of state, he should know what to do not to plunge this country either in constitutional crisis or a state of insecurity and uncertainty. That will be a very terrible legacy to end his term of office with and it will be highly disappointing and ungrateful to the Gambian people that a person who was given a mandate to rule for 22 years will leave this country or is bent on living this country with permanent scares, continuing to inflict previous harm not only on the constitution but on the psychology and minds of all Gambians. This would be unfortunate.”
Mr Fatty said President-elect Barrow will continue to use diplomacy as a way of resolving the political standoff because he don’t want the country to be engulf in fire.
He warned that although Mr Barrow does not believe that the personal ambition of one individual is worth the blood of a single Gambian or any other individual, his confidence or his resort to diplomacy as an effective solution to the impasse must not be construe as a sign of weakness.
He said President-elect Barrow and the entire members of the opposition coalition are resolved in enforcing the election results and that the mandate of the people shall stand on January 19th without fail
He added: “We therefore call on President Jammeh to toe the path of honour and dignity and handover power peacefully to the new government that is elected by the people. And we ask him to de-escalate the tension that is rising in our country as a result of his actions and to assure the Gambian people that he means well and to stop sending conflicting messages and information out there that he is not going to step down as that is a violation of the constitution and an abrogation of the will of the people through their votes. These are very serious legal anomalies and grievious constitutional breaches for a sitting president must not engage in.
“We ask him to respect the law, be true to his conscience and stop deploying armed men around civilian areas in order to instill fear amongst Gambians. For Gambians have decided that they have given good riddance to fear and have welcome their sovereignty and independence as individuals and will not be cowed down.
“The coalition will support Gambians and we call on them to prepare themselves for the inauguration, wear their ashobis and go to the Independence Stadium, Bakau, on January 19th. We are doing everything within our powers to make sure that Gambians come out in their thousands and we call upon them that nothing disastrous is going to happen on that day and President Jammeh will be incapacitated from wrecking havoc in this country.”
The right thing
Mr Fatty reminded President Jammeh that although the opposition is speaking a language of peace, they want him to understand that they will not allow or tolerate anyone no matter how high or low the person is – to plunge the country into permanent crisis.
“We call upon him to respect the ongoing dialogue that is taking place both in the open and clandestinely so that we can reach a consensus and give the Gambian people a new democracy and a new lease of life that they deserve for which president Jammeh will be honoured by history and for which we are willing to treat him like a former head of state in accordance with the act of parliament that grants former President Jawara the privileges he is enjoying under a statute that he Jammeh himself signed into law,” he said.
The winner of December's presidential election in The Gambia says is confident he will be sworn in next week despite President Yahya Jammeh's refusal to give up power.
"It will go ahead... I will be the president on the 19th," Adama Barrow told BBC World Service. He called on Mr Jammeh to engage in direct talks. Mr Jammeh's term officially ends next Wednesday. He has challenged the election results in court.
Foreign leaders from regional bloc Ecowas are due to arrive later in The Gambia to again try to persuade Mr Jammeh to step down on schedule. The grouping has warned that it will consider removing him using military force if he refuses.
Mr Barrow, a property developer, said he was calling on Mr Jammeh to "respect the constitution". "We solve our problems within ourselves without the intervention of anybody. I think that's what we'd prefer," he said. He said direct talks between the two men could be a way to resolve the tense situation in the tiny West African nation.
A lawyer for Mr Jammeh on Thursday filed a request with the Supreme Court asking for an injunction to block Mr Barrow's swearing-in. The former coup leader, who has ruled for 22 years, had originally accepted the shock result of last month's election but later rejected it after the election commission changed some results.
Mr Barrow won 43.3% of the vote compared with Mr Jammeh's 39.6%. A third candidate, Mama Kandeh, got 17.1%. On Thursday Nigerian MPs in the lower house of parliament voted to grant Mr Jammeh asylum if he gave up power. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is spearheading Ecowas' efforts to persuade Mr Jammeh to stand down.
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