Gambia opposition assures Jammeh of honourable exit, privileges

The party of Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow has said President Yahya Jammeh would be honoured as a former head of state if he stepped down and suggested he might not face trial for alleged crimes during his 22 years in power.

Jammeh, whose authoritarian rule began after a 1994 coup, lost the Dec. 1 election to Barrow by a slim margin. He initially conceded defeat but a week later contested the results and called for another poll. He now refuses to give up power.

The question of whether Gambia can install Barrow as president is seen as a test case for African democracy in a region accustomed to coups and autocratic rule.

Jammeh’s mandate runs out on Jan. 18, after which Barrow plans to be sworn in.

Barrow told the BBC on Friday: “We want to keep Jammeh in the Gambia. I don’t think there is any need for him to go to another country.”

In an apparent bid to ease increasing tensions in Gambia by persuading Jammeh to step aside, a senior member of Barrow’s coalition, Mai Ahmad Fatty, said Jammeh would be entitled to the usual benefits afforded past heads of state, including an office of his choosing, bodyguards and luxury vehicles.

“We want to give him all the privileges of a former head of state,” Fatty said late on Thursday, adding that the party would like Jammeh to be someone it could call on for counsel.

Jammeh’s predecessor, Dawda Jawara, fled the country when he was deposed in a bloodless coup and lived in exile until Jammeh granted him amnesty in 2001.

Fatty said the opposition is not pursuing legal action against Jammeh, whose rule has been marred by the imprisonment and torture of opponents, rights groups say. Critics have called for his immediate prosecution once Barrow takes over.

“If there are any crimes against President Jammeh, we cannot say so because the crimes must be proven in a court of law. But at the moment, we are not talking about that,” he said.

Nigeria’s lower house on Thursday voted to offer Jammeh asylum if he steps down as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari prepared to return to Gambia on Friday to persuade him to stand down.