President Adama Barrow returned home to Banjul, Gambia on Thursday, to the warm welcome of a jubilant crowd of Gambians and foreign diplomats in the country.
Barrow who was elected almost on 1 December was forced to flee to Senegal when his predecessor refused to step aside.
Dressed in flowing white robes and cap, Barrow stepped off the plane, with heavily-armed troops from Senegal and Nigeria standing by as he flew in from Dakar where he had taken shelter on January 15.
As it became clear that Barrow’s predecessor, Yahya Jammeh was not willing to surrender power voluntarily and peacefully, Barrow was tactically taken out by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, first to attend the Africa-France summit in Mali, before he was handed over to President Macky Sall of Senegal.
Barrow, who was accompanied by his two wives and some of his children, was welcomed by military officials and senior members of his coalition government.
His return marks The Gambia’s first democratic transfer of power and capped days of waiting in the tiny former British colony until finally longtime leader Yahya Jammeh stepped down and left the country after having refused to recognise the result of the December 1 election.
“I’m a happy man today. It was part of the struggle and I think the bad part is finished now,” Barrow told journalists in Banjul.
“I will get my cabinet in place and then get the ball rolling,” he added.
Barrow took the oath of office at his country’s embassy in Dakar a week ago and a multinational African force then entered The Gambia to ensure his safe return home and Jammeh’s departure. Barrow will now do a proper swearing-in on 18 February at the Independence Stadium, Bakau, where he initially wanted to do it.
Hundreds gathered at the airport awaiting Barrow’s arrival, with drummers and dancers firing up the crowds as Nigerian and Senegalese soldiers looked on.
“He will develop this country! He’s good, not a killer,” said Barrow supporter Adja Kombeh.
Gambians have said they were looking forward to their freedom after two decades of Jammeh’s iron-fisted rule.
“I’m 100 percent a Barrow supporter and I’m more happy than I can say,” said Kanamo Sansou, sitting with his friends at Serrekunda market close to the capital Banjul.
“He will be different in all aspects… we have been living under dictatorship for 22 years,” added pensioner Ibrahima Gaye.
“You can go home at night and sleep without worrying you will be arrested before daybreak,” he said.