Bakau, Gambia, Feb 19 – Thousands celebrated Saturday as new Gambian President Adama Barrow retook his oath of office, a month after he was sworn in across the border in neighbouring Senegal during a tense power struggle.
February 18 is also the anniversary of The Gambia’s independence from Britain, but many are also calling the day the birth of a third republic following the ousting of Yahya Jammeh at the ballot box.
The festivities began Saturday morning at Independence Stadium in Bakau, west of the capital, and were attended by several African heads of state as well as high-ranking diplomats.
The guest of honour was Senegalese President Macky Sall. Tens of thousands packed the venue, singing and dancing, an AFP correspondent said.
Barrow told the crowd he would probe human rights abuses under Barrow’s mercurial and despotic rule spanning 22 years.
“A Human Rights Commission will be established without delay,” to track people who were missing of had disappeared after being arrested, Barrow said.
“Orders have already been given for all those detained without trial to be released,” he added.
Jubilant supporters said it was the start of a new era.
– Symbolic pigeons –
“This event we are celebrating today is the rebirth of democracy and the rule of law in the Gambia,” said Sainey Marenah, a journalist who returned home from Senegal where he spent four years in exile.
Crowds of hundreds began to gather as early as 3:00 am.
“I spent the night here at the stadium. This is to ensure that I can have a smooth passage inside”, said Isatou Dibba, a Barrow supporter.
Barrow retook the oath of office he first made at the Gambian embassy in Senegal, whose territory almost entirely surrounds The Gambia and whose president is seen as Barrow’s closest ally.
Later 52 pigeons will be released, representing each year of independence from Britain.
The swearing-in ceremony on January 19 was held at a fraught time for the tiny west African nation, as Jammeh was refusing to step aside and acknowledge the result of the election Barrow won several weeks earlier.
Senegal spearheaded efforts to deploy west African troops in The Gambia after Jammeh’s departure, in order to secure a country whose military forces were riven with factions still loyal to the ex-leader.
Around 500 Senegalese, Ghanaian and Nigerian soldiers remain in the country and were helping provide security for the celebrations on Saturday.
Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who pushed for mediation efforts with Jammeh during his last days in office, and another key mediator — Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz — attended the ceremony.