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Longtime Gambian Leader Says He'll Step Down After Disputing Election Results


The African nation of Gambia may see its own peaceful transition of power but only after weeks of negotiation and threats of military intervention. After initially accepting election results that voted him out of office, the reigning president of 22 years then refused to concede for weeks - until today. When facing international pressure and dwindling support, reports came that he has agreed to step down. Ruth Maclean is the West African correspondent for The Guardian. She's in the capital of Banjul, Gambia. Ruth, thanks very much for being with us.

RUTH MACLEAN: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And what did the president say today?

MACLEAN: Well, the president said last night in a midnight broadcast that he would step down and that he would act in the interest of the Gambian people. And that was the last that we heard from him. But he is still in State House. He hasn't left the country yet, and he hasn't ceded power as far as we know.

SIMON: So I guess it's premature to ask who would replace him.

MACLEAN: Well, the incoming president is currently in Senegal, the neighboring country to The Gambia. His name is Adama Barrow, and he's poised to come back just as soon as Yahya Jammeh gives up. But he has to wait for that. He has to wait until the final decision is made and everybody is just waiting for Jammeh to get on a plane.

SIMON: Ruth, how do we understand this situation? Is it simply the personal story of a national leader who just refused to accept being put aside or is there something more going on?

MACLEAN: Well, Yahya Jammeh has been in power for 22 years. And I think perhaps he got used to it. You know, according to sources that I have close to the presidency, he has a lot of yes men around him, and he was very surprised when the election results came in and he found that he'd lost. So perhaps that's why it's been a difficult transition for him. It's taken him some time to come to terms with the fact that he is on his way out. But, you know, he's also accused of doing many bad things, including ordering extrajudicial killings and torture. And he may be worried that he could be prosecuted.

So it's been difficult to know over the past few weeks whether what he was angling for was a deal in order to get him out safely and his family somewhere in another country and free from the threat of prosecution or whether he actually did just want to hang on to power and stay in The Gambia. One of the conditions that we understand he has asked for is to be allowed to run in the next election in three years' time.

SIMON: And are The Gambian people anxious?

MACLEAN: Yes, The Gambian people are tense. It's been a really difficult month for them. I mean, when the initial election results came out and when Yahya Jammeh initially accepted defeat, that triggered this outpouring of joy in the streets of Banjul. I was there. I was talking to people. You know, people were zooming down the street in their cars, hanging out of their windows, beeping their horns. They were shouting. Many were crying. It was just an incredible atmosphere of jubilation. So then a week after that, to see him say, no, I'm not accepting the results, and then to see the various other ploys he has tried, going through the courts, for instance, and declaring a state of emergency, it's been really up and down.

SIMON: Ruth Maclean of The Guardian in Banjul, Gambia, thanks very much for being with us.

MACLEAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.