Gambia’s exiled strongman Yahya Jammeh plundered millions of dollars in his final weeks in power leaving state coffers “empty,” an aide to new President Adama Barrow said as West African troops prepared to secure his arrival in Banjul.
Jammeh flew out of The Gambia late on Jan. 21, ending 22 years at the helm of the small west African nation, and headed for Equatorial Guinea where he is expected to settle with his family.
A West African military force entered The Gambia on Jan. 22 - greeted by cheers from relieved residents - to provide security and allow Barrow, who has been in neighboring Senegal for more than a week, to return and take power.
But amid growing controversy over the assurances offered to Jammeh to guarantee his departure, Barrow aide Mai Fatty said the new administration had discovered that some $11 million had recently been stolen.
“The coffers are largely empty,” AFP reported Mai Fetty as telling reporters in the Senegalese capital Dakar.
“Over two weeks, over 500 million dalasi [$11 million] were withdrawn” by Jammeh, he said. “As we take over, the government of The Gambia is in financial distress.”
Following Barrow’s win in the Dec. 1, 2016 election, Jammeh refused to step down, triggering weeks of uncertainty that almost ended in a full military intervention.
Jammeh slunk off in the early hours of Jan. 22 on an unmarked plane. Barrow is eager to return “as soon as possible,” Mai Fatty said, warning however, that “the state of security in The Gambia is still fragile.”
On Jan. 22, “additional forces crossed into The Gambia to beef up the numbers already on the ground,” Barrow said, according to a statement read out by Mai Fatty.
The new administration wants the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) forces to stay on.
“We want their mandate to be extended,” Mai Fatty said, adding that Barrow was waiting for assurances of loyalty from the security forces, including the police and the army.
Jammeh personally controlled certain sections of the security forces, and his long tenure was marked by systematic rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detention.
The Senegalese general leading a joint force of troops from five African nations said soldiers would “control strategic points to ensure the safety of the population and facilitate... Barrow’s assumption of his role.”
Marcel Alain de Souza, a top ECOWAS official, said the country “could not be left open” for long, and that Barrow must be in place “as soon as possible.”
A senior Senegalese military source told AFP that his forces had met little resistance on Jan. 22, as army chief Ousman Badjie has already declared his loyalty to Barrow.