(CNN)Gambia’s new President finally arrived in the West African country to govern on Thursday, after days of waiting in a neighboring nation while his predecessor belatedly and reluctantly stepped down after 22 years in power.
Barrow is the tiny nation’s third president since its 1965 independence from the United Kingdom. Barrow, a property developer, won more than 45% of the vote in December, with 263,515 ballots cast for him. Upon his inauguration Thursday, he pledged to “respect the rule of law and fundamental freedoms” and promised “significant democratic reform.” Jammeh, who had been seeking his fifth term, seized power in a 1994 military coup. Human rights groups described his regime as abusive, with hundreds of political prisoners languishing in jail. Gambia is the fourth largest source of migrants arriving in Italy despite having a population of fewer than 2 million. Earlier this month, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint statement accusing Jammeh’s government of arresting opposition supporters arbitrarily and closing down three independent radio stations.
Gambians ‘just want to get on with it’
After weeks of turmoil and uncertainty, Gambians are looking forward to getting the country “back on track,” one human rights campaigner told CNN ahead of Barrow’s return to Gambia this week. Jeffrey Smith is the executive director of Vanguard Africa, a nonprofit organization that provides support to pro-reform political candidates and backed Barrow’s campaign. Smith told CNN: “The priority right now is getting the country back on track. Gambians just want to get on with building the country back up again.” Smith, an American based in Washington, has been widely thanked via social media by Gambians who credit him with playing a key role in highlighting the situation in the country before and since the election.
@Smith_JeffreyT thank you for all your hard work Jeffrey Smith!You have been a true friend of The Gambia ??
— **MC** (@linguere23) December 4, 2016
Smith said the reaction to his work — which has seen him quoted by major international media outlets including in Spain, Nigeria, and the United States — “has been humbling, to be quite honest.” “All credit entirely goes to the Gambian people — they never gave up hope that change was possible. That’s what inspired me.”
CNN’s Farai Sevenzo and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.