January 21 marks one year since Gambia's authoritarian president, Yahya Jammeh fled the country, marking the nation’s first-ever democratic transition after the West African Union intervened militarily.

Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh was forced to step down  in Banjul, Gambia. File photo of November 29, 2016.
Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh was forced to step down in Banjul, Gambia. File photo of November 29, 2016. (Reuters)

A year has passed since the 22-year rule of the Gambia's president Yahya Jammeh who vowed to rule the country for "one billion years" finally came to its end. 

At an airport in the capital of Banjul in January 2017, Jammeh waved for the last time to his supporters and boarded a plane with his family and allies for Equatorial Guinea. 

He was forced to step down by the West African regional forces that entered the Gambia to strong-arm him into accepting results from a presidential election held in 2016.

Even though Jammeh had initially accepted the election results which had brought about the victory of opposition candidate Adama Barrow, he then rejected the outcome and declared a national state of emergency in a bid to hold onto his power. 

Jammeh's departure is the first democratic transition of power the Gambia has ever seen; a historic moment for the people of the Gambia and West Africa for the future of democracy in the region. 

Today, many Gambians say they are enjoying freedom of speech under the administration of President Barrow.

"We do not have to watch our back before we express our opinions," in the post-Jammeh rule, Fatou Cham said when she joined the celebrations on the night of 21 January. 

"There is a democracy, everybody feels free. Disappearances without a trace – all that's over now," teacher Kalipha Dampha said, referring to huge numbers of disappearances and extrajudicial killings that were held by Jammeh's death squad "Junglers." 

"Journalists can now freely conduct their work and human rights defenders can carry out their mandate without fearing persecution. The average Gambian is enjoying a lot of fundamental rights and freedoms he couldn't expect under the previous government," Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou said.

Although the country has been implementing democratic reforms and improving human rights, it is still suffering from the collapsed economy that the Jammeh administration left. 

Two days after Jammeh left the country, President Barrow’s special adviser, Mai Ahmad Fatty claimed that before his departure, Jammeh stole  $11.4m (£9.18m) from the national treasury. 

“The Gambia is in financial distress. The coffers are virtually empty. That is a state of fact,” Fatty said.

However, emptied coffers are not the only problem that the Gambian economy is suffering from. 

In his New Year's address, Barrow said progress had pointed to the deep-rooted problems left over from Jammeh’s rule. 

"Our coffers not only (have been) emptied, but we are (also) loaded with huge debt," Barrow said.

"The country has debts of more than a billion US dollars (820 million euros), which is a staggering 120 percent of debt to GDP," he said. "This is equivalent to each household owing about 4,500 US dollars."

Despite the huge challenges that the Gambian economy is facing, the cost of government borrowing has fallen sharply, inflation has begun to decline. The growth also, this year is expected to meet 3.8 percent, compared to 2.2 percent in 2016, according to him. 

The Gambia is aiming to rise from its ashes but as Justice Minister Tambadou  warned, "it will take time to rebuild a country."

Author: Mucahid Durmaz

Source: TRTWorld and agencies