One year ago, today – 22/01/2017 – on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa

Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt - image © Helen Jones-Florio
Kairaba Avenue  (‘Pipeline’), The Gambia- – image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

This time last year, we had already been in the Gambia since the beginning of January. We had traveled back down to the small West African country, to document the transition of a 22-year long dictatorship to a democracy. However, because the incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, had rescinded his acceptance of the winning vote, in December 2016 – a week after Gambians had decided enough was enough and voted for Adama Barrow’s coalition government – he was refusing to step down.

Ex-president, Yahya Jammeh, with his ever-present security force ©Jason Florio
Then-president, Yahya Jammeh, with his ever-present security force ©Jason Florio

 

Therefore, the last month of 2016 and into those first few weeks of 2017, Gambia was in a state of flux – the unpredictability of what Jammeh would do next was almost tangible.

“We are so stressed by his (Jammeh’s) refusal to step down,

an old Gambian friend told us, “we are ready for change. He must go”, she went on. Even in the safety of our compound, she still spoke in hushed tones – the ingrained fear of 22-years of autocracy, that someone would over-hear and report her, was still very prevalent.

After much intervention from the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), on January 21st, 2017, Jammeh eventually agreed to leave the country, exiled to Equatorial Guinea (a West African country which is not part of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – therefore, he could not be extradited).

E-Presiden, Yahya Jammeh, leaves the Gambia - 21/1/207 ©Jason Florio
Ex-President, Yahya Jammeh, leaves the Gambia – 21/1/207 ©Jason Florio

 

#GambiaHasDecided!

Meeting people on the streets of Banjul, on the 22nd January 2017, couldn’t have been more different from the quietly uttered words, previously spoken by my friend -‘GAMBIA HAS DECIDED!‘, shouted, triumphantly, at us everywhere we went. And, #GambiaHasDecided t-shirt’s worn proudly and without fear – just one day before most people would not dare to wear them so openly. But, now Gambians knew for certain, the dictator had been flown out of the country.

A chance meeting with an inspiring bunch of people, on the streets of Banjul, Gambia
A chance meeting with an inspiring bunch of people, on the streets of Banjul, Gambia

 

The above group were on the streets of the capital, welcoming back and directing the thousands of Gambians to free transportation, back to their hometowns and villages – those who had fled the country, across the river into neighbouring Senegal and beyond in fear, when Jammeh had refused to step down and ECOWAS troops massed on the border, ready to intervene.

#GambiaHasDecided - Gambian boys wearing their t-shirts for President Barrow Senegal inauguration celebrations, at Westfields junction, in The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
#GambiaHasDecided – President Barrow Senegal inauguration celebrations in The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Thousands of Gambians returning back to the Gambia, the day after ex-president Jammeh is exiled to Equatorial-Guinea ©Jason Florio
Thousands of Gambians returning back to the Gambia, the day after ex-president Jammeh is exiled to Equatorial-Guinea ©Jason Florio

 

In October of 2017, at the invitation of Amnesty International, we spent a month making a documentary of the stories of human rights defenders, activists, and victims of the Jammeh regime – this is the trailer:  ‘We Never Gave up – Stories of Courage in Gambia’.

So much has happened in one short year, and so much more still to be done. Jason Florio and I will no doubt be back down there in the coming months, to carry on where we left off, documenting change in the Gambia. We’ll keep you posted!

 

Helen Jones-Florio

 

Follow us on Instagram @floriotravels / @jasonflorio
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