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Africa

'Unforgettable' arrival of Gambia's President Barrow back home

media Barrow leaves Banjul airport following his return from Senegal, 26 January 2016. Carl De Souza/AFP

Gambians took to the streets on Thursday night to celebrate the return of President Adama Barrow, a momentous occasion for the country after 22 years under strongman Yahya Jammeh. Barrow arrived at Banjul International Airport and his convoy made its way to the Westfield neighbourhood in Serrekunda. Traffic ground to a halt and people sang, danced and celebrated into the night.

“I can never forget this day for the rest of my life,” said Yusuf, from Bakallarr village in the North Bank area. “The way you feel happy like a father when you are having a new child - I'm feeling very happy, very excited,” he said, shortly after Barrow’s convoy had left the airport.

Radio report

Barrow’s plane touched down at Banjul airport around 18:00 local time and after disembarking he proceed along the red carpet, receiving members of his coalition, foreign dignitaries and military commanders.

The new president, who was sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar during the political impasse with Jammeh, was flanked by members of the Senegalese elite gendarmes clad in black jumpsuits. The Nigerian military was also present in the form of Navy Special Forces carrying automatic weapons and concealing their faces with balaclavas.

A Gambian military brass band performed and a Nigerian Alpha fighter jet did several fly-pasts, carrying out aerial maneuvers to the delight of the crowd. There was high security accompanying Barrow’s convoy with several military vehicles provided by the Ecowas regional bloc who are providing security in Gambia.

During a very brief press huddle, Barrow told journalists that he was a “happy man” and thought “the bad part is finished now”. Meanwhile, his supporters had clambered over a wall separating the airport’s car park and the secure area, adjacent to the runway tarmac. This resulted in chaotic scenes as he left the airport with supporters shouting, “Barrow! Barrow!”, pushing and shoving to get a glimpse at their new leader.

Barrow eventually made his made up the access road from the airport, moving at a snail’s pace towards his house in the Westfields neighbourhood of Serrekunda, the country’s largest urban area. He will not be staying at State House for the moment.

Supporters waved Gambian flags, many wearing tee-shirts of Barrow’s coalition reading, “We are strong together”, as well as the ubiquitous, “#GambiaHasDecided” design, an online movement sparked by the lingering political impasse when Jammeh refused to leave office.

The sheer volume of people blocked the road and the convoy gradually ground to a halt. Minibuses with people sat on the roof turned into mobile discos with speakers or drums providing music.

The singing, dancing and cheering continued late into the night, although many people were still backed up kilometres behind on the airport access road. They had seen Barrow pass through and that was enough.

“I'm so joyful, I cannot imagine how happy I am,” said Lamine, who works in electrical services for the civil aviation authority. “Let's be one, unite and develop our nation,” he said. Barrow’s arrival represents a new found freedom for many people following 22 years of authoritarian rule under ex-President Jammeh.

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