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World

Gambia's Exiled President Accused Of Looting The Country's Coffers

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There was another presidential transition of power over the weekend, this one across the Atlantic in the tiny West African country of Gambia. Gambia's longtime leader is gone. He's in exile, but he did not leave empty-handed. Here's NPR's Eyder Peralta.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: As former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh got ready to leave the country, he told state television that sometimes God has plans you cannot understand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YAHYA JAMMEH: Sometimes, something is wrong. It is very wrong. But that's your fate. Allah is testing your faith. Sometimes, something is right - you think it's very right, and it's wrong. Still, Allah is testing faith.

PERALTA: Jammeh, who once said he planned to rule for a billion years, lost a democratic election in December. And even though he at first refused to accept the results, a foreign troop invasion and calls from fellow West African presidents convinced him to step down. So Jammeh, dressed in his traditional white garb and with a Quran in one hand, walked across the tarmac and got onto a waiting plane, ending 22 years of a ruthless presidency.

What didn't become clear until much later is what Jammeh had taken with him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAI FATTY: As we take over a new government, the Gambia is in financial distress. The coffers are virtually empty.

PERALTA: That's Mai Fatty, a spokesman for Gambia's new president, Adama Barrow, speaking at a press conference. He says that Jammeh filled a cargo plane with fancy cars and other goods, and then he withdrew $11.3 million from the country's central bank.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FATTY: The Gambia is really poor. We have serious problems.

PERALTA: Jeggan Grey-Johnson, who is Gambian and works for the Open Society Initiative, says yes, those things are regretful. But Gambians and the world should not lose sight of the bigger story, that Jammeh's exile marks the end of an era.

JEGGAN GREY-JOHNSON: It's an end of tyrannical government. It's an end of rampant corruption. It's an end, in itself, of total impunity.

GREY-JOHNSON: Barrow, who was sworn in in neighboring Senegal, has yet to return to Gambia. Local and foreign troops are currently sweeping the country's capital to make sure it is safe for his return. If all goes as planned and Barrow returns to Gambia, it would mark the first time that the country has transferred power democratically and without bloodshed.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SHAOLIN AFRONAUTS' "INTERSTELLAR GRIOT, PT. 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.