By Jean-Jacques Cornish
The bloodless and belated departure of Yayha Jammeh after he lost an election in Gambia is an undoubted African success story.
Even the light-fingered denouement – with Jammeh taking $11 million from the state coffers into exile with him – has not taken the icing off the cake.
That decorative delicacy was provided by the intervention of neighbours of this thin silver of a country that has just experienced its first democratic change of government.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) made it immediately clear to Jammeh that it would not tolerate his staying in power when he contested the fairness of the December 1 election he lost, by his own admission, to Adama Barrow.
It made a number of unsuccessful demarches on Jammeh, urging him to step down before the victor’s scheduled inauguration date of January 19.
Jammeh declined offers of asylum in Senegal, Morocco, Mauritania and Guinea.
He hoped to wait around for the supreme court to consider his arguments about the unfairness of the election.
The court reminded him that he sacked half the judges last year and said they would be able to consider the matter before May.
ECOWAS decided to play hard ball. The grouping sought approval by the United Nations Security Council to use force, if necessary, to move Jammeh.
Senegal, which surrounds Gambia on three sides, and Ghana, moved troops to the border to show the region’s seriousness.
If Jammeh had any doubt of this, the ECOWAS forces crossed the frontier and deployed in the capital Banjul.
They gave Jammeh a deadline of noon last Friday to either go or be forcibly removed.
The defeated president successfully requested an extension of this deadline while he spoke to Presidents Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz of Mauritania and Alpha Conde of Guinea.
He’s been abandoned by key members of his cabinet and finally by his military commander.
The game was up for this man who took power in a bloodless coup 22 years ago.
Eventually Jammeh loaded a string of luxury cars onto a Chadian cargo plane.
Then, seen off by a small group of hardliner, he boarded a plane with President Conde and headed for Guinea.
Gambian, who could not believe their good fortune had been demonstrating their delight at Jammeh’s imminent departure for day.
They cheered ECOWAS troops patrolling the capital.
Barrow, who was inaugurated at the Gambian embassy in Senegal, says he will go home within the next week once his security can be assured.
He has his work cut out tracing the $11 million that Jammeh looted from the public purse.
He also has to get back the tourists who are vital to Gambia’s economy.
Alone with more than 46 000 Gambians, the tourists quit the country when military action to move Jammeh looked likely.
So, chalk one up to ECOWAS’s unlinking determination to see that democracy triumphed.
Consider too the benefits of other African regional groups showing the same courage and application against the hard-to-move leaders who have cynically disregarded their constitutional limitations on power.