The Gambia intends to rejoin the Commonwealth, UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who is in the West African country, has confirmed.
Boris Johnson’s visit, the first to The Gambia by a British foreign secretary, comes weeks after long-time ruler Yahya Jammeh went into exile after losing elections.
Yahya Jammeh took The Gambia out of the Commonwealth in 2013, calling it a neo-colonial institution.
Newly-elected President Adama Barrow had promised a return to the 52-nation grouping.
Before leaving for Banjul, Boris Johnson said: “We will ensure this happens in the coming months.
“The strength of our partnerships show that Global Britain is growing in influence and activity around the world.”
The Commonwealth secretariat said it welcomed the news, saying the formal process of rejoining would have to be agreed by the 52 heads of government.
A spokesman said: “When The Gambia left the Commonwealth in 2013, the heads of government… noted its decision with regret. We looked forward to the country’s eventual return because it was part of our very close knit family and our doors have always remained open.”
Last week, the EU promised The Gambia an aid package of nearly $81 million – almost three years after freezing its assistance to the West African nation.
Adama Barrow, who was sworn in last month, has also said The Gambia will reverse its move to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In a statement on February 13, the government said it had written to UN chief Antonio Guterres to inform him of its decision “to discontinue the withdrawal notice”.
In 2016, a former Gambian information minister had referred to the court as “an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans”.
The move is a blow to Africa’s anti-ICC lobby – which includes South Africa, Namibia and Burundi.
At the annual African Union summit held this month, leaders called for a mass walk-out from the ICC, but faced opposition from other countries, including Nigeria, Senegal and The Gambia.
The Foreign Office said as well as holding talks with Adama Barrow, Boris Johnson would visit the UK-funded Medical Research Council and speak to Chevening scholars and workers and employers in the tourism industry.
The Gambia is a popular holiday destination for Britons. Thousands had to be evacuated last month because of security concerns when Yahya Jammeh was refusing to hand over power after losing December’s elections.
Adama Barrow, whose swearing-in was held in neighboring Senegal, is to be inaugurated as president in a ceremony at the national stadium on February 18.
Several heads of state are expected to attend. Local dignitaries may include former VP Alhagie Saihou Sabally, who local media said had returned to the Gambia on February 13 after 22 years in exile.
Yahya Jammeh, who took power in coup in 1994, is now in exile in Equatorial Guinea after West African leaders deployed troops to The Gambia to ensure he left power.
Boris Johnson will go on to Ghana for talks with President Nana Akufo-Addo on February 15.
An adviser to Gambia’s new President Adama Barrow has said that more than $11 million is missing from the state coffers following the departure of long-time leader Yahya Jammeh.
Mai Ahmad Fatty said financial experts were trying to evaluate the exact loss.
Luxury cars and other items were seen being loaded on to a Chadian cargo plane on the night Yahya Jammeh left The Gambia.
Yahya Jammeh flew into exile on January 21, ending his 22 years in power.
The former leader had refused to accept election results but finally left after mediation by regional leaders and the threat of military intervention.
President Adama Barrow remains in neighboring Senegal and it is not clear when he will return.
Image source Wikimedia
However, West African troops entered the Gambian capital, Banjul, on January 22 to prepare for his arrival.
Cheering crowds gathered outside the State House to watch soldiers secure the building.
The Senegalese general leading the joint force from five African nations said they were controlling “strategic points to ensure the safety of the population and facilitate… Mr. Barrow’s assumption of his role”.
Mai Ahmad Fatty told reporters in the Senegalese capital Dakar that The Gambia was in financial distress.
“The coffers are virtually empty,” he said.
“It has been confirmed by technicians in the ministry of finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia.”
Mai Ahmad Fatty said Yahya Jammeh had made off with more than $11 million in the past two weeks alone.
He said officials at The Gambia’s main airport had been told not to let any of Yahya Jammeh’s belongings leave the country.
Reports said some of Yahya Jammeh’s goods were in Guinea where he had stopped on his journey into exile.
Yahya Jammeh is reported to now be in Equatorial Guinea, although authorities there have not confirmed it.
The former president had initially accepted Adama Barrow’s election win on December 1st, but later alleged “irregularities” and called for a fresh vote.
The move was internationally condemned and the UN-backed Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) issued an ultimatum for him to quit or be removed by force.
The ECOWAS has given Gambian incumbent President Yahya Jammeh a final opportunity to relinquish power after Senegalese troops entered his country.
Yahya Jammeh has been given until noon on January 20 to leave office or be forced out by UN-backed regional forces.
Troops have been told to halt their advance until the deadline passes.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is acting in support of Adama Barrow, who was sworn in as the new Gambian president on January 19.
Adama Barrow’s legitimacy as president, after winning last month’s election, has been recognized internationally.
Last-ditch mediation talks, led by Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, were due today. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is on his way to Banjul, and Alpha Conde is reported to be with him.
Chairman of the ECOWAS commission, Marcel Alain de Souza, said that if the meeting with Alpha Conde proved unsuccessful, military action would follow.
“If by midday, he [Yahya Jammeh] doesn’t agree to leave The Gambia under the banner of President Conde, we really will intervene militarily,” Marcel Alain de Souza said.
ECOWAS said that its forces had encountered no resistance after entering The Gambia on January 19.
Troops from Senegal and other West African countries crossed into The Gambia after an initial deadline for Yahya Jammeh to stand down passed without his resignation.
Adama Barrow, who remains in Senegal, has said that he will not return to Gambia’s capital, Banjul, until the military operation has ended.
The threat by the West African regional bloc ECOWAS to remove Yahya Jammeh by force is supported by the 15-member UN Security Council, although the council has stressed that a political solution should be the priority.
In his inaugural speech at the Gambian embassy in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, President Adama Barrow ordered all members of The Gambia’s armed forces to remain in their barracks.
Any found illegally bearing arms would be considered “rebels”, he said.
Amid the crisis, the UN refugee agency reported that more than 45,000 people had fled The Gambia for Senegal so far in 2017.
More people could leave if the situation was not resolved, the UNHCR said.
After first accepting defeat in the election Yahya Jammeh reversed his position and said he would not step down. He declared a 90-day state of emergency, blaming irregularities in the electoral process.
The electoral commission accepted that some of its early results had contained errors but said they would not have affected Adama Barrow’s win.
Yahya Jammeh has said he will stay in office until new elections are held.
Remaining in power would also give Yahya Jammeh protection against prosecution for alleged abuses committed during his rule.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s term has been extended by 90 days after the parliament declared a state of emergency in the crisis-hit West African country.
Yahya Jammeh’s term is due to end on January 19 following his defeat in elections by Adama Barrow.
Regional leaders have threatened to use military force to oust Yahya Jammeh if he refuses to hand power to President-elect Adama Barrow tomorrow.
Thousands of tourists are being evacuated from The Gambia.
The Gambia is popular with European holidaymakers because of its beaches.
The country was plunged into crisis after Yahya Jammeh rejected Adama Barrow’s shock victory in the December 1st election.
In a TV announcement on January 17, the outgoing president said: “Any acts of disobedience to the laws of The Gambia, incitement of violence and acts intended to disturb public order and peace were banned under the state of emergency.”
Yahya Jammeh said security forces were instructed to “maintain absolute peace, law and order”.
The US State Department urged Yahya Jammeh to transfer power to Adama Barrow on January 19.
Spokesman John Kirby said: “Doing so would allow him to leave office with his head held high and to protect The Gambian people from potential chaos.
“Failure to do so will put his legacy, and more importantly The Gambia, in peril.”
Regional bloc ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), has prepared a Senegal-led force to oust Yahya Jammeh if he refuses to step down.
The African Union has warned that it will not recognize Yahya Jammeh as president after January 19.
Adama Barrow, a property developer, has been in Senegal since January 14. His aides said he would return to The Gambia for his inauguration.
Last month, Adama Barrow said he would be sworn in at a ceremony organized by his transition team, raising the possibility of two rival presidents.
Yahya Jammeh’s declaration of a state of emergency was seen as an attempt to block the ceremony, scheduled to take place at a stadium in Bakau town, west of the capital Banjul, from going ahead.
Adama Barrow could, technically, also be sworn in at The Gambian embassy in Senegal.
Thousands of Gambians, including women and children, have been fleeing to Senegal and further afield to Guinea-Bissau, fearing unrest.
Yahya Jammeh has ruled The Gambia since taking power in a bloodless coup in 1994.
The Gambia regularly held elections, which he won until his shock defeat in the latest poll.
Yahya Jammeh has said there were irregularities in the election process, including the turning away of some of his supporters from polling stations, and errors made by the electoral commission.
The commission accepted that some of the results it initially published contained errors, but said Adama Barrow had still won.
Yahya Jammeh has said he will stay in office until new elections are held.
Retaining power would also ensure Yahya Jammeh was not prosecuted in The Gambia for alleged abuses committed during his rule.
Gambia’s incumbent President Yahya Jammeh has rejected the result of the presidential election held earlier this month, a week after admitting defeat.
Yahya Jammeh, who took power in a coup in 1994, cited “abnormalities” in the vote and called for fresh elections.
He was defeated by Adama Barrow, who won more than 43% of this month’s vote.
Adama Barrow accused Yahya Jammeh of damaging democracy by refusing to accept the result. His transition team said the president-elect was safe.
The results were revised by the country’s electoral commission on December 5, when it emerged that the ballots for one area were added incorrectly, swelling Adama Barrow’s vote.
The error, which also added votes to the other candidates, “has not changed the status quo” of the result, the commission said.
However, it narrowed Adama Barrow’s margin of victory from 9% to 4%.
Yahya Jammeh said that he now rejected the results of the election “in totality”.
“After a thorough investigation, I have decided to reject the outcome of the recent election,” he said.
“I lament serious and unacceptable abnormalities which have reportedly transpired during the electoral process.
“I recommend fresh and transparent elections which will be officiated by a God-fearing and independent electoral commission.”
Adama Barrow’s spokesperson said the head of the army, General Ousman Badjie, supported the president-elect, having pledged his allegiance after the initial result.
The US has “strongly condemned” Yahya Jammeh’s rejection of the result.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “This action is a reprehensible and unacceptable breach of faith with the people of The Gambia and an egregious attempt to undermine a credible election process and remain in power illegitimately.”
The streets of the capital, Banjul, were reported to be calm on December 9 although soldiers were seen placing sandbags in strategic locations across the city, AFP news agency reports.
Only last week, Yahya Jammeh was shown on state TV calling Adama Barrow to wish him well.
“You are the elected president of The Gambia, and I wish you all the best. I have no ill will,” he said at the time.
Adama Barrow, a property developer, is due to take office in late January.
The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, with a population of fewer than two million.
In his 22 years in power, Yahya Jammeh acquired a reputation as a ruthless leader.
Gambia has announced that it has severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
President Yahya Jammeh’s office said the move was for reasons of “national strategic interest”.
Gambia was one of a few African countries to recognize Taiwan, which China regards as part of its territory.
Correspondents say it is unclear if the move is linked to the development of relations with China, which has a growing influence in Africa.
Despite the announcement, Yahya Jammeh said Gambia hoped to “remain friends” with the Taiwanese people.
“This decision has been taken in our strategic national interest,” a statement from his office read, without elaborating.
“We are proud that we have been a very strong and reliable partner of the Republic of China [Taiwan] for the past 18 years, the results of which are there for every Taiwanese to see.
“Despite the end of diplomatic ties with Taiwan, we will still remain friends with the people of Taiwan.”
Gambia has decided to cut its diplomatic ties with Taiwan
Taiwan said it was surprised by Gambia’s decision.
“Our government express shock and regret that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh sent a letter to our embassy in Gambia on 14 November to inform us [of] the immediate termination of ties,” Vice Foreign Minister Simon Ko said in Taipei.
“We think this is Jammeh’s personal decision,” he added.
China has been investing heavily in Africa at it relies on the continent for oil and other natural resources.
China and Taiwan split in 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party overthrew the Republic of China (ROC) and founded the People’s Republic on the mainland, forcing the ROC government to retreat to Taiwan. Beijing says Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.
Initially, most African states recognized the Taipei government but their number has steadily declined.
Gambia’s decision means that Swaziland, Sao Tome and Principe and Burkina Faso are the only African countries that remain allies with Taiwan.
However, earlier this week officials in Sao Tome and Principe said China plans to open a trade mission to promote projects there.
It comes 16 years after Beijing broke off relations with the tiny Central African nation over its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.
The Republic of the Gambia has decided to withdraw from the Commonwealth, 48 years after joining.
The West African nation branded the 54-member grouping, which includes the UK and most of its former colonies, a “neo-colonial institution”.
The withdrawal was announced on state TV but no other reasons were given.
Two years ago President Yahya Jammeh accused the UK of backing his political opposition ahead of elections. The UK said it would “very much regret” The Gambia leaving the Commonwealth.
There is a history of tension between President Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, and the UK.
Earlier this year, a Foreign Office report singled out The Gambia for its human rights record, citing cases of unlawful detentions, illegal closures of newspapers and discrimination against minority groups.
In August 2012, The Gambia was criticized by Amnesty International and others for executing nine prisoners by firing squad.
Two years ago President Yahya Jammeh accused the UK of backing his political opposition ahead of elections
The Commonwealth was founded in 1931 but acquired its modern shape after 1949 as former British colonies and protectorates, including The Gambia, started to achieve self-government and varying degrees of independence.
The grouping dropped the word British from its name and the allegiance to the crown from its statute and other independent nations joined.
In its statement, the Gambian government said it had “withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth”.
It said it had “decided that The Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism”.
The last time a nation left the Commonwealth was in 2003, when Zimbabwe withdrew.
The UK’s Foreign Office said: “Decisions on Commonwealth membership are a matter for each member government. We would very much regret Gambia, or any other country, deciding to leave the Commonwealth.”
Queen Elizabeth II, who is 87, is the head of the Commonwealth, which holds its next heads of government meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, next month.
However, the gathering will be the first that the Queen has not attended.
The Queen is sending her son, the Prince of Wales instead, with Buckingham Palace saying she is making fewer overseas trips because of her age.