Gambians had felt a mix of dread and hope about Thursday — Inauguration Day — for weeks.
Yahya Jammeh, the iron-fisted and unpredictable dictator who ruled the West African country for 22 years, had decided to strong-arm his way into another term as president despite losing a Dec. 1 election to Adama Barrow. Before Jammeh's coup-de-etat in 1994, the previous leader, Dawda Jawara, had held power for decades, too.
But on Thursday, Jammeh's defiance was matched by Barrow's. Emboldened by broad international support and the promise of armed intervention by West Africa's regional bloc, ECOWAS, Barrow took the oath of office at the Gambian embassy in neighboring Senegal. In short order, Senegalese troops crossed the Gambian border with orders to install him as president.
The Senegalese dubbed their intervention Operation “Restoration of Democracy” and said it would involve air, land and sea units.
An official from Nigeria's air force put the objective a bit more bluntly:
There still has not been any public declaration from Jammeh as Thursday wanes in Gambia. Activists working in West Africa have reported through the day that many Gambian soldiers, who had long been loyal to Jammeh, were defecting, or at least being asked to do so.
Video clips of inbound foreign troops — though unverified — began to circulate widely in Gambian circles online, but the celebrations across the country had already begun with Barrow's inauguration. Incredibly enough, one of the videos shows Ousman Badjie, the former chief of Gambia's Defense Services, dancing with Barrow's supporters on the streets:
The jubilation was reportedly meager in the afternoon, immediately after Barrow's inauguration, but had picked up by evening as crowds became more confident of Jammeh's impending ouster.
That last sentence there still stands; Jammeh is holed up in the president's residence. What happens to him is left to be seen, but it appears he is heavily outnumbered, with mass defections of his loyalists and regional troops inside the country. One cartoon played on Barrow's name, showing what some hoped would happen:
Reporters elsewhere in Africa were quick to note that the regional cooperation displayed in Gambia's political crisis is severely lacking in other parts of the continent. The African Union, while a participant in the talks to convince Jammeh to cede power, has been largely impotent in promoting democracy in countries such as Burundi, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and others.