Outpouring of joy on Gambia's 'emancipation day'
Westfield (Gambia) (AFP) - Hundreds of Gambians poured onto the streets Friday in a spontaneous outpouring of joy as President Yahya Jammeh's 22-year rule ended, ecstatically welcoming a new political era.
Minutes after it was announced that opposition candidate Adama Barrow had pulled off a stunning victory and that Jammeh would concede defeat, impromptu street parties broke out across neighbourhoods close to the capital, Banjul.
In the district of Westfield, teenagers piled on top of cars, taking selfies and strumming guitars, while others waved flags coloured the grey of the opposition coalition. A hundred horns honked in unison.
Although the mood was ecstatic, some Gambians expressed relief tinged with emotion as they recounted stories of difficult lives spent under constant fear during Jammeh's rule.
"It is a stunning day... emancipation day for Gambians. We have had 22 years of illegal arrests and suppression from Yahya Jammeh," said Maya Darboe.
Her husband, opposition leader Ousainou Darboe, was arrested in April and later convicted of holding an illegal protest after taking to the streets over the death of political activist Solo Sandeng.
"They bring him to court in handcuffs. He is no criminal, he was just asking for the body of Solo Sandeng dead or alive," Mrs Darboe said, shaking her head.
Darboe and many others believe that Barrow and his coalition government will bring back freedoms curtailed under Jammeh, including the release of dozens of political prisoners.
"I dreamt about today," said Mamiea Jatta, a 29-year-old sporting a grey t-shirt with Barrow's face on it.
"Peace will be here, we will have more freedoms, and we are expecting more development," she told AFP.
In the last few years, a crackdown on journalists, opposition figures and anyone deemed disloyal within Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party has intensified.
Jatta's face darkened as she described operating as a political activist under Jammeh, which at one point forced her into hiding for four months.
"He is a killer... He did anything he felt like doing. We are free, finally we are free," she said, raising her arms to the sky.
- Party time -
The gathered crowds were also surprisingly convivial to the security forces often characterised as the blunt edge of the regime the president oversaw for 22 years.
Soldiers and police stood to the side as the celebrations erupted, and although their presence was unmissable several could be seen shaking hands with Barrow's supporters with smiles on their faces.
For others, Jammeh's downfall meant one thing tonight. "We are going to PARTY," said a woman sporting huge sunglasses, who gave her surname as Njie.
"The dictator is out, we are going to party until daybreak!"
Teenager Ousman Bai, standing at a traffic junction, said he believed Barrow would do more for the young people who take the perilous route across the Mediterranean to seek a better life in Europe.
"Our brothers are going the Back Way (migrant route) because of the president," he said, while fielding spontaneous hugs from his entourage.
"Now we have a new Gambia!" his friend interjected, causing a long round of cheers.
For those who have long monitored The Gambia's disregard for freedom of speech and political assembly, these scenes are almost surreal.
"Nine months ago you would never have expected this in Gambia," said Steve Cockburn, a human rights activist with Amnesty International mixing with the crowds.
"Over the last two weeks we have seen a remarkable transformation in Gambia, people have come onto the streets and spoken without fear."