Gambian President Adama Barrow has pledged to not discriminate against the supporters of his bitter rival Yahya Jammeh when he returns to Banjul to take power on Thursday (26 September).
Barrow, 51, who ousted Jammeh in The Gambia's first democratic elections in two decades at the end of last year, made the comments on the eve of his departure from Senegal. Jammeh, who had taken power in The Gambia in a coup in 1994, had initially pledged to respect the election results before reversing his decision. He only left the country after Senegal threatened military action.
Barrow has remained in Senegal, which surrounds The Gambia on three sides, amid concerns that Jammeh loyalists are still active in the tiny West African country.
However, he told IBTimes UK in an exclusive interview that he was now ready to return and take office. Barrow also pledged to "bring freedom" to the entire country - even to those that opposed him.
"[There was] a dictatorship for a long period, but the moment you bring a democratic president, everyone will change, because it will bring freedom for everybody, including Jammeh's loyalists. They will see the truth very soon," Barrow said.
The leader was sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar earlier in January. He is now preparing to the take the helm of a nation that activists have described as being "held ransom by Jammeh for 22 years."
Barrow – a former businessman who led a broad opposition coalition that defeated Jammeh – has been busy appointing members of his new government and working with Senegalese authorities to repatriate Gambian refugees, who fled fearing a war could break out in their country.
Gambians at home and abroad are eager to see the birth of a new Gambia free from repression but they are also aware that Jammeh's departure does not automatically mean peace. Issues such as government accountability, ethnic tensions and electoral and constitutional reforms will all need to be addressed.
But Barrow is confident he will unify the nation through democratic practices.
"We will bring everyone on board, believe me, there was a very difficult situation in the Gambia. Saying that Gambians are divided is an exaggeration. The division is not that much, if you look at the vote pattern, the majority of the people – nearly 60% – voted for a change. That was huge, it means the majority are with the opposition [to the old regime]," the president said.