Gambian President Adama Barrow has pledged to strengthen relations between Gambia and the UK by, among other things, rejoining the Commonwealth and promoting foreign investments. The 51-year-old leader made the comment during an exclusive interview with IBTimes UK, on the eve of his departure from Senegal.
"The UK was in The Gambia for hundreds of years, we are a former colony and this is why we are an English-speaking country. The history is there, and we have high respect for the UK and we want to create a very strong relationship," the president said.
"I will visit the UK soon and we will rejoin the Commonwealth," he added.
Gambia pulled out from the intergovernmental organisation in 2013, with the previous government claiming it wanted to abandon a "neo-colonial institution".
Barrow was appointed as head of a coalition of opposition parties that then defeated veteran strongman Yahya Jammeh in an historic presidential election held in December 2016.
However, Jammeh's initial refusal to step down sparked a political crisis and a foreign military intervention that prompted Barrow – along with thousands of fleeing Gambians – to relocate temporarily to neighbouring Senegal amid fears of an imminent war.
Following week-long diplomatic talks that saw the involvement of several West African leaders and the deployment of Ecowas (Economic Community Of West African States ) troops to Gambia's capital Banjul, Jammeh agreed to step down and go into exile to Equatorial Guinea.
Barrow, who took the oath of office at the Gambian embassy in Senegal's capital Dakar, is now ready to take the lead of a country that has suffered years of repression, human rights abuses and economic stagnation.
Read part one and two of IBTimes UK interview with Barrow
However, the democratically-elected president – a former businessman who lived in London for three years – is determined to bring Gambia's development to the level its citizens expect him to.
"The private sector cannot operate without guarantees and the democratic rule of law is a reassurance that investments are safe, so this will attract a lot of people," Barrow explained.
"Our geographical location is also very good for business and we are encouraging investors to come and invest."
The leader is also confident that relations with Senegal, which surrounds Gambia on three sides, will continue to improve. The relationship between the two nations had deteriorated during Jammeh's 22-year-long government.
"Geographically, we are the same country. We speak the same language, we eat the same food. We will be best friends and anything that is in the interest of Gambia and Senegal will be discussed to avoid any differences in the future," he explained.
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.
The leader also called on every Gambian living abroad to go back to their homeland and help build a new country, "where everyone can enjoy freedom".