New president arrives from Senegal after his predecessor Jammeh was forced into exile following disputed election.
A week after being sworn in abroad, Adama Barrow is back in The Gambia to assume his duties as the country’s new president.
The 51-year-old, a property developer who never held elected office before, won a December 1 election to end the rule of longtime leader Yahya Jammeh.
Jammeh initially conceded defeat, but later contested the poll’s results stating irregularities. A protracted political crisis ensued, with Barrow escaping to neighbouring Senegal for safety reasons. Tens of thousands of Gambians also fled fearing unrest.
Only days before his planned inauguration at The Gambia’s embassy in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, a personal tragedy struck Barrow.
His eight-year-old son, Habibu, died in The Gambia after being bitten by a dog. Barrow missed the funeral as he was advised to remain in Senegal for his safety before the swearing-in ceremony.
Barrow took the oath of office on January 19, as troops from a regional bloc marched into The Gambia threatening military intervention in order to push Jammeh out.
The deadlock ended late on Saturday when a delegation of West African leaders convinced Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, to step down, even as the regional entered The Gambia.
Barrow, a businessman who owns an estate agency, was previously employed at The Gambia’s largest property rental firm.
A former economic migrant, he lived in Britain – The Gambia’s former colonial ruler – for three and a half years in the early 2000s.
His time in the UK saw him work as a security guard in a North London branch of the catalogue retailer Argos, where he developed a love for the English football team, Arsenal.
A husband to two wives and father of five until his son’s death, he is known to be a devout Muslim and a self-confessed workaholic.
“If you are a religious man it always influences you,” he told AFP news agency in an interview last year.
Burly but soft-spoken, Barrow was thrust into the limelight following the jailing of top officials from the United Democratic Party (UDP) in The Gambia last July. Before running for president, he had served as the UDP’s treasurer.
During the election campaign, his face was plastered on car windows, brandished on campaign posters, and printed on grey T-shirts popular among the country’s youth.
Having previously left his homeland to find work, Barrow identified with the draw of Europe for young, poverty-struck Gambians fleeing in large numbers for the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.
“There is a crisis in The Gambia. That’s why everyone is taking the Back Way [migrant route],” he said, mindful that riches seldom await those who reach other countries with little awaiting them.
“You hear the name Europe, you think it’s heaven. It’s never like that,” Barrow said, speaking to his countrymen – 60 percent of The Gambia’s 1.99 million population is graded as living in poverty.
Barrow’s campaign benefited from social media and internet technology, which helped the opposition to organise mobile rallies and avoid roadblocks during campaigning.
After his election victory, Barrow said his top priorities once in office would be to revive the economy and bring in a new electoral law that would stop leaders from hanging on to power for decades.
“We promised to do a lot of things, including electoral reforms,” he told Al Jazeera in December.
“We will look at everything and avoid making any mistake to arrive at a final document. We want the democratic process to be very smooth in the future. We want a level playing field for every politician in the future, that is our goal.
“We need laws that will favour everybody.”