The consensus among the European tourists interviewed by the international press at Banjul airport last week was that their evacuation from Gambia was an overreaction. ‘We just think it’s overkill,’ a man in holiday clothes said confidently. ‘Nothing will actually happen, Mr Jammeh will go, he’s using it as a bargaining tool, and it will be done peacefully.’ He shrugged. A woman with sunburnt skin widened her eyes. ‘In the hotel, everything was OK,’ she said. It was only on the transfer to the airport that they had seen people were leaving. During the first weeks of January, as the outgoing president, Yahya Jammeh, refused to relinquish office, tens of thousands of Gambians left the country, bracing themselves for conflict. Regional troops gathered at the border.
‘Everyone I know who has been political in Gambia has ended up in jail or dead,’ says L., who came to Italy nine months ago. ‘The army spends its time and resources arresting and torturing anyone who speaks or acts against the president.’ L. showed me a photo on his phone of what he said was an execution he'd been sent by a friend in Gambia two days before: soldiers stand over a man in a pit, his hands together in the air. ‘My parents did not educate me to end up in prison and my first loyalty is to them. I was so angry at everything but to be angry in Gambia means to get arrested or killed. I had to leave.’ L. spoke to me on Wednesday, the day before Gambia's presidential election. ‘Now is our best chance to get rid of our president because for the first time all of the opposition parties are united,’ he said. I asked how it affected him personally. 'My father does not keep quiet during elections. I inherited his anger.’