* Gambian exiles say safe to return after Jammeh defeat
* Jammeh ruled Gambia for 22 years, brooked no dissent
* Economic problems persist, could sap flow of returnees
By Edward McAllister and Emma Farge
DAKAR/BANJUL Dec 6 Fatty Ousman watched all
night as the results of Gambia's presidential election last week
trickled out on social media. Stunned and elated by the defeat
of veteran leader Yahya Jammeh, he believes it is finally safe
to return home.
Ousman is one of thousands of Gambians who left because of
Jammeh's authoritarian 22-year rule, or sought work abroad as
the economy sagged. Now, many are reevaluating after Adama
Barrow beat Jammeh in the Dec. 1 election, promising to end
repression and boost the economy.
For Ousman it will be an arduous journey - he is now living
more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km) away in a migrant centre in the
Italian Alps where he has spent 18 months seeking political
asylum. He fled Gambia across the Sahara and the Mediterranean
in 2015 after being threatened by Jammeh's security forces.
"I am no longer scared to go back. I felt afraid even in
Italy," said Ousman. "Now I can go and see my family."
Not all Gambians will rush home. Jobs in the tiny West
African nation, famed for its beaches, are scarce and
remittances make up more than a fifth of national output.
Nevertheless, the election outcome marks a joyous turnaround
for Gambian families torn apart by exile.
Stocky former police officer Ebrima Sanneh, 46, left for
neighbouring Senegal in 2013 after a dispute with the police he
said could have ended in jail time. He has since relied on
family handouts to pay rent for the small room he shares with
four others in Dakar.
Sanneh plans to make the six-hour drive home next month,
once Jammeh is gone, to see the three children he has not seen
since 2013. He pictures walking into his house and out into the
garden to see the mango tree he planted just before leaving.
"I can't sleep because of joy," said Sanneh, who wept when
Jammeh conceded defeat last Friday. "I have been liberated."
In Gambia's capital Banjul, family members anticipate
long-awaited reunions. Gibril Jaw, 40, looks forward to the
return of his brother, a political journalist in exile since
"I talked to him and told him to come back. If Barrow is in
the statehouse, I look forward to that," he said.
Potential returnees remain cautious, however, given the
state of the economy. Stuck in Italy, Ousman is realistic about
"Even without Jammeh, it will be difficult," he said.
(Editing by Tim Cocks and Gareth Jones)