A New Chapter For Gambia

After 22 years of rule by a repressive autocrat, Gambia is now able to provide new hope for its people. The December elections resulted in the victory of Adama Barrow, who will take over the presidency of Yahya Jammeh. In a country where political opponents, dissidents, and journalists are imprisoned, tortured or killed, the defeat of President Jammeh signifies the dawn of a free and fair democratic Gambia. This positive shift is further reflected in Jammeh’s astonishing acceptance of defeat – a rare occurrence for autocrats across Africa. The public enthusiasm for change has swept the streets, with celebrations marking the beginning of a new chapter for the country. High unemployment and repression under Jammeh’s rule had left much of the population disempowered and migrating to Europe through the perilous Mediterranean route. Now, the victory of Barrow has given new hope for Gambians who have suffered 22 years of autocracy. However, if the country is to fulfill the wants and needs of its people, Jammeh must continue to accept defeat and allow president-elect Barrow to reverse years of economic downturn and human rights violations.

The defeat of Jammeh in the December elections reflects the success of the democratic process in the Gambia. Barrow himself, in the aftermath of his victory, said: “Power belongs to the people. It’s the people who have spoken.” Gaining 45.5% of the votes over Jammeh’s 36.7%, the election illustrated a rising sentiment of change amongst the population. Nicolas Haque, from Al Jazeera, stated: “Adama Barrow represents change; he represents hope for a lot of young Gambians.” However, now that Jammeh has been defeated, this positive momentum must not diminish. Oyedele Ashiru, a political scientist at the University of Lagos, argues: “The people must be alive to their responsibilities, they must challenge dictatorship anywhere they see one and confront any dictator to step down; once the people feel enough is enough.” Indeed, Jammeh’s acceptance of defeat and willingness to step down is an extraordinary move, in spite of his 22-year rule over the country. Gambia’s head of the electoral commission, Alieu Momarr Njai, stated in regard to Jammeh’s acceptance of defeat: “It’s very rare that this present situation now, in Africa, that this happens.”

Jammeh’s unanticipated respect for the election results is a positive first step for Gambia. He must continue to respect the democratic process and Barrow’s presidency. Furthermore, Barrow has already detailed his vision for Gambia, one that begins with the adoption of inclusive policies and the reversal of harmful practices. The president-elect has begun to release political prisoners who were detained under Jammeh’s rule. This must continue if Barrow is to prove his dedication to a free and fair Gambia. Barrow has also pledged to reverse Jammeh’s decision to withdraw Gambia from the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court. While human rights observers have welcomed these declarations by both Jammeh and Barrow, it is imperative that political leaders commit to a democratic and peaceful future.

The small West African country of Gambia experienced a coup in 1994, resulting in army officer Yahya Jammeh becoming President. His rule has been characterized by repression, as political opponents, dissidents, and journalists were imprisoned, tortured or killed. His increasingly isolationist policies left the country in a state of economic peril, as unemployment rose and forced many to migrate to neighbouring countries or to attempt the journey to Europe.

The electoral victory of opposition leader Adama Barrow has reflected a growing need for change in Gambia. Outgoing President Jammeh and president-elect Barrow must adhere to human rights and democratic procedures. While the country has experienced levels of relative stability under Jammeh’s 22-year rule, his defeat represents a clear opportunity for the people of Gambia to enjoy civil liberties and empower both themselves and the country’s institutions for a more peaceful and prosperous future.

Caitlin Biddolph