The Gambia Votes Impact on the Democratic Process in Africa

Past Friday, the Gambia has been rocked by a political earthquake caused by the outcome of the popular vote, which has decreed Adama Barrow’s surprise poll victory, which ends 22 years in power of President Yahya Jammeh.

The new president of Gambia Adama Barrow poses for a picture at his home in Yarambamba, West Coast Region, Gambia December 3, 2016. REUTERS/ Thierry Gouegnon
The new president of Gambia Adama Barrow poses for a picture at his home in Yarambamba, West Coast Region, Gambia December 3, 2016. REUTERS/ Thierry Gouegnon

The smallest continental African nation has turned page ousting democratically a president who in the past had expressed its readiness to govern the country for one billion years and proud of being labeled a dictator.

Just 29 years old, in 1994, Jammeh had taken power with a coup deposing President Dawda Kairaba Jawara, and had been re-elected three times, establishing a monolithic regime that ruled the country in total disregard of human rights, as confirmed by the large number of cases reported by humanitarian organizations, arbitrary arrests and cruel torture against opponents.

Not to mention the fact, that only utter in public the name of Jammeh could lead to the arrest and of the serious situation of danger in which they were forced to live homosexuals and transgender. Especially after the approval in August 2014 of the law that introduced the offense of “aggravated homosexuality”, for which is even predicted a life sentence.

The result of the December 1 last polls put an end to all this and led Jammeh to acknowledge defeat, agreeing to cede power next January the new president-elect.

His successor, Adama Barrow, is a wealthy entrepreneur, also born as Jammeh in 1965, the Gambia’s independence year from the United Kingdom. Barrow graduated in Real Estate in London, where he arrived in the early 2000s to pay for his studies, he worked as a security guard in an Argos shop in Holloway Road, north of the capital.

Back in 2006 in Gambia, he married two women: Fatou Bah and Sarjo Mballow, from whom had five children. Bases Majum Real Estate and assuming the role of CEO, creating millions of dollars in revenue and imposing in the real estate market.

Until his nomination as a presidential candidate of the Democratic United Party, Barrow was little known. However, he had been described as “the perfect candidate. An humble, kind and hard-working man that keeps its promises.

In the battle with the outgoing president, that Barrow has called “a soulless dictator”, was placed at the head of a coalition of seven parties and got the most unexpected of victories, in a continent where sometimes the president breaches or even changes the constitution to extend his time in power.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila has postponed to April 2018 elections that should take place on 27 November, with a view to take time to change the Constitution and reapply to a third term. While in Burundi, the re-election of Pierre Nkurunziza, which took place in violation of Article 96 of the Constitution, has dragged the country into a civil war.

Their Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, came to power in 1986 after the armed rebellion that out Milton Obote, is currently in its fifth consecutive term, after winning last February 18 elections. The same fifth term, won the 10 April, from Idriss Déby Itno Chad’s President, in power for 26 years in one of the poorest countries in the world.

The list continues with Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in Equatorial Guinea, which, now in its seventh term, currently holds the record for longevity as head of state, followed closely from Angolan Eduardo dos Santos, who last December 2 announced that next year will leave the leadership of the Portuguese-speaking country.

Not to mention, Paul Biya, who for 34 years uninterruptedly governs Cameroon and Denis Sassou Nguesso, who last March 24 has been re-elected president for a further five-year term at the helm of the Republic of Congo, which has ruled for 19 years.

However, not always the African dinosaurs succeed in perpetuating their power. A striking example is Burkina Faso, where in October 2014; President Blaise Compaoré was literally ousted by street protests after 27 years in government.

According to Steve Cockburn of Amnesty International, African autocrats might respond to the Jammeh’s output in two ways: “to open up a little bit to avoid the same situation or it could encourage others to double down on their repression.

In this continental climate, the Gambian dictator decides to respect the will of the people and the office chair in Barrow, which has already begun consultations for the formation of the new government, which will have to pursue a process of national reconciliation in the interest of the country.

The new president has promised not to withdraw Banjul from International Criminal Court (ICC) and, most unusual for Africa, he explained that is going to lead just a transition of about one thousand days, in preparation for the full democratization of the Gambia and to new elections.

@afrofocus

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