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Gambia – A Turning Point

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Longtime ruler initially concedes and then backtracks on acceptance of historic election result. 

The results of the recent election on December 1st saw 22-year leader Yahya Jammeh ousted and debates surrounding his prosecution have become central topics of discussion. His regime has been accused of arresting many activists, journalists and opposition members.

President-elect Adama Barrow, who heads a coalition of parties, told Al Jazeera that a truth and reconciliation commission would be established to look at human rights abuses committed during Jammeh’s rule, after which the government will file a case at the International Criminal Court (ICC). “It is a matter of justice. People should not fear. The process will be fair and will not pinpoint anyone,” he said.

The new President-Elect, however, is understandably cautious, as the country now faces a two-month transition period and rumours have abounded that Jammeh could try to force a coup in an act of self-preservation. The heads of the army and police services, however, have declared their support for the new coalition.

Jammeh is reportedly currently hiding in his villa in his hometown of Kanilai. His paramilitary hit squad known as the ‘Junglers’ is also based near Kanilai – the group is thought to be responsible for a number of high profile killings, such as of newspaper editor Deyda Hydara in 2004.

The incoming coalition has stated that it intends to compensate Gambians for their loss of lands, according to the leader of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Omar Jallow, part of the new coalition. Political prisoners were also released, with around 31 so far released from Mile 2 Central Prison near Banjul.

Among the first group freed was Ousainou Darboe, the 68-year-old leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), who founded the opposition party in 1996 and is often described as “the Mandela of the Gambia” for his two decades of struggle against Jammeh.

Another legacy of Jammeh’s rule has been divisions among ethnic groups, particularly between the Jola tribe and the Mandinka, Fulani and Wolof. Jammeh held fears that he would be toppled by the majority Mandinka, which make up around 33% of the population, and he resorted to appointing his own chiefs, reported Al Jazeera.

Gamcel sponsored poster promoting Jammeh

Gamcel sponsored poster promoting Jammeh – CC

Barrow told RFI in an exclusive interview that what was needed was “an overhaul of basically everything in the government.” According to Deutschewelle Barrow has also stated that he intends to keep Gambia in the controversial ICC. Barrow is a real estate CEO and a newcomer to the political scene, selected by a coalition of seven opposition parties.

Barrow won 54.54% while Jammeh took 36.66% of the vote. However, after the initial optimism, anxiety returned as Jammeh decided in a TV interview on December 9th, to annul the poll result citing ‘irregularities’, just over a week after conceding to the coalition.

“I accepted the results then, believing that what was presented was the will of you the Gambian people… I made it clear that I will never cheat in anything… in the same way also, I will never accept being cheated by anyone,” Jammeh said.

Jammeh, in the interview, call for a re-run, recommending new transparent elections mediated by an independent electoral commission. Meanwhile the head of the coalition team Mai Ahmed Fatty said, “We are working round the clock to restore sanity. The world is with us.”

The US State Department dismissed the reversal of President Jammeh’s concession speech as “null and void,” while urging the military and other national institutions to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, reported the East African.

Jammeh had declared the country an Islamic Republic in 2015, has been accused of a string of rights abuses, and had said that with the ‘will of God’ he could rule for a billion years, reported Deutschewelle.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

THE GAMBIA: Interior Minister Replaced
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 9, Pp. 21136C–21137A

THE GAMBIA: Darboe Jailed
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 7, Pp. 21071A–21071C

THE GAMBIA: Dozens More Arrested
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 5, Pp. 21005C–21006B

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