We commend the people of the Gambia for last week’s peaceful presidential election in which the opposition candidate, Mr. Adama Barrow, recorded a stunning upset victory against the incumbent President Yahya Jammeh.
We congratulate the president-elect who is expected to be an instrument for the actualization of the long-expected change in the governance of the country. We also laud President Jammeh, in spite of himself, for emulating former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, by calling to congratulate the winner, and for gracefully accepting defeat.
When the successful elections in the Gambia and Nigeria are added to the peaceful resolution of the political crisis in Burkina Faso in which President Blaise Campaore was ousted by a massive people’s protest, we think these are significant signs of the growth of the democratic culture in West Africa. With these examples, the West African sub-region can be said to be slowly but surely jettisoning the culture of viewing political competition as a do-or-die affair.
Gambians have demonstrated the political wisdom which had eluded many African countries in the past when confronted by sit-tight dictators like Jammeh. By bringing together eight different political parties to form the Independent Coalition of Parties (ICP) and decisively voting for the coalition under the leadership of Barrow, Gambia has demonstrated a model for the defeat of dictatorship which many countries in Africa should emulate.
Jammeh, from the start, usurped power when he overthrew the government of Dauda Jawara in 1994. By staying in office for more than eight years, he clearly overstayed his welcome. This is irrespective of the positive contributions he was credited with in the field of education and on social issues like the discouragement of child marriage and the abolition of female genital mutilation.
In the later years of his administration, he became a poster-child for tyranny as hundreds of his opponents were hauled into jail and many died there. The press was emasculated. He became notorious for his eccentricity. He claimed to be able to cure AIDs with herbs, prayer and a banana. He was known to have ordered that sorcerers be hunted and killed, and had threatened gay people with beheadings.
Because of his gross human rights violations, Jammeh became fearful of being investigated and hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC). His government was, therefore, one of the three African governments that opted out of the ICC, a move which the President-elect has vowed to reverse. The outgoing president’s legacy will be influenced by how he handles the transition to the new government. He still controls the armed forces and his relations and acolytes control much of the levers of power.
Gambians have every reason to celebrate the election outcome and the hope for a new Gambia. Barrow’s mandate is narrow. He won only 45.5 per cent of the votes. But, he is said to be an unassuming businessman, which probably explains his ability to hold together the coalition which saw him to victory.
The gift of humility and ability to work with other Gambians is what he needs most to succeed as president. From his utterances, we believe Gambia is in good hands. He must resist the temptation to settle scores. But, he should not ignore extreme cases of abuse of human rights.
Barrow has promised constitutional changes to ensure that no president gets more than two terms. His lack of experience in government could be an opportunity for fresh perspectives, to change things for the better. Coming from the private sector, and having lived in the United Kingdom and done some lowly jobs, he should be attuned with the needs and aspirations of Gambians. We wish him success.