Saturday, 3 December 2016

GAMBIA: Yahya Jammeh's Defeat

Yahya Jammeh, the Gambia's president, has been defeated in his bid for re-election, a stunning turn for a nation that has lived for more than two decades under what human rights groups have described as repressive regime.

The electoral commission officially declared Adama Barrow the winner on Friday morning, the day after voters cast ballots, in an upset victory that astonished observers. According to the electoral commission Adama Barrow received 263, 517 votes while Jammeh 212, 098. Speaking to the public on Gambian television on Friday, Jammeh congratulated Barrow for his clear victory.

Mr Barrow led a coalition of opposition groups that gelled in the final days of the campaign. This week, enthusiasm swept the streets of Banjul, the capital, as people gathered for peaceful protests, crying out for the end to what they describe an ''oppressive regime''. 

Mr Jammeh's defeat is a rare turn for longtime leaders on the continent. Many leaders have amassed so much power, and often, wealth through decades of incumbency that they manage to stay in office until death. Other so called presidents for life have interfered with elections to cling to power.

In previous elections, Gambia president Yahya Jammeh benefited from a strong media bias and greater financial resources than his rivals to secure elections victory. The gross imbalance in the financial and material capability of the candidates resulted in the lack of adequate visibility of the United Democratic Party(UDP) and the Independent candidates. But this time around, Yahya Jammeh decided, long before the election to loosen up his grips. There are several reasons for that change of heart.

In Africa, rights advocates have increasingly lamented a plague of ''third termism'' as more and more leaders move to scrap constitutional limits in order to remain in power. But in Gambia, Jammeh could probably have cruised to a fifth five years term if the unprecedented wave of protests that began last week did not boil over into a full fledged popular revolt. The popular revolt brought to the open the oppressiveness of his regime and made him vulnerable.

Since taking power in a bloodless coup in 1994, Yahya Jammeh has presided over the worst dictatorship in Africa. The eccentric Gambian president rules his country through a mix of superstition  and fear, State-sanctioned torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary executions.

Two opposition protesters have died in custody. Mr Solo Sandeng, the leader of the youth wing of Gambia's main opposition movement, the United Democratic Party, was allegedly tortured to death while in state custody. After news of Sandeng's death broke, the UDP rallied, marching peacefully through the capital to demand answers. Riot police rushed to the scene, arresting Ousainou Darboe, secretary general of the UDP and other senior members of the party....

But also, part of the reason Jammeh became vulnerable, weak is that he lost the full support of many governments and electoral commission ooficials and african allies since a coup attempt. In December 2014, an unlikely band of diaspora members, including two US army veterans and a Minnesota businessman, staged an assault on the presidential palace while Jammeh was outside the country. The putsch failed and the regime responded with fury, sentencing eight alleged coup plotters to death amd indiscriminately jailing scores of Gambians suspected of being associated with them. But the truth is, Jammeh was no longer in total conytrol of his security apparatus. 

The crackdown drew harsh rebukes from rights activists, but it was later revealed that the United States may have indirectly tipped off the Gambian's government that a coup was in the works. The FBI had been monitoring some of the plotters communications and the State Department later informed another West African nation that one of them had left the Unites States in the hopes it would intercept him. Despite Jammeh's egregious rights records, the US government has largely refrained from speaking out against him over the years.

Finally, international isolation has made Jammeh only more vulnerable at home. Since 2011 election, Yahya Jammeh lost the support of Economic Community of West African States, which refused to send observers. The European Union has suspended $186 million in aid while the Unites States made Gambia ineligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade preference program that provides duty free treatment to US imports from sub-Saharan Africa, making it the only nation besides Swaziland and South Sudan to lose eligibility because of its dismal human rights record. 

Nevertheless, a new page of Gambia's history has started with Adama Barrow. It would be interesting to see how the new Gambia's president will deal with widespread corruption, chronic food shortage, and terribly mismanaged economy. Gambia ranks dead last in Africa in terms of GDP per capita, the only country to experience a decline since 1994.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst

Photo Credit: AFP-photo of : Mt Adama Barrow, campaigning in Banjul