/ 10 December 2021

Gambian leader’s new term darkened by politics, economy

Gambia Politics Vote
Supporters of incumbent President of Gambia Adama Barrow celebrate in a car. Gambians were waiting to find out the winner of the first presidential election in the tiny West African nation since former dictator Yahya Jammeh fled into exile, with incumbent Adama Barrow enjoying the advantage in partial results. (Photo by John Wessels/AFP)

Newly re-elected Gambian President Adama Barrow faces the stark challenge of lowering the political temperature in his fledgling democracy and tackling its economic woes.

Barrow was returned to power in the 4 December poll after his first five-year term ended the 22-year dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh.

According to official results, the former property developer notched up 53% of the ballot, far ahead of political veteran Ousainou Darboe’s 27.7%. Turnout was high at 87% of the electorate.

But post-election friction is visible — and how the candidates and their supporters respond to victory or defeat could be crucial.

Late on Monday, police used teargas against Darboe followers in the capital Banjul, just hours after he appealed for calm and said he would pursue his grievances against the result in court if necessary.

At the Manjaikunda food market near Banjul, trader Nima Sagna and fellow vendor Abdou Dicko symbolised some of the lingering antagonisms.

Sagna, who voted for Darboe in the belief that it was time for change, was embittered to hear that Dicko had partied until the early hours to celebrate the result.

Dicko dismissed this. “She’s UDP [United Democratic Party], she’s jealous,” he said.

Barrow won on the strength of his pitch as the candidate of continuity, but he faces mounting pressure for action, both from home and abroad.

International partners are pushing for the tiny West African state to push ahead with reforms to strengthen its democracy, including changes to the 1997 constitution that would limit presidential terms.

At home, Barrow has to deal with demands from victims of the Jammeh dictatorship for the prosecution of those responsible for years of persecution and abuse.

The litany of crimes was spelt out in a report handed to Barrow just before polling day. He has six months to respond and has promised justice, although he has also urged victims to be patient. 

Some fear he will be less than exhaustive, given that his party forged an electoral alliance with Jammeh’s. The former dictator was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after losing at the ballot box to Barrow.

For many, the prime concern is the daily struggle to survive.

The Gambia is one of the world’s poorest countries. About half of its 2.4 million people live on less than $1.90 a day, the World Bank says. 

The tourism-dependent economy was dealt a blow by the Covid-19 pandemic, and rising prices are a worry.

Barrow “has a lot to do — unemployment, electricity, health centres, peace”, said Dicko, adding that inflation pressure came from abroad and was not the president’s fault.Essai Njie, who lectures political science at the University of The Gambia, said that even before the pandemic, Barrow’s infrastructure-based economic policies had had little benefit for citizens. — AFP