Democracy Dawns in The Gambia

Nicholas Kitevski, Staff Writer

A West African country not used to its recent attention, The Gambia became the center of conversation last month when President Yanya Jammeh was removed from power in a democratic election. Jammeh had been President since 1993, when he along with others seized power in a bloodless military coup. For years, Jammeh’s rule has been marked with human rights violations and restrictions of press freedoms. In December of last year, Jammeh sought re-election to a fifth term as President of The Gambia but was defeated by reform candidate Adama Barrow. He openly called Jammeh a dictator, promised to install term limits on the Gambian presidency, and vowed to repair The Gambia’s relationships with other countries around the world. Jammeh accepted the outcome of the election results, which surprised many, given that he had previously intended to “rule for a billion years.” A week after the election, however, Jammeh changed his mind and refused to step down despite being defeated democratically, beginning a political and constitutional crisis in the country. Fearing for his own safety, Barrow fled to the neighboring country of Senegal, where he was sworn in as president-elect despite having been exiled. Following this, a coalition of West African nations that pledged to support Barrow invaded The Gambia, forcing Jammeh to relinquish his power.

The recent events in The Gambia can be seen as indicative of a continent-wide trend in Africa towards democracy. Nigeria, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and Ghana have all seen peaceful and democratic transfers of power. Some have even also connected Barrow’s victory to an upsurge in populism with striking similarity to recent events in Europe and America, with the New York Times’ Dionne Searcey saying, “like the election of Donald J. Trump, Gambia’s vote showed a populist candidate with a real estate background and no political experience riding a wave of frustration over economic inequality.” Nevertheless, this election marks an important new chapter in the history of The Gambia, as the country experienced its first democratic election.