Is Gambia Africa’s game changer?

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2016 was punctuated by intriguing electoral outcomes in Africa. From the controversial in Uganda to near misses and credible electoral processes in Gabon and Benin respectively.

The Gambia joined the cohort of credible elections with the concession of defeat by H.E Prof. Dr. Sheikh Yahya Jammeh; one of the longest serving Presidents in Africa, who held office for 22 years.

The polls, held on the 1st of December amidst trepidation and heightened concerns was an anti-climax of some sorts. Observers of Gambia from across the world had predicted it was going to be another ‘motion without movement’ election with the incumbent securing another four-year term in office.

Even without the power of clairvoyance to see the future, the predictions were premised on antecedents of past elections. In the events leading up to the recent one, several opposition candidates suffered state sponsored harassments, detention, torture and death perhaps more than any other period since Jammeh took power from the post-Independence President, Dauda Jawara in 1994.

The country witnessed the most vicious curtailment of fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and speech. In the days leading up to the elections, dissenting views in the media, especially new social media were blocked.

Following the surprising concession call by Yahya Jammeh to President-Elect Adama Barrow, it is important to highlight several processes and actions responsible for the turn of events in The Gambia.

Firstly, this was a classic case of #CitizenPower in action. A broad spectrum of the Gambian society revolted against years of dictatorship and resolutely voted a new leadership. #CitizenPower was further strengthened by the youths at a time when it appeared that the international community had given up on the country.

The New Gambia 2016’, amongst others, provided a platform for Gambians within and outside to coalesce around a regime change through the ballots strategy. They have taught the rest of Africa that with resolute action, even long serving leaders can only fool their citizens sometimes, not all the time.

The second development that propelled change is the power of strategic coalitions. For the first time in the post-independence history of The Gambia, a coalition of Gambian political parties rallied together behind the candidacy of businessman, Adama Barrow, indicating how much power African opposition parties can muster beyond flimsy party divides.

The 19,000-vote margin between Barrow and Jammeh would have been distributed across the other six candidates if they had approached the elections under different platforms.

Indeed, that the two opposition candidates; Adama Barrow and Mama Kandeh, cumulatively polled 317,476 votes as against Yaya Jammeh’s 208,487 votes says a lot about how far even a miniscule opposition ‘gang up’ could go to oust a recalcitrant incumbent.

It is well known that ruling parties, especially those accustomed to long rule, sustain themselves by creating and sponsoring ‘pseudo’ opposition to disrupt and prevent momentum in opposition strong holds.

Without the usual spoilers from within, the solidarity exhibited by the opposition political parties in  Gambia was the proverbial handwriting on the wall that President Jammeh’s time was up.

My third take regarding how Jammeh’s rule unraveled could be the home grown solutiona psychological effect of diplomatic fatigue by the International Community regarding the political situation in The Gambia.

This fatigue is partly exemplified by concerns voiced by ECOWAS and the AU about deteriorating human rights situation in the country in the months preceding the elections.

Should all these developments be taken as a new dawn for The Gambia? No doubt saving their country came with a price and until critical segments of the society are able and willing to pay even more sacrifices in the days ahead, the new situation might quickly unravel, sounds prophetic now considering the situation in the last few days.

Long accustomed to privileges, the political class and the military in particular must take responsibility to safeguard and consolidate this important milestone.

In a nutshell, the journey towards genuine democratic governance in the Gambia has just begun. Only eternal vigilance by the Gambians themselves, with support of the rest of the continent can guide Gambia out of the present euphoria of successfully wrestling power from an unrepentant dictator.

The views expressed in this post are of the author’s and in no way reflect those of The Election Network.

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