Gambians defeat a brutal dictator through elections, but he doesn’t step down
BLOG by Gambian human rights defender
Anxiety and uncertainty have gripped the smallest country in continental Africa, the Gambia since December 9 when its president Yaya Jammeh refused to accept the results of the presidential elections held on December 1. BLOG by former Shelter City participant Kofi from the Gambia.
In the few days after the election, massive celebrations erupted all over the country.
The election has been described by observers as a first in history when an oppressed people vote out a brutal dictator without resorting to mass uprising, armed rebellion or military coup but through peaceful elections.
The Dictator in this case goes by the name, Sheikh Prof. Alhagie, Dr. Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa (Bridge Builder). He has ruled the Gambia since 1994 when he first came through a military coup. With an iron fist, he unleashed a reign of terror on his own people characterized by arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, rapes, tortures, enforced disappearances and summary executions. His bloody rule which saw hundreds of Gambians tortured, disappeared and summarily executed was highly criticized by the international and human rights organizations including the United Nations, Article 19, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as the US and UK governments and the EU Parliament and ECOWA and the AU. In fact in the 2011 elections, ECOWAS said they would not send observers because the ground was not level amidst repressive attacks on opponents.
In the December 1 election which is his fifth time seeking office, all of the opposition parties except one rallied behind one single candidate Adama Barrow in a robust coalition. The final results of the election showed that Mr. Barrow pulled 43%, while the incumbent got 40% and the third candidate Mama Kandeh went with 17% of the vote. When the results were announced by the chief electoral commissioner Alieu Momarr Njai on December 2, the outgoing president conceded defeat and then called the president-elect to congratulate him and promised a smooth transition. Yet nine days later, outgoing Pres. Jammeh said after all he would not accept the results. He accused the electoral commission of fraud and vowed to reconstitute it for a new vote.
No sooner had he made his televised address to the nation than a barrage of condemnations started flying towards him. The UN Security Council was among the first to send a clear and unequivocal message that he steps down and hand over immediately, peacefully and unconditionally. This was followed by the US government as well as the European Union and the African Union. The regional bloc, The Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) also sent a strong message of condemnation and threatened to use military action if he fails to step down. They followed their statement with a heavyweight diplomatic mission led by the presidents of Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia on December 13. Yet Pres. Jammeh refused to budge and insisted that the election was fraudulent. Civil society organizations and trade unions in the Gambia were not found wanting as a wave of condemnations were issued with the Gambia Bar Association calling the action of the president unconstitutional and constituting treason.
Two weeks after the election there is heightened military build up in the country as the outgoing president has deployed the army in strategic positions. Meantime, the President-elect continues to receive congratulatory messages from around the world, while also seeking to engage with various sectors of the Gambian population. There is however deep concern inside and outside the country about the outbreak of violence in this country of less than two million people.
That notwithstanding, since December 1, things have never been the same again in that country. One Gambian youth wrote on Facebook that it appeared even the air flowing around is different. In the few days after the election, massive celebrations erupted all over the country. The huge billboards and pictures of the dictator and his party are being pulled down while people have been on the streets dancing and singing all day and night. Social media is bursting with critical comments by Gambians inside the country, manifesting the new experience of freedom.
But since the rejection of the results, the celebrations have subsided into something more somber and reflective. There is anxiety. People are praying that the outgoing dictator goes back to his original concession and leave power. There is fear that if he fails to do so, Gambians are also not ready to back down. People are worried if the international community would use force to unseat him. Meantime, the courts have released on bail tens of political prisoners who were denied bail and sentenced to several years in jail since July. The clock is ticking.