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How Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh lost his grip on power

OP: This is really good news for the people of Gambia. As one of the articles below states: For 22 years, Gambians have lived under the threat of imprisonment or even death if they spoke out against Mr. Jammeh’s strange and violent government".

How Gambia's Yahya Jammeh lost his grip on power

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Gambia's Yahya Jammeh surprised the world on 2 December by accepting that he had lost elections to the relatively unknown Adama Barrow. The BBC's Umaru Fofana looks at the reasons why the strongman lost his 22-year grip on power.

The Darboe effect

Perhaps Mr Jammeh's biggest mistake was the detention of the main opposition leader, Usainou Darboe, of the United Democratic Party (UDP).

For many years, Mr Darboe had been an albatross round Mr Jammeh's neck – the biggest challenge to his presidency.
Under Mr Darboe, the opposition tried and failed many times to have a united front. As leader of the biggest opposition party he always wanted to be the presidential candidate.

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Adama Barrow was helped by the many mistakes of Yahia Jammeh
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He and Halifa Sallah, another consistently critical voice of Jammeh now touted as the next vice-president, were always in disagreement about should head a possible coalition of their two parties.

With Mr Darboe out of the scene and in a prison cell, the UDP and Mr Sallah's party – as well as other parties – found it easy to hammer out a deal for a united front.

The result was the unexpected candidacy of Mr Barrow.

Mr Darboe has since been freed on bail.

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Mr Darboe caused Yahya Jammeh more political harm as a prisoner than a free man
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Ethnic alienation

In addition to accidentally pushing the opposition into a united front against him, Mr Jammeh managed to alienate the Mandinkas, the largest ethnic group in The Gambia.

The Mandinkas were very bitter at what they deemed as derogatory remarks made by the president, who comes from a minority group. This galvanised them to vote for the opposition.

I heard anti-Jammeh remarks from Mandinkas across the country, all citing statements he reportedly made, indicating that they would never rule the country.

Youths demand freedom and jobs

Perhaps Mr Jammeh could have been shrewd enough to avoid pushing his opposition into an unbeatable coalition or to avoid galvanising the Mandinkas into a hostile electoral force.

But after 22 years in power, he could do nothing in the face of another factor of his defeat: The unquenchable desire for change among young Gambians, like Fatoumata Bojang, who have known no other leader.

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The high rate of unemployment turned Gambia's youth against Mr Jammeh
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The median age of Gambia's population is 19.9 years. They cite a lack of jobs, saying this is why so many Gambians have tried to make the perilous journey to Europe by boat.

At opposition rallies, it was mostly young people.

At a rally in Brikama, Momodou Ceesay demanded "freedom" saying he and his peers had never fully "enjoyed our rights".

That resonated everywhere I went. Students I met at the University of Gambia said the same thing.

Such is the generational divide that two families I met were sharply divided.

A woman who wanted to be known only as Njai said her parents were supporting Mr Jammeh, while she and her other siblings were voting for Mr Barrow.

She cited freedom and jobs, or the lack of both, as the main factors.

The economy worsened matters. Senegal's economic blockade earlier this year effectively killed a dying man.
Virtually all The Gambia's imports come through Senegal.

The blockade was severely felt and drew rage from the citizenry.

Counting the votes

There were allegations of cheating at the 2011 polls which President Jammeh won, although I was there at the time and did not see any sign of that and he denied it.

This time, such was his confidence that he agreed to calls for an electoral system to allow for on-the-spot counting of votes.

Votes were counted at each and every polling station and figures published instantly.

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The marble voting system was praised by Mr Jammeh as "rig-proof"
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Tallying was also done at nearby centres, in the open. And counting the marbles in a specially-designed tray was very quick.

This reduced the possibility of cheating.

Gambia's electoral commission has received less praise than it deserves, I think.

It is rare in Africa for an opposition challenger to heap as much praise on the head of the electoral commission as did Mr Barrow before the polls.

He told the BBC in the run-up to voting day that the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission Alieu Momarr Njai was trustworthy and honest.

The quiet self-effacing 82-year-old says the system does not allow for rigging.

"It will easily be noticed," he told me.

Women power

The role of women was huge. In the early queues at Sukuta, Banjul and Serekunda, there were more women than men, many of them young.

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All sides encouraged Gambia's women to turn out and vote
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The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) invested a lot in them.

Its programme specialist Bashirou Jahumpa says in addition to building the capacity of the electoral commission through training for their staff and also funded the National Council on its civic awareness programme and voter education.

It also helped mobilise women to vote.

Gender activist Fatoumata Jallow was also a huge pillar in this regard, campaigning for women to vote.

But it is also true that Mr Jammeh's government put women impositions of trust and engaged them to be politically active.

The last straw – the army

Perhaps, Mr Jammeh could have found a way to win despite all the adverse factors if he had the support of the army.

He came to power through the army. He stayed in power through the army. He relied on the army for everything.

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The Gambia's army let down the man they carried to power 22 years ago
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Even though soldiers were seen clad in Jammeh T-shirt and transporting party paraphernalia during campaigning, they shook hands with civilians during celebrations marking his defeat.

Intelligence and diplomatic sources say he tried to compromise the results but the top echelons of the army warned him against it.

That would prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

A Jammeh-inspired coup or other military interference could have denied Mr Barrow the presidency.

But instead, the army stood by and let the democratic process carry on, as it is supposed to do.

SOURCE 1.
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Gambians Celebrate Defeat of Longtime President

BANJUL, Gambia — Residents of Gambia awoke Saturday to a surreal joy and hope for a freer future after they finally shook off a long era of oppression by voting President Yahya Jammeh out of office.

For 22 years, Gambians have lived under the threat of imprisonment or even death if they spoke out against Mr. Jammeh’s strange and violent government in this tiny West African nation. Now, finally, the fear is gone.

“He was like God,” said Bintou Ceesay, a hairdresser who voted against Mr. Jammeh and sobbed in happiness when she learned of the election’s outcome. “Now it is over.”

Mr. Jammeh’s defeat on Thursday was a surprise, but what was even more shocking was that a man who seemed to relish his absolute authority would so calmly let it go. In an even-toned concession speech broadcast Friday on state television, Mr. Jammeh declared that he would abide by what he called God’s will for him to hand over the presidency to the winner, Adama Barrow.

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Adama Barrow, Gambia’s president-elect. His rise happened quickly late in the race.
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Mr. Barrow, 51, a real estate agent with no political experience, quickly ascended late in the campaign to become the leader of the opposition coalition. Mr. Jammeh phoned him on Friday, and in what was described as a pleasant conversation joked with him and offered to help with the transition.

Mr. Jammeh seized power in a coup in 1994, and his rule has been anything but predictable. Human rights groups have denounced him for threatening to behead gay people, ordering so-called sorcerers to be hunted and killed, and arresting and prosecuting journalists and supporters of the opposition. His government prosecuted and jailed critics, some of whom wound up dead, and thousands of citizens have fled into exile.

“You are the elected president of the Gambia, and I wish you all the best,” Mr. Jammeh told Mr. Barrow during the call.
“My time is up.”

Mr. Jammeh was initially reluctant to accept the election results, according to a top military intelligence official close to the president.

As returns coming in from major regions clearly indicated that he was going to lose, Mr. Jammeh asked his key advisers to annul the votes, the official said. He then gathered at the statehouse his top military security advisers, police officers and intelligence officials and asked for their support to discredit the vote.

The officers told him that chaos would break out if they did so. Tempers flared at the meeting, said the official, who declined to be named because of the top-secret nature of the gathering. But eventually, Mr. Jammeh agreed to concede.

Speculation had been rampant that Mr. Jammeh had fled the country in the wake of the election, but the official said Mr. Jammeh remained in Gambia.

On Saturday, the streets in the capital, Banjul, were largely calm. But Friday night, thousands celebrated across Gambia, the smallest nation on continental Africa. Young people burned posters with photographs of Mr. Jammeh and currency bills, which bear his image. Even the inspector general of the police was spotted among the crowd of celebrants.

This year in the period before the election, the security forces arrested more than 90 opposition activists for participating in peaceful protests. Thirty activists, including the leader of the largest opposition party, the United Democratic Party, were prosecuted and sentenced to three years in prison. Two other opposition protesters died in custody, including the opposition party’s national organizing secretary, Solo Sandeng, who was beaten to death at the country’s National Intelligence Agency in April, according to an Amnesty International report.

Human rights groups tried to draw attention to Mr. Jammeh’s abuses with numerous reports outlining deaths and torture suffered by his opponents. Western nations criticized Mr. Jammeh and threatened sanctions. He began courting nations in the Middle East for aid.

On Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement hailing “the first democratic transfer of power in the country.”

“I also commend President Jammeh for respecting the results and for agreeing to peacefully transfer power to the president-elect,” Mr. Kerry said.

Some of the exiles and thousands of other Gambians spread across the world already were reported to be packing bags to return to a home that they had not dared visit in years, according to their posts on social media sites. The sheer terror at the mere mention of Mr. Jammeh had so penetrated numerous exiles in Senegal, the country that borders Gambia on three sides, that few dared even speak his name, convinced that spies would report them.

Lamin Jammeh, an auto mechanic in Kololi, Gambia, who is not related to Mr. Jammeh, said he had been so rattled by the election results that he had left home without locking his front door. He stayed out celebrating with friends until 4 a.m. Saturday.

“Wow,” he said. “We are finally free.”

SOURCE 2.
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OP: For those who don't know where The Gambia is, here is a map, which also lets you appreciate the effect of a Senegalese blockade.

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Here also is a link to an interview with the president-elect, Adama Barrow, with Al Jazeera.

OP: This is really good news. The trigger warnings are for descriptions of practices under this (former) dictator's reign.

PS: Mods, could we have a Gambia tag? Thank you!

Source: ONTD_Political

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