As multiparty democracies come under increasing pressure around the world, West Africa has emerged as a bright spot. In recent years, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have successfully used elections to help recover from civil conflicts. Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal have experienced peaceful transitions of power between competing political parties. And just last month, Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country, ousted a longtime tyrant, Yahya Jammeh, and installed a democratically elected president, Adama Barrow.
Foreign governments and international institutions should heed the lessons of Gambia’s transition for other countries struggling under autocratic rule. They should also support the new Barrow government, which has taken over a nation crippled by chronic mismanagement and corruption and is in dire need of economic and political support.
HOW JAMMEH FELL
Jammeh had ruled Gambia, a sliver of land mostly surrounded by Senegal, since July 1994, when he seized power in a coup. Over Jammeh’s 22 years in office, his rule descended into despotism and farce: he routinely tortured and jailed his critics, fancied himself a global Islamic leader, and even claimed to have mystic powers, creating “cures” for infertility, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. Jammeh’s brazen corruption funded the purchase of expensive properties around the world, including a multimillion-dollar mansion in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C.
Before the December 1 election, a coalition of Gambia’s opposition politicians came together and chose Barrow as their candidate—the first time they had ever unified behind a single contender for the presidency. As the results trickled in, it became evident that Gambians had had enough of the abuse and intimidation that had previously worked in Jammeh’s favor. But Jammeh, after initially conceding defeat to Barrow, refused to leave office, citing what he claimed were “abnormal irregularities” in the results. Jammeh’s domestic support quickly unraveled, as senior officials and organizations—including the country’s electoral commission, bar association, and press union—publicly called on him to step down. His regime’s typical tactics of fear
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