West Africa: the lessons of democracy from the smiling West African coast


In December 2016, President Yahya Jammeh narrowly lost the presidential elections, a defeat that shocked all Gambians, Jammeh included. In a hotly contested election, Jammeh was narrowly defeated by Adama Barrow, who received 43.3% of the vote cast, against 39.6% for Jammeh.

Although Jammeh initially accepted Barrow’s victory, he returned a few days later. Thus, Jammeh plunged the country, which has long been a beacon of peace in the sub-region, into a 44-day stalemate that filled Gambians with fear and apprehension. Jammeh eventually left The Gambia and went into exile in Equatorial Guinea on January 21, 2017, following protracted negotiations and threats to use force against him by ECOWAS.

Barrow’s surprise victory over Jammeh was mainly due to a coalition of seven opposition parties and civil society formed in October 2016. Barrow, who was then the leader of the UDP, because his leader Darboe, had been imprisoned by President Jammeh, resigned from the party. to allow him to run for president as a Coalition candidate. Barrow was sworn in twice: first on the constitutional date of January 19, 2017 in Dakar, Senegal, where he took refuge during the standoff with former President Jammeh, and again on February 18, 2017 in Gambia.

President Barrow came to power amid high hopes of Gambians who had endured 22 years of brutal rule under former President Jammeh. In addition, President Barrow had to live up to his commitment to the 2016 Coalition Memorandum of Understanding which called for him to step down after a three-year transition period. President Barrow was also, according to the 2016 Coalition Memorandum of Understanding, not to run as a presidential candidate after the three-year transition period.

Instead, President Barrow decided to fulfill his five-year term, sparking protests, which left three people dead in January 2020. President Barrow has also been widely criticized for his selective implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. Janneh who investigated the financial transactions of former President Jammeh, his failure to secure passage of The Gambia’s new draft constitution, and corruption under his leadership.

Despite these criticisms, President Barrow formed the National People’s Party (NPP) in late 2019 to run in the December 2021 presidential election, after falling out with UDP party leader Darboe, whom he often referred to as his ” father “policy. President Barrow also formed an alliance with a faction of former President Jammeh’s party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) to help him run for the presidential election in December 2021. This alliance has was condemned by many given the gruesome and gruesome record of former President Jammeh’s reign.

President Barrow nevertheless won a huge victory in the presidential elections last week, with 53 percent of the vote, against runner-up Darboe who had 28 percent of the vote; just over half of Barrow’s votes. The remaining four candidates, together, obtained less than 20 percent of the votes cast.

The ballot and official results were endorsed by local and international observers, including the African Union, ECOWAS, the EU and the Commonwealth. A day after the elections, three opposition leaders, including Darboe, announced that they would not accept the results, citing “excessive” delays in their publication and concerns raised by their representatives at polling stations. However, one of them, independent candidate Essa Mbye Faal congratulated President Barrow a day later on his victory, as did National Unity Party (NUP) candidate Aboulie Ebrima Jammeh.

Although some UDP supporters protested the official results, it should be noted that UDP leader Darboe called for calm. Fortunately, the protests ended as quickly as they started and the whole country is now calm. Thus, the 2021 presidential elections which were vigorously contested ended without major disturbances or disruptions in the lives of Gambians.

The 2021 presidential elections offer valuable lessons that other African countries, and even other developing countries around the world, can learn from. First, the legendary voting system in which voters deposit marbles in drums, with one drum per candidate at each polling station, has again proven to be very effective. This is particularly the case in The Gambia which has a high illiteracy rate which practically excludes the use of paper ballots.

Second, the on-the-spot counting of votes at the polling stations where they are cast and in the presence of candidates’ representatives also increases the transparency of the system. In addition, the results of the ballot in each polling station are approved by the candidates’ representatives, which further builds confidence in the system.

The 2021 presidential elections in The Gambia also showed that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) should be strengthened and should communicate effectively with the public to, for example, deal with outbreaks of fake news on social media. As the elections approach, many stories have tarnished the reputation of the CIS and reduced confidence in both its impartiality and its ability to conduct the elections.

Election laws should be reviewed and strengthened to combat voter corruption in order to secure their votes. With this in mind, special attention should be paid to the public funding of eligible candidates, limiting their spending to the public funds provided and introducing severe penalties for bribing voters or accepting bribes from politicians. . In addition, the president is stepping down three months before the elections which will be overseen by a non-partisan interim administration in order to reduce the impact of his tenure and his use of public resources for campaigning.

The recently concluded presidential elections in The Gambia have proven once again that this country, the smallest in mainland Africa with a population of only 2.1 million, and which bills itself as the smiling coast of South Africa. West, can teach other African countries by serving as a beacon of democracy by organizing peaceful, free, fair and transparent elections. How nice!


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