The Gambian Ruckus – What exactly happened in Gambia?

Africa is home to leaders who have been serving their countries for decades and decades together. In some instances, a few countries have not even seen another leader coming to power ever since they got independent. The longest serving head of the state in the whole of this world is the President of Equatorial Guinea who has been in power for the past 38 years now. Africa’s smallest country hit the news very recently when their President refused to accept the mandate of the people and threatened the uprising of a potential regional instability. What exactly happened in Gambia?

1994, This was the year when Yahya Jammeh took over the reign of power in Banjul in a bloodless coup. Neither Gambia nor the world fathomed that he would go on to rule the country with such an iron fist. Elections came and went but Jammeh remained a constant at the helm of power & affairs.

2016 ushered no new hope for the people of Gambia. Two candidates along with Jammeh contested the presidential elections which were held on the 1st of December. To everybody’s surprise, Jammeh was defeated by Adama Barrow with a very, very small margin of votes. As streets and houses across Gambia erupted jubilantly, Jammeh who initially conceded defeat and even went on record to state that he will contribute to a peaceful change in power, took back his words and challenged the mandate.

The United States, United Nations, African Union and local Gambian bodies except the Army condemned Jammeh’s reaction and asked for a peaceful transition. Fearing unrest like the ones at Burundi and DRC getting replicated in Gambia, thousands of people escaped to Senegal and Guinea. Despite the international and regional pressure, Jammeh held on to power, declared a state of emergency in the country and accused vested foreign interests, to be the reason for the crisis.

The African Union gave an ultimatum to Jammeh to step down by 19th of January after which he will not be recognized as the President of Gambia anymore. Meanwhile, Adama Barrow was gearing up to take over as the next President in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. A West African delegation which included the Presidents of Guinea, Liberia and Mauritania landed in Banjul to pursue last minute efforts to convince Jammeh to step down. Forces in Senegal and Nigeria, in particular, and the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) forces were kept on standby in case a need for military intervention arose.

As deadlines kept getting pushed, the Senegalese army and the ECOWAS forces entered Gambian soil to ensure Jammeh steps down but with the use of force. With the ongoing negotiations by the West African delegation finally on the 21st of January Jammeh declared that he has decided to step down. Gambians and Barrow were still so much in denial that they stated that till Jammeh left Banjul physically, anything can happen.

Today, Jammeh is in Equatorial Guinea living in asylum with his family while the ECOWAS forces are involved in last minute preparations to ensure the safe return of Adama Barrow and make sure that the Gambian people get to witness what they have been yearning for across a month of uncertainty, specifically but for 22 years, in general, peace and a leader elected by the ballot box.

Africa is a super diverse social system. Multiple linguistic, religious and ethnic communities co-exist together. They have been endowed with resources like nowhere else. But at the same time, it is this very place which has borne the brunt of colonialism for the longest time and continues to bear the brutal consequences of exploitation by their very own leaders. Rigged elections, the deadly crackdown of opposition and dissent, the absence of press freedom, concentration of wealth and resources in the hands of the elite, human rights violations and the list is endless. One can very safely point the absence of democracy in a lot of African systems and the aspirations some leaders have to rule their countries for a billion more years. Ideally, it is wrong. But reality paints a different picture altogether.

Madhuvanti Srinivasan

Motor Mouth. Language Enthusiast. Lover of the Middle East & Turkey. Foreign policy & politics aficionado.

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