Gambia: A Triumph for Democracy

Gambian president Adama Barrow

There is no doubt about it, we live in a very unfortunate time for democracy. Ever since the Global Economic Crash of 2008, more power has been given to dictatorships such as Russia, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, once great democracies such as the Philippines, Turkey, Venezuela and, of course, the USA, have descended into chaos. Neo-Fascists are on the rise all over Europe, from France to Greece. Many sensible people have completely lost their faith in democracy. It is no wonder that so many people were so quick to pay their respect to recently deceased Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro.

There is one major question on everyone’s mind; is there any country, anywhere on the planet, where democracy actually works? The optimists among us have one answer to this question. They can name one example of a functioning democracy, where all views are respected, and all citizens are given an equal say. That country is Gambia.

At a glance, the West African nation doesn’t seem particularly important. It is the smallest country on mainland Africa, and has a population slightly under two million. It was invaded and colonised, first by Portugal, and then by the British Empire. It gained independence from Britain in 1970, and found itself under the leadership of Sir Dawda Jawra.

At first, president Jawra seemed to be a suitable leader. He had been a great patriot, and had secured independence for his homeland. However, his government was one of corruption and despotism. Afraid of his poor approval ratings, he suppressed democracy and held unlimited power. Most of his people lived in poverty, and his catastrophic government failed in every possible area.

In 1994, 29 year old Yahya Jammeh, a lieutenant in Gambia’s armed forces, overthrew Jawra and became Gambia’s second president. Originally, he held massive popular support. However, much like in Russia in 1917, and in Iran in 1979, the new réigeme became far more repressive than the one it replaced.

For the next 23 years, Jammeh ruled over Gambia with an iron fist. His policies ranged from the cruel (he encouraged the murder of members of the LGBT+ community) to the bizarre (he ordered the police and army to track down witches.) To many, he seemed less like a bloodthirsty dictator, and more like a comic book villain.

Like most modern day dictatorships, Jammeh’s Gambia held regular elections. Of course, there was nothing free or fair about the democratic process. Opposition politicians were jailed or murdered, and the elections were consistently rigged in Jammeh’s favour. This farce was often enough to satisfy the United Nations.

However, the world could no longer ignore Gambia’s situation after the election of December 2016. Jammeh expected to win by a landslide, but he was unprepared for a new force which was rising.

Jammeh’s main opponent was Adama Barrow, a former real estate agent who had made a surprise entrance to the political stage. He was (and still is) a charismatic, popular and brilliant statesman. His platform of socialism and democracy was one which inspired many Gambians. He gave his people a sense of hope, something they had not experienced in a very long time.

By December, the scene had been set. The election had begun, and there was no doubt as to who the victor would be. After bringing his country to its knees, President Jammeh expected to keep his position. However, he could not quench the fire which burned within the souls of his people. Against all odds, Adama Barrow won an election which could not have possibly been more rigged against him.

Desperate and paranoid, Jammeh simply ignored the election and announced that he would stay in power, regardless of who won the popular vote.

Most countries ignored this horrendous crime. There is nothing suprising about this. Over the past few years, the world has done nothing to prevent genocide from taking place in Syria, Palestine and Yemen. The message is clear, the western world does not care about the lives of brown skinned Muslims.

Desperate for help, Barrow turned to the governments of neighbouring Nigeria and Senegal (neither of which are perfect democracies.) He convinced these countries to send their armies into Gambia to support him. In a frantic attempt to stay in power, Jammeh fired all of his ministers, and claimed that he would govern all by himself. He announced that he would remain in power for ‘’more than a billion years.’’

By the end of January, Jammeh had his Ceaușescu moment. He realised that he didn’t have very long left in power. Eventually, he struck a deal with Barrow. He would be allowed to remain unharmed, and he would never be put on trial for his horrendous crimes. However, he also had to leave Gambia and never return.

January 19th 2017 was one of the most wonderful days in Africa’s history. Jammeh had finally gone, and Adama Barrow became Gambia’s first ever democratically elected president. For the first time in Gambia’s history, the people chose a leader who could represent their best interests.

The mood changed the next day, when Donald Trump became the 45th President of America. The racist and divisive demagogue had ran on a platform of bigotry and hatred. Despite losing the election by over three million votes, he got into office because of an unfair and rigged electoral system, as well as influence from Russia

Over the next few years, President Trump plans to take healthcare away from the millions who need it most, while sending thousands of refugees to their deaths. Meanwhile, President Barrow’s main plans focus on human rights and freedom of speech.

The USA can no longer be considered the global home of democracy. Another country must take its place. Perhaps this country will be Gambia, the world’s newest democracy. As the planet enters a new era, we must always remember that there is hope. Gambia could be the beginning of a new dawn, when all dictatorships, from Belarus to North Korea, will fall like dominoes. So, despite the horrors of today’s world, I cannot help but be optimistic

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