TOAs voters prepare to go to the polls on Saturday, many hope the transition to power will be peaceful, regardless of the outcome. But the shadow of the former dictator Yahya Jammeh hangs over the ballot despite his forced exile in Equatorial Guinea. Outgoing Adama Barrow and five other candidates, all men, are vying for the votes of just under a million voters, and the charge of leading West Africa’s smallest country for five years. There is only one turn. Offices open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. (local and GMT). The first results could be known on Sunday.
The Gambia, a key moment
In West Africa struck by democratic retreat, The Gambia, a geographical oddity plunging for a few hundred kilometers along the river of the same name through Senegal, can serve as a counter-example. After having turned the page on more than twenty years of Jammeh dictatorship at the end of 2016, she can experience her first open transition when the Gambians go to vote, by depositing a ballot as a ballot in one of the cans in the colors of each candidate. “We have entered a period of freedom where people can express themselves without fear of danger,” says Gilles Yabi, founder of the Wathi think tank. But this democracy is “fragile”, he says.
Before the last meetings of a campaign followed with enthusiasm, all Gambians questioned on a market of odds and ends where huge watermelons are piled up near car spare parts say the importance of going to vote, invoking the memory from the Jammeh era. Five years ago, “people didn’t want to, they thought we were under a dictatorship. Now we are free, ”says Fatoumatah Bah, 36-year-old secretary. This election has “something special”; there are “pressing” economic problems, but the important thing is to “vote for peace”, she said.
The shadow of Jammeh …
From his exile in Equatorial Guinea, Yahya Jammeh, who left five years ago under the pressure of a West African military intervention, is involved in the future of a country where he still has many supporters. The possibility that he will be held accountable for the crimes attributed to himself and his agents between 1994 and 2016 – assassinations, enforced disappearances, acts of torture, arbitrary detentions, rapes… – is one of the challenges of the election. .
Another, apparently more present in the minds of Gambians in the market, is the way out of the crisis. Abdoulaye Janneh, 27, an electrician who wears a T-shirt bearing the image of the opponent Ousainou Darboe, complains that “times are hard”, even more than under Yahya Jammeh, whom he does not want to return. . “We want change, in all areas, health, employment …”
… and economic problems
Almost half of Gambians live in poverty. Apart from agriculture, the country, with its beaches on the Atlantic, lived on tourism, especially British. The country has been severely affected by the Covid, which has dried up flows. Many jobs have disappeared. Gambians suffer from the increase in the prices of basic necessities, water and electricity cuts, lack of access to health care.
A bitter duel for the outgoing president
For the outgoing Adama Barrow, 56, surprise winner of Yahya Jammeh in 2016, the election will give the measure of the confidence placed in him to redress the bar and reconcile the Gambians. But doubt has arisen about his intentions regarding Yahya Jammeh. With the consecration of the former real estate developer, political prisoners have been freed, the multi-party system established, freedom of expression restored. The Gambia has returned to the Commonwealth and has given up on leaving the International Criminal Court.
But, asserts Ousainou Darboe, 73, presented as the main competitor of outgoing Barrow, he has failed in all his commitments. “Instead of leading the agenda of the transition, he designed his own agenda to stay in power,” accuses in an interview with AFP the lawyer and defender of many opponents of the former dictator, eternal second to the presidential election behind Yahya Jammeh.
… who changed their mind about their number of mandates
Indeed, Adama Barrow went back on his promise to stay only three years. He has put a lot of water into his past pledges to bring justice for the crimes of the Jammeh era. His party has forged an alliance with that of the former autocrat Jammeh. The latter, in one of his remote interventions, denounced the agreement. Another downside, the reform constitutional was a central point for many Gambians. The new draft constitution was rejected in September 2020 and the current text does not provide for a term limit.
Adama Barrow found himself in November with the report of a commission established under his presidency on the abuses of the Jammeh years. The report calls for those responsible to be prosecuted. Its content has not been published. Outgoing President Barrow or his successor has six months to decide the delicate issue of follow-up. Ousainou Darboe, former vice president and foreign minister to Adama Barrow, laughs when asked if Mr Barrow would implement the committee’s recommendations. “When we are elected, we will apply the recommendations,” he says.