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Gambia: Sudden Hope in a Small Country

AfricaFocus Bulletin
December 6, 2016 (161206)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The bells of freedoms are ringing in the four corners of the Gambia. We are free at last and the thousands of Gambians who were forced into exile can now return home and help rebuild their country. We shall no longer be afraid to hold political discussions in the open. We can now sleep peacefully at night without the men in black breaking in our homes and take us away in front of our children. We are indeed really free. ... Alhamdulillah, change has happened in the Gambia." - Jollof News editorial, December 2, 2016

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a round-up of short articles following the surprise election victory of opposition candidate Adama Barrow and the even more surprising concession speech by strongman Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power for 22 years. The first is the editorial from JollofNews quoted above. Others are from the Guardian (UK), African Leadership Magazine (UK), Daily Maverick (South Africa, and Foreign Policy (USA)

Also of particular interest are three short articles from Quartz Africa, the first of which features a video of Jammeh's concession phone call to the victor, shown on state television.

Quartz Africa, December 2, 2106 "One of Africa's longest-serving strongmen has conceded victory to his opponent live on state TV" - Includes video of the concession phone call.

"Africa's long-serving strongmen are conspicuously silent on Gambia's democratic ouster of its 22-year leader", Quartz Africa, Dec. 5, 2016 -

Quartz Africa, "The updated chart of Africa's longest-serving rulers if these two step down in 2017 as promised," Dec 3, 2016 - includes list of ten, after subtraction of Jammeh of Gambia, and dos Santos of Angola, who has said he will retire next year.

For background and continuing news, AfricaFocus recommends: (Gambia Country Profile),, and


Announcement: Year-End Break

This is the last regular AfricaFocus Bulletin for 2016. Regular publication will resume in mid-January 2017. AfricaFocus Facebook postings and the website will continue to be updated during this break.

You will receive a year-end message from the editor before the holidays with updates about AfricaFocus plans for 2017 and a request for your continuing support.

Remember that AfricaFocus Bulletin is free, but depends on reader financial as well as moral support. To make your voluntary subscription payment/contribution, go to

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Gambia 2016: Celebrating The End Of Tyranny

by Jollof Media Network

Editorial December 2, 2016 - direct URL:

(JollofNews) -- We begin by praising Almighty Allah for giving us the patience and the strength to effect a peaceful change of government in the Gambia.

It has not been an easy road and many Gambians who stood up against tyranny and injustice have been killed and buried six-feet deep, arrested, tortured or exiled.

Many families have been left orphaned and many parents were left childless. Their pain was immeasurable.

It was a painful journey never experienced before in the history of the Gambia, yet no matter how terrible the pain was, Gambians never allowed the devil to get the better of them. They remained patient 22 long years and prayed to their Lord for help.

That help finally came a few months ago when their Lord like in the Biblical scripture gave them a previously unknown man as their leader. The new leader gave them courage and inspired them.

He made them believe that they can slay the monster that has tormented them for over two decades peacefully without shedding their blood again if they rise and exercise their democratic rights.

Some had doubted him at the beginning but he has made the unthinkable happen. The Mighty Professor Sheikh Yahya Babili Mansa Jammeh has been slayed and will soon disappear into his Kanilai Kingdom or somewhere far, far and far away.

The bells of freedoms are ringing in the four corners of the Gambia. We are free at last and the thousands of Gambians who were forced into exile can now return home and help rebuild their country.

We shall no longer be afraid to hold political discussions in the open. We can now sleep peacefully at night without the men in black breaking in our homes and take us away in front of our children. We are indeed really free.

The locks of Mile Two Prisons shall be broken and all political detainees languishing in mosquito infested cells and surviving on watery stew will be welcome back to Gambian society not as former prisoners but as freedom fighters and heroes.

Never again shall we allow monsters like Jammeh to govern the Gambia and hold the people captive.

For Yahya Jammeh and his cronies, we should show them forgiveness and mercy even though they don't deserve it.

A lot of blood has already been spilled in our God blessed country and we shall not resort to the same barbaric style of governance that we have fought against in the first place.

The Gambia belongs to all of us and the new administration should use their mandate to unite the country and provide a better and prosperous Gambia that we all yearn for.

Let's say a big thank you to the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, Alieu Mommar Njai for providing us the means to slay the monster.

Alhamdulillah, change has happened in the Gambia.

The Gambia's President Jammeh concedes defeat in election

Incoming president, Adama Barrow, says Jammeh called him offering his congratulations after shock result

Ruth Maclean in Banjul and Emma Graham-Harrison

The Guardian, 2 December 2016

The Gambia's autocratic president, Yahya Jammeh, who once claimed a "billion-year" mandate to rule, has conceded defeat after a shock election loss to a real-estate developer who once worked as a security guard in London.

'Fear has faded': Gambian election could finally end dictator's grip on power

Jammeh had kept the tiny west African country under an iron grip for more than two decades, and there were fears that the eccentric 51- year-old would use violence or fraud to maintain power.

Instead he became a rare dictator to accept defeat in a democratic election, agreeing to hand power to challenger Adama Barrow, a softly spoken businessman who previously had little public profile.

Barrow told the Guardian that Jammeh had called him to concede defeat with the words: "Congratulations. I'm the outgoing president; you're the incoming president."

The father of five used his lack of political baggage to woo voters desperate for change, claiming 45.5% of the vote to Jammeh's 36.7%. If Jammeh sticks to his word, Barrow will become only the third Gambian head of state since the country's independence in 1965.

In a televised statement, Jammeh said the vote had been "the most transparent election in the whole world," adding that he would not contest the result.

"I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Adama for his victory. It's a clear victory. I wish him all the best and I wish all Gambians the best. As a true Muslim who believes in the almighty Allah I will never question Allah's decision. You Gambians have decided," he said.

The prerecorded message then cut to a shot of Jammeh phoning the president-elect.

"Hello, are you hearing me?" Jammeh asked Barrow, grinning widely on his mobile. "I wish you all the best. The country will be in your hands in January. You are assured of my guidance. You have to work with me. You are the elected president of The Gambia. I have no ill will and I wish you all the best."

Barrow said he was confident Jammeh would stand down. "Power belongs to the people. It's the people who have spoken. He cannot hang on," he said. "We won the election clearly so there's nothing he can do about it."

Barrow said his priority was to name a cabinet. "I'm very, very happy and excited. I'm happy that we won this election."

Even the head of the electoral commission, Alieu Momarr Njai, seemed stunned by Jammeh's rapid concession.

"The president is magnanimous enough to accept that he had lost the election, and he will call the new president to congratulate him as well as to pray for peace and tranquility," he said after announcing preliminary results. "It's very rare that this present situation now, in Africa, that this happens." .

Internet and international phone services cut off for "security" during the poll were restored soon after Njai's announcement and, as news of the election result spread, the country erupted into celebration.

The streets of the capital, Banjul, deserted until that point, began to fill with cars screeching their horns and blasting out music.

Children sang, men stripped off their shirts and punched the air, and others went online to celebrate using the hashtag #gambiadecides. Several said the historic change had moved them to tears.

One Twitter user, Muhammad Sanu Jallow, said: "I couldn't hold back the tears. I'm almost 30, and I've known only 1 President this whole time. Good time to be alive. #GambiaDecides 11:13 AM - 2 Dec 2016"

Gambians abroad joined the celebration, with several saying they were planning to return or expected friends and relatives to head back.

The country's poverty and repressive political climate means many Gambians live overseas, particularly in Europe, even though it is one of Africa's smallest states with only 2 million people.

Casting his vote on Thursday, Jammeh said he was confident of winning "a bigger landslide" than the Gambia had ever seen, and refused to say whether he would concede if he lost.

This year's election was the first time since 1994, when Jammeh seized control of the country in a coup, that he faced a serious challenge to his rule. Over that period he consolidated power in a series of presidential elections, and skilfully exploited tribal and other divisions among multiple opposition parties.

Opposition politicians, journalists and activists were arbitrarily arrested, thrown into jail, tortured and killed during Jammeh's tenure.

Njai had been about to announce the latest batch of results when he received a call on his mobile phone. He told waiting observers and press that the president knew the result and was ready to concede.

The interior minister, sitting in a magnolia office cubicle and trembling behind his sunglasses, called on all to remain calm.

"Keep the peace and tranquility," Modou Bah said. "People should go for their lawful businesses. We should not allow politics to divide us."

Meanwhile, those hosting the live broadcast of election results on state television could not hide their astonishment.

"Have all the people loyal to the president migrated?" asked Malick Jones, presenting an all-night broadcast of Gambia Decides, when he realised Jammeh had lost the capital.

Outside Barrow's house, crowds gathered, some celebrating and some in shock. Anger at Jammeh for his decades of repression bubbled up in others.

"We'll put him in jail. We want him to go to the [international criminal court]," said Adama Faye, an 18-year-old student. "He killed my father – I promise you, he did. Since I was born, I haven't felt this kind of happiness."

Jubilant crowds sang, whistled, cheered and stormed Barrow's compound in celebration trying to get in and shake his hand, as a man with a basket-hat and a posse of bouncers tried to keep them out.

Inside, the first lady-elect, Fatou Bah, the first of Barrow's two wives, arrived in a blue dress and large gold earrings and was blessed by a close family friend, Catholic priest Bruno Toupan.

Barrow is a devout Muslim, and Toupan said his decision to call a Catholic to bless the family was proof that he would be a president for all Gambians.

"We have great hope in the Gambia," he said. "It's a great relief, as Jammeh was planning to bring in sharia law. I would have been a second-class citizen."

Cheering crowds also gathered outside the home of Ousainou Darbo, the opposition leader who was sentenced to three years in prison in April, giving rise to Barrow's candidacy.

His court hearing will be on Monday and the crowds were calling for his release. Amnesty International added its voice to these calls.

"An immediate first step for this new government is to release political prisoners and those who have disappeared," Sabrina Mahtani, from Amnesty International, said.

"We've seen how important the rights of freedom of information and freedom of assembly are over the last few weeks – it's important that the new government reforms repressive laws."

From Being a Security Guard to President. Meet Gambia's New President, Adama Barrow [Brief History]

December 3, 2016

African Leadership Magazine

Adama Barrow, a successful property developer who has never held public office, has defied the odds to score a shock victory in The Gambia's elections.

His victory in the small West African nation's presidential poll is arguably an even bigger shock than that of fellow property mogul in the US, Donald Trump.

Mr Barrow's opponent Yahya Jammeh, had ruled the country for more than two decades, but said if God willed it, his presidency could go on for "a billion years".

Before the 51-year-old was chosen in September as the candidate to represent seven Gambian opposition parties at the election, he had spent 10 years working in property, having started his own estate agency in 2006.

In the early 2000s, he lived in the UK for several years, where he reportedly worked as a security guard at the Argos catalogue store in north London, while studying for his real estate qualifications.

British media have even reported that while guarding the shop on Holloway Road, he made a citizen's arrest on a shoplifter, which resulted in a six-month jail term.
It was also during that period that Mr Barrow is thought to have followed in the footsteps of millions of other African football fans, choosing to support Arsenal FC, at that time his local club.

He was born in 1965, the same year his country gained independence from British colonial rule, in a small village near the market town of Basse in the east of the country.

Throughout his campaign, he pledged support for an independent judiciary, as well as increased freedom for the media and civil society.

Property developer Adama Barrow has scored the unlikeliest of election victories

Six things about Adama Barrow:

  • Member of the Fula ethnic group, born in 1965, the year of Gambian independence
  • Reportedly worked as a security guard at Argos in the early 2000s while studying in UK
  • Returned home in 2006 to set up property business
  • Supports English Premier League football team Arsenal
  • Nominated as the candidate for coalition of seven opposition parties, promising greater respect for human rights
  • A devout Muslim who is reportedly married with two wives and five children

He described his opponent as a "soulless dictator" and promised to undo some of Mr Jammeh's more controversial moves.

"We will take the country back to the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court (ICC)," he told the Anadolu Agency.

A devout Muslim, he also criticised the lack of a two-term limit on the presidency and condemned the jailing of political opposition figures.

Speaking to the BBC three days before the election, Mr Barrow said that Gambians "had been suffering for 22 years" and were ready for change.

He scorned the achievements of his opponent, who boasted of having brought The Gambia out of the stone age with his education and health programmes.

The hospitals President Jammeh had built had "no drugs… or quality doctors", the schools "no teachers, no chairs… no good educational materials", he said.

They were "white elephant projects".

Although he became treasurer of the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) party in 2013, Mr Barrow was not a household name in The Gambia, described as "little-known" even by one of the local media outlets supporting him.

Mr Barrow, who has two wives and five children – according to the Gambian newspaper The Point, was especially popular among young voters – who have been badly hit by the country's struggling economy.

Many thousands of Gambians have made the perilous journey to Europe in search of jobs.

So The Gambia's new leader has great expectations on his shoulders – as he makes history in a country which has not had a smooth transfer of power in his lifetime.

The Gambia: Jammeh's defeat shows voting does count, and dictators do fall

Simon Allison

Daily Maverick, 04 Dec 2016

The shock defeat of Gambia's would-be president-for-life Yahya Jammeh sent shock waves through the region, and caused wild celebrations in Banjul. But for one Gambian journalist-in-exile, the news has far more personal implications.

Friday, December 2, was a very good day for Sanna Camara.

Camara, 35, is from the Gambia, Africa's smallest country. He is not popular with his president, who takes a dim view of a free press, and regularly imprisons or intimidates journalists who try to do their jobs properly. Camara is one of those journalists – he runs the blog Gambia Beat – and in August 2014 was forced to flee the country. He had already been arrested three times.

Camara left behind his wife and three children in Banjul, the capital, and snuck across the border into Senegal, where he has been working ever since.

When I met with him, last week, he wasn't sure when, or if, he would see his family again. President Yahya Jammeh has been in charge of the Gambia for 22 years, and showed no sign of loosening his grip on power – despite a resurgence in support for opposition parties, and an upcoming election that looked too close to call.

But Camara knew the script. Jammeh would fiddle the numbers. His security forces would threaten recalcitrant voters. He would cling to power, no matter what, because that is what dictators do – especially dictators who claim that they are ready to rule for "one billion years".

On Thursday, Gambians went to the polls, casting their marbles – yes, marbles – for their preferred candidate. And then, on Friday, someone ripped up the script.

In extraordinary scenes, the head of the Gambia's electoral commission read out the results of the vote:

"Having received 263,515 votes out of the total votes cast in the election, I hereby declare Adama Barrow newly elected to serve as president of the republic of the Gambia," said Alieu Momarr Njie, looking a little nervous. He knew that the Gambia was suddenly in uncharted territory.

Jammeh had lost.

As campaigner Jeffrey Smith explained to Foreign Policy: "Jammeh faced such a surprising groundswell of support for the opposition that they couldn't fudge the numbers to the point where they could make it credible that they won."

After the shock results went public, Jammeh called president-elect Barrow to formally concede. "Allah is telling me that my time is up and I hand over graciously, with gratitude to the Gambian people and gratitude to the almighty Allah, to you," Jammeh is reported to have said. He also told Barrow he would be around to advise if necessary, but intended for now to retire to his farm.

For Camara, the news was momentous. It wasn't just about the future of his country, which suddenly looks so much brighter – and freer, and more transparent, and more democratic – than it did last week. It was also about his own future.

Camara can go home. His exile is nearly over. "I can't wait to be with my family again, and continue my work from there, after being away for two years and four months," Camara told me.

Presuming the handover goes smoothly, Barrow should be a very different proposition to his predecessor. A real estate tycoon, he ran on a platform of change, promising to revive Gambia's stagnant economy and put a two-term limit on the presidency.

"I'm very happy because everybody thought that it was impossible, and the impossible became possible… A new Gambia is born. We want everybody on board now. This is Gambia, politics is over," Barrow said in an interview with AP.

But not even Barrow really expected the impossible to happen. As the BBC reported, the president-elect "seemed bewildered" by the result. As was almost everyone else. This was an unprecedented defeat for a sitting dictator, and one that will send shock waves throughout the region.

Never mind that the Gambia is tiny, and almost completely powerless in the grand scheme of things. The message sent by the people of Gambia last week – that voting really counts, that the dictator can fall, that power can change hands peacefully – will resonate far beyond its borders.

"It is true that Gambia is a small country of only two million. But Yahya Jammeh was not a trivial figure. Due to his extreme eccentricities, he had drawn wide attention and become a symbol of the suffering a self-anointed president-for-life, with no clear economic plan, can inflict on his people… The club of dictators will be losing more than a bit of sleep in the next few months," concluded Kenyan columnist Murithi Mutiga.

Camara, meanwhile, plots his return home. But he's not booking the first flight to Banjul just yet. "I have some considerations prior to return, one of them being that the new government takes charge and is able to contain Jammeh," he said. Hundreds of thousands of other Gambian exiles, refugees and economic migrants – many of whom have made the long, dangerous journey to Europe – will be making similar calculations, just as soon as they have stopped celebrating. DM

The Biggest Election Surprise of the Year May Actually Be in West Africa

By Robbie Gramer

Foreign Policy, The Cable, Dec. 2, 2016

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh once vowed to rule his country for "one billion years." He was only 999,999,978 years off. On Friday, Jammeh lost his country's general election to opposition leader Adama Barrow after 22 years in power.

The defeat comes as a huge shock -- not only because an unlikely opposition leader ousted an authoritarian president with a penchant for coups, but also because the president accepted the loss. "It's really unique that someone who has been ruling this country for so long has accepted defeat," Gambian electoral commission chief Alieu Momar Njie told reporters.

Barrow earned 45.5 percent of the vote, while Jammeh trailed with 36.7 percent, according to the BBC. The surprise win by an opposition figure -- and Jammeh's even more surprising acceptance of his loss -- is a historic moment for the tiny West African nation, which hasn't had a smooth power transfer since gaining independence in 1965.

Jammeh has ruled Africa's smallest nation with an iron fist since first wresting power in a coup in 1994. His repressive regime impoverished an already underdeveloped country; the poverty rate that has hovered around 50 percent for years, according to the World Bank. Since taking power, he's unleashed his security forces to torture, intimidate, arrest, and suppress dissenters to keep his grip on power, according to Human Rights Watch.

Instances of dictators losing their own 'window dressing' election are rare. But there was a perfect storm of various factors that turned the tide in Gambian opposition's favor, said Jeff Smith, founder of Vanguard Africa. [See for more background on the role of Vanguard Africa."]

"First, the opposition was unified and energized in a way that they had never been before," Smith told Foreign Policy. The government's brutal crackdown on anti-government protests in April and May garnered international scrutiny and galvanized various opposition factions. "It was the longest and most defiant act of public disobedience the country witnessed since Jammeh came to power," Smith said.

Then there's Europe's refugee crisis. "Gambia plays an outsized role in the crisis," Smith said. "It's the fourth largest 'exporter' of refugees to Italy this year, despite being one of Africa's smallest countries." This raised Europe's awareness of the plights of Gambians and ratcheted up international scrutiny on Jammeh's regime.

And then, there's the enigmatic dictator himself. Jammeh's brutal and bizarre antics have drawn an international media spotlight that both enraged his people and energized the opposition over the years. It starts with his public proclamations. He led state-sanctioned 'witch hunts and threatened to personally slit the throats of gay men in a public speech.

He also isolated Gambia abroad. When he won reelection in 2011 in results that many international observers questioned, he told critics to "go to hell." In 2013, he withdrew from the Commonwealth, the 54-nation group of former British colonies, after the United Kingdom's Foreign Office released a report charging Gambia with human rights abuses. Jammeh also pulled Gambia out of the International Criminal Court for alleged bias against African nations; one of his ministers called it the "International Caucasian Court" when explaining the government's decision to withdraw.

Suffice it to say, Gambians were clearly ready for change. And facing a wave of popular dissent and international pressures, he had to relent.

"Jammeh faced such a surprising groundswell of support for the opposition that they couldn't fudge the numbers to the point where they could make it credible that they won," Smith said. That hasn't stopped dictators before, but international pressure made have tipped the scale, particularly pressure from his own neighborhood of relatively successful West African democracies. "For a number of years, the regional leaders have become fed up with Jammeh," Smith said. "He's a black eye on a region that's performed overwhelmingly well writ large."

The United States and European Union also made clear an intent to slap sanctions on the country if Jammeh stole the elections again, as did neighboring countries like Senegal, which surrounds the tiny sliver of land that comprises Gambia. This, coupled with a determined and unified opposition, convinced the president to accept his loss.

Jammeh, to defend his dictatorial cred, did try to make things difficult for the opposition as his country headed to the polls. In a classically authoritarian move, his regime banned internet and international phone calls when the country took to the polls. He also barred EU election observers from monitoring the process. But it didn't deter Gambians from voting him out.

His successor is a relatively new and inexperienced figure in Gambian politics. Adama Barrow is a real estate manager with little government experience (though he was reportedly a former retail store security guard in London before he threw his hat into the ring of Gambian politics.) He wasn't supposed to be the face of the opposition, but Jammeh threw many other would-be frontrunners in jail. "He was thrust into this position because the leaders of party he's a member of, the United Democratic Party, are all in prison," Smith said.

When Barrow takes office, he has a tough road ahead. The first item on the agenda is healing a nation that has suffered a traumatic dictatorship for over two decades. And then there's the administrative challenges.

"Jammeh ran Gambia as a mafia state," said Smith. "The state does not exist without him, so there's a huge void that Barrow has to fill." He said there's little economic opportunity but Gambians are hopeful for the change new leadership could usher in.

That void is a particularly deep and bizarre rabbit hole, starting quite simply with Jammeh's resume. Officially, it painstakingly lists some 80 awards he's received as president, ranging from the "Admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska" (yes, that one is real) to an "Honorary Degree in Herbal and Homeopathic Medicine" from Belgium's Jean Monnet European University, to the "Most Student Loving and Innovative President in Africa" award to the "Kentucky Colonel Award" from the governor of Kentucky.

Oh, and don't forget that Jammeh can cure asthma and (at least, he claims) AIDS -- but don't think that makes him a witch. "I am not a witch doctor, and in fact you cannot have a witch doctor. You are either a witch or a doctor," he said, when his purported medical miracles came to light.

And if titles alone won elections, Jammeh would have clinched a win; his formal title is His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa. (He added Babili Mansa, meaning 'conqueror of rivers,' to his title in 2015).

A 2014 coup attempt adds another strange layer to his story. The coup ringleaders were a Texan real estate developer and a Minnesotan computer studies teacher who served 10 years in the U.S. Army. Because of course. The FBI later arrested the two men, both U.S. citizens of Gambian descent.

None of Jammeh's awards, strange antics, or his ability to dodge coup attempts, curried favor with his people, as the voters showed Friday. It's an upset few -- including Barrow himself -- expected. But international scrutiny on the bizarre and brutal dictator may have been the final nail in the coffin of Jammeh's reign.

"For years, the opposition struggled and put their lives on the line without anyone taking note," Smith said. But when international media shed light on the Gambian leader, they also brought the plight of his people to light.

"The opposition wouldn't back down," Smith said. "This time, they knew the world was watching."

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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