For over two decades under President Jammeh, independent views were considered seditious. Secret police were everywhere listening for hints of subversion. Jammeh’s name was spoken only in whispers, unless you were praising him, in which case you genuflected and shouted yourself hoarse at rallies, thanking Allah for loving The Gambia so much as to bless it with a leader of such peerless morality, wisdom and compassion. That is why the people elected Adama Barrow on 1 December 2016.
Democracy is up to the people: A successful democracy does not rely on a single personality or an elected leader. All people need to partake in political processes. Space for citizen participation and the emergence of a civil society, diaspora activism and new media have helped ease Gambia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.
The turnout in the December 1 elections is a good sign as it reflects the people want to take a more active role in the country’s democracy, suggesting democracy in The Gambia has longevity. It takes time to build a democracy after decades of dictatorship; The Gambia under Jammeh had a rule of law deficit, chronic corruption, complete control of the armed and combined security forces and tribalism.
The Gambian people finally decided to dislodge dictatorship and restore democracy; they want not only procedural democracy but substantive democracy: a functioning democratic system that will reflect in a contest of ideas between candidates, not a contest of financial strength or the ability to smear.
President Yahya Jammeh is the latest victim of coalition opposition politics in Africa. His defeat should send a clear message to other sit-tight, royalist leaders across the continent. The long- term solution to the Yahya Jammeh problem should be the introduction of a constitutional term limit for the Gambian Presidency to prevent another Jammehism from ruling as he wished to rule for “one billion years”.
When Yahya Jammeh conceded defeat after the December 1 presidential elections [he later turned around and rejected the results, throwing the country into a political crisis that still persists –Editors], the gesture was widely hailed and described as an indication of great hope for democracy in Africa particularly for the Gambian people, who Yahya Jammeh ruled with an iron-fist for twenty-two years. This 2016 presidential elections were perhaps the most significant political development in the political history of The Gambia in fifty-two years. The first transfer of power through the ballot box.
President-elect Adam Barrow is a product of a coalition of opposition parties which provided the platform for the people’s yearning for change. Barrow became the symbol of the people’s hopes, and of freedom from Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship that was the benchmark of brutality, love of witchcraft and egregious human rights violations.
For over two decades under President Yahya Jammeh and his AFPRC regime, independent views were considered seditious. Secret police were everywhere, listening for hints of subversion. Yahya Jammeh’s name was spoken only in whispers, unless you were praising him, in which case you genuflected and shouted yourself hoarse at rallies and in Gamo gatherings, thanking Allah for loving Yahya Jammeh so much as to bless him and his family with a leader of such peerless morality, wisdom and compassion.
Those who demurred at such scurrilous sycophancy found themselves at the old GPMB buildings along Mariana Parade where Bambina is located, torture chambers built by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). The state became a law unto itself, seizing land and property meant for hospitals, schools and other infrastructure to award its sycophants. If you sang praises like a parrot — as we were encouraged to do — you were rewarded. Many became overnight millionaires. The country’s economic growth rate went negative.
Under Yahya Jammeh’s rule, The Gambia plunged into a crisis of morality. It left a culture in which wealth, no matter how one got it, is a redeeming value. It bequeathed mind-boggling selfishness, as exemplified in our driving immoral habits; it inculcated a culture of mediocrity and short-cuts; it taught us to see the world through tribalism, and to shirk personal responsibility in the execution of public duty.
In a phrase, Yahya Jammeh and his APRC party left a Gambia whose value system must be re-engineered to support a prosperous Third Republic.
The foregoing dictates the kind of president The Gambia needs in Adama Barrow. First, a leader who will stake his personal prestige and sense of accomplishment on achieving the goals set in his campaign. This will mean assembling a team of high achievers irrespective of tribe or party loyalty, and demanding by personal example, total commitment to the task at hand, personal integrity and innovation.
Second, the country will need a leader who is keenly aware of our despotic past and is, therefore, totally committed to fully implementing the Constitution. This will mean acting, appointing, deciding only based on enhancing the aims of the Constitution.
Nelson Mandela understood keenly the human cost of apartheid, and on assumption of the presidency, he went about with a single-mindedness of purpose to banish completely its cultural institutional and legal underpinnings.
A third republic of The Gambia will need a leader who can visualize the society anticipated by the Constitution, and inspire us all to see that vision and work towards it. This will mean re-educating us not to analyze our society through the prism of tribe, thereby creating a new basis for social interaction and political mobilization.