By Patrick Brogan
A continuing journalistic trend in the West is to depict African nations as anarchic and run by despots. So, when one of these nations, Gambia, overthrows a dictator and becomes a democracy, you would think that the media would see this as a cause for celebration. The reality is, it was hardly mentioned.
Like the other African nation we discussed recently, South Sudan, The Gambia gained independence from Britain in the 60s. In that time it has had a changeover of political leaders and even a brief unification with neighbouring Senegal to form Senegambia in the 80s. In 1994, Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh came to power through a coup. Since then, he has won numerous elections — with the main parties excluded–, repelled several coup attempts, left the Commonwealth, and declared The Gambia an Islamic nation.
The country that follows the course of The Gambia River is a small one, with about 2 million inhabitants. The West African nation has lived under the shadow of Jammeh. Many human rights advocacy groups have been concerned with the behaviour of the polygamist from the outset. The media was silenced and although he ran elections, they were more for show than anything else.
Gambia and The Gambia River that flows through it. Both pictures from Pixabay
That all changed last year. Unrest had been brewing for a while. The figurehead of the movement was an unexpected one. Adama Barrow is a man who made his money in property and had never previously held political office. Does this sound familiar? Unlike Trump, Barrow worked his way up the hard way and even worked security in Argos during his time in London to make ends meet. It’s an unlikely rise to power for a man that even his supporters acknowledged was unknown in most the country until recently.
There were a few factors that paved the way for him. Probably the most important was the arrest and imprisonment of United Democratic Party (UDP) leader, Ousainou Darboe. The other opposition parties realised they had to unite and all got behind Barrow. He managed to charm his way to the Gambian peoples’ hearts. He also, just as importantly, recognised the desire for change. Barrow pledged more freedom for his people and the release of political prisoners, Darboe included, amongst other reforms.
Adama Barrow won the election. Initially, Jammeh, the man who said he would rule for a billion years if it was Allah’s will, accepted the result. Then he changed his mind and then accepted it again. The main reason being The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said they recognised Barrow’s victory and would enforce it militarily if needs be. Jammeh left for Guinea. There have been rumours of planned coups, none of which have materialised. Thankfully, The Gambia has had that rarest of events; a peaceful transition from tyranny to liberal government.
Well, it’s early days, but there are many issues that need to be resolved. The Gambia has a huge number of young people relative to its general population. This is both a positive and a negative. If Barrow can get these people in employment The Gambia could become an economic force in West Africa. Dealing with the large numbers of poverty and unemployment will be a massive challenge, however. The Gambia is facing a huge economic deficit, not helped by Jammeh’s alleged theft of millions before heading to Guinea. Their relationship with the African Union should be interesting, as will their re-entry into the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court. All the early indications are pointing to a reformed, open democratic country. The Gambia will need help though.
All the early indications are pointing to a reformed, open democratic country. The Gambia will need help though.
There is a wider effect here. Will other nations in the region, and Africa in general, now seek to oust corrupt regimes in favour of a more secular and democratic nation state? Only time will tell, but the foundation has been laid. The people of The Gambia, both home and abroad, sought this change and their West African allies backed them. No American or European influence was requested or needed. This was Africans taking back a part of Africa. For the benefit of the people.
Most media outlets have mentioned this coup, but only in passing. Given the American public’s clamour of supposed democratic values as a reaction to the presidential popular vote and the DNC leaks, you would think more would be made of this, The Gambia would be held up as a symbol of the democratic process. But it isn’t. This is largely due to people, particularly the American public, being pro-Democracy when it suits them. Consider the Clinton supporters. They took to the streets when Trump won the election through the Electoral College, something that was always a possibility seeing as it has existed over a century, and then allegations of Russian influence in the democratic process even though very little evidence of this has actually been presented. Now consider something that actually is true, the DNC favoured a Clinton nomination over a Sanders one. Where were the protests then?
The Gambian people toppling a tyrant in favour a democratic society does not fit the Western narrative. African nations are shown in a negative light where corruption runs rife and law and order don’t exist. In some cases this is true. The Gambia has turned this on its head and it makes those with vested interests, those that plunder natural resources and the financial terrorists in the IMF and World Bank, uncomfortable because it challenges their narrative about the world and their place in it. They might have to admit Africa, on the whole, is more than capable of producing functioning societies without Western help. This would mean they lose their grip on global domination, so it’s not mentioned. Is the West’s patriarchal hegemony being challenged? Hopefully, and not before time neither.
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