To Think That Jammeh Was a Thing of the Past

DANIEL CELAYA – Yahya Jammeh, former, proud[1] dictator of Gambia, cut his regime short of his projected billion year mark[2] when he finally accepted the official results of last December’s election on the early morning of January 21st, 2017.[3] The peaceful transition of power is the first in Gambian history, but it did not come easy. Jammeh refused to accept the results of the December 1st election where Adama Barrow was declared the winner with 45 percent of the vote compared to Jammeh’s 37 percent.[4] Jammeh claimed that the election was illegitimate and later announced a state of emergency, which paved the way for parliament to pass a bill amending his term for three months.[5] Ironically, Jammeh has been accused multiple times of manipulating elections by government intimidation, by raising the deposit required to run as a candidate, and by censoring the press.[6] However, Jammeh’s usurpation of the presidency met significant resistance from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).[7]

On January 19th, 2017, ECOWAS decided to intervene militarily to address the electoral crisis occurring in Gambia, and the United Nations Security Council expressed their support later that day.[8] The coalition of West African countries was led by forces from Senegal, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria positioned to attack from air, land, and sea.[9] The coalition swiftly invaded Gambia and placed the country under a naval blockade.[10] The mounting pressure on Jammeh was too much to handle, and, within a day, the Gambian military pledged allegiance to Barrow by vowing to not fight ECOWAS forces.[11] Shortly after, Jammeh announced on state television that he was stepping down, and thus, a 22 year dictatorship that began with a coup d’état met a fitting end.[12]

President Barrows’ term offers newfound hope for the smallest country in mainland Africa.[13] Jammeh was internationally criticized for his atrocious human rights record, which included: torture, indiscriminate detention, and human kidnapping.[14] Moreover, Gambian officials routinely targeted journalists, human rights defenders, LGBT people, and political opponents as a means of control and censorship.[15] Throughout Jammeh’s dictatorship, Gambia remained one of the poorest countries in the world characterized by endemic poverty.[16] However, Barrows is an outsider who seems to be cut from an entirely different cloth than the Gambian strongman Jammeh.[17]

Six months earlier, Barrows entered the race as an outsider with no political history, but he was able to from a strong connection with the Gambian people who admired his work ethic and small-business roots.[18] In fact, it was quite surprising to uncover that Barrows was a former security guard at Argos on Holloway Road in London, where he was in charge of tackling shoplifters and reigning in rabid discount shoppers.[19] His platform as a presidential candidate centered on reviving the Gambian economy and putting an end to human rights abuses.[20] Specifically, he criticized censorship of the internet and pushed for more transparency in government.[21] His populist approach emphasized the idea that power belonged to the people of Gambia, and the message resonated for Gambians who felt perennially repressed by a government that for years valued control over freedom.[22]

While there are reasons to be optimistic, it is paramount that Barrows’ administration seize this critical moment in Gambia’s history to effectuate much needed institutional change and create a democratic foundation.[23] Currently, the executive holds unchecked power and it would be very easy for Barrow to assume dictatorial power.[24] Even if Barrow doesn’t abuse his power, future successors would be able to take advantage of the executive framework established by Jammeh to revive a dictatorship if Barrows’ administration does not institute fundamental institutional changes.[25] However, Barrows has already made a significant promise that harkens back to actions made by great leaders in history who found themselves in a similar position, President Washington and Cincinnatus. Barrows is committed to stepping down from the presidency after three years, which will set the pace for a democratic Gambia.[26] While time will prove to be the final arbiter, the international community should remain supportive of the Gambian people’s efforts to establish a government that will protect their freedom and dignity.

[1] Haby Niakate, Yahya Jammeh to JA: “I am only a dictator of development”, Jeune Afrique (May 30 2016),

[2] Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh ready for ‘billion-year’ rule, BBC News (Africa) (Dec. 12, 2011),

[3] Gambia’s Jammeh leaves power after 22 years, AFP (Jan. 22, 2017),

[4] Lee Albrecht, Adama Barrow: The Gambia’s next President, DW Akademie (Jan. 20, 2017),

[5] Merrit Kennedy, West African Troops Enter Gambia as Election Loser Clings to Power, NPR (Jan. 19, 2017),

[6] Larry Diamond & Mark Plattner, Democratization in Africa 216-227 (Johns Hopkins University Press 1999).

[7] Gambia: Security Council backs regional efforts to ensure peaceful transfer of power to Barrow, UN News Centre (Jan. 19, 2017),

[8] Id.

[9] Senegal troops move to Gambia border as Jammeh faces ultimatum, BBC News (Africa) (Jan. 18, 2017),

[10]  Kess Ewubare, Gambian Navy desert Jammeh, declare allegiance to Barrow, Naij (Jan. 20, 2017),

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] The Gambia country profile, BBC News (Africa) (Jan. 20, 2017),

[14] Gambia, Human Rights Watch,

[15] Id.

[16] Gambia’s Jammeh leaves power after 22 years, supra note 3.

[17] Albrecht, supra note 4.

[18] Id.

[19] Laura Mowat, North London Argos worker takes on hardline Islamist in bid to be next president of GAMBIA, The Sunday Express (Nov. 20, 2016),

[20] Albrecht, supra note 4.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Jack Conway, The Gambia: The Crisis Has Ended, But the Challenge Has Only Just Begun, News Aware (Jan. 22, 2017),

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Albrecht, supra note 4.

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