A Critical Survey into The Gambia’s Tripartite Regimes, 1965 to date


By Jimmy Hendry Nzally, a staff member at the University of The Gambia (UTG) who has served in the University Relations Office since 2014. Jimmy Hendry Nzally is a first-year PhD researcher at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). His research is focusing on: ‘Religion, Gender, Media and Politics Under Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh’s Autocratic Rule, 1994 to 2017.’ Previous education includes a Bachelor’s in Development Studies from UTG and double Masters in African History and Linguistics and Literary Studies. Hence, he combines local knowledge with international training, as demonstrated in this article.




This paper seeks to typically examine the three regimes of Dawda Kairaba Jawara, Yahya A.J.J Jammeh and recently elected President Adama Barrow. A tripartite reflection that aims at deconstructing The Gambia’s political developments cannot be possible without re-looking at the past elections. The December 2nd, 2016 presidential elections in The Gambia attracted unprecedented headlines around the world. Scholars are taking keen interest in the political mayhem of this tiny “Atlantic Sunny” country found in West Africa, in mainland Africa. They include interdisciplinary researchers in politics, gender studies, and migration, among other areas. One of the obvious reason is the symbolism that marks the defeat of an autocratic ruler through elections for a ‘New Gambia’. Understanding its historical trend and whether the new dispensation depicts continuity is hugely my interest. In so doing, my analyses are carved out of the new political dispensation in The Gambia, which brought about an abrupt end to autocratic rule in The Gambia after 52 painful years of nationhood. Whether the December 2016 change will be a restoration of democracy/civilian rule in The Gambia will remain a question for future debates/discourse. This article aims at steering such a debate by offering some critical reflections into The Gambia’s past regimes and current government as a new academic phenome for political study. I will attempt to offer critical reflections by exploring a histography of this tiny-strip by taking a closer look at the emergence of nationalism, independence struggle, and post and current affairs. This is done by digging into secondary, online and journalistic materials in the Gambian context. Such an approach might help provide an in-depth understanding of the politics and political developments in The Gambia.


A Brief Evolutionary Analysis: Political Background into The Gambia Independence Struggle


Understanding the politics and political developments in The Gambia is paramount to this study. Starting from the independence struggle down to the post-independence narratives goes to underscore its historiographical outlook. Found in West Africa, The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in mainland Africa, with a population of “less than 2 million people.” [1] Neighbouring Senegal that surrounds The Gambia on three sides (north, east, and south) except on the Atlantic Ocean, is of both geographical and colonial significance within the Senegambia (The Gambia and Senegal, mainly) region. In other words, these countries were divided by colonial experience between the French and British powers based on its geographical proximity. The Gambia and neighbouring Senegal’s “separate existence is rooted in the activities of British slave traders who, in 1618, established a fort at the mouth of the River Gambia, from which they gradually spread their commercial and, later, colonial rule upstream to establish the British protectorate of The Gambia.” [2] What binds these two countries together are the colonial legacies of separate colonial powers, trade, culture and geography.


The Gambia’s tiny geographical shape is because of colonialism under the British occupation. The area was first occupied by the Portuguese from 1455-1581; thereby relinquishing their occupation rights to the colonial British whose presence dated from 1587. [3] These periods marked the unavoidable remembrance of the bitter history of slavery and enslavement of black people (for example, the erection of James Island as a slave port), independence struggle (the father of Gambia nationalism, Edward Francis Small), the eventual gaining of independence (First Prime Minister and President, Dawda Kairaba Jawara) and until the present moment of a post-independence country. Under the British domination and absolute control was a system of administration called Indirect Rule System. [4] It basically allowed local rulers to control their areas, regions and subjects under British supervision. “In 1894 Britain proclaimed a protectorate over the entire area and divided the land into districts under commissioners who exercise authority over native rulers.”[5]


Such demarcation under the British authority was vested upon the hands of the local chiefs. In this regard, the western-educated people felt side-lined by the British to exploit the locals. This became a recipe for political disgruntlement by the elitists and has brought about the emergence of a political autonomy movements. The obvious questions are: What triggered political liberty movements in The Gambia? With whom? How did that lead to The Gambia’s independence? What form was independence achieved? To tackle these questions requires a thorough historical account of one of The Gambia’s most iconic pre-independence fighters: A household name among Gambians and in most discourse about The Gambia’s political history. Political emancipation started in the form of colonial antagonism and/or social mobilisation with the late Edward Francis Small.[6] In a broader context, the political revolutions around the world (in Africa) of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries emphasised the “‘rights of man,’” [7] as the legitimate foundation for moral authority and physical independence. For political freedom fighters like Small, the need for emancipation seems “the obvious way for human freedom.” [8] This is what would shape his nationalism activities for the liberation of the people from colonial bondage. Small was a renowned activist, pan-Africanist, journalist and an enthusiastic trade unionist.


Edward Francis Small activities started as early as 1917 in Ballanghar, Kaur (MacCarthy Island Province) in the Central River Region for clashing with a local European trader (James Walker) and that lead to his detention and eventual dismissal in 1918. [9] While on a probationary mission as a young missionary-trainee, the European trader basically at the time entered into trade agreements [10] with the locals which was seen as exploitative and unfair treatment of Africans. Such horrific experience with the white colonialists triggered nationalism activities in the liberation struggle. Small – as the conscience against external white colonialist oppression and exploitation – ended up mobilising efforts as a founding member of The Gambia Native Delegation Union (GNDU) and consequently represented his native country, The Gambia, at the founding of the Nation Congress for British West Africa (NCDWA) in 1920. [11] This body was a mobilising force for the liberation of the African people. During that meeting, the NCBWA leaders pressed on with the agenda that educated Africans must unite in their efforts “across frontiers” [12]  towards the white colonialists. They saw the need for emancipation and a total control over their territories necessary.


Therefore, nationalism and anticolonial agitation was front and centre of Small’s work, especially after his return from the NCBWA meeting that led to numerous movements and protests for the emancipation of the people of The Gambia. The Bathurst Trade Union in 1928 and the following year, organised the ever-general strike in the land. Other movements were the Rate Payers Association (RPA) in which the famous slogan was first used “No Taxation Without Representation” and the Cooperative Union for fight for the rights of famers, [13] to propagate the people’s message by way of revealing the odds of colonial powers. The versatile, energetic and ambitious Small made his mark in journalism too. On May 1922, he began his newspaper publication called The Gambia Outlook and Senegambia Reporter: “this was the first Gambian newspaper to be published since 1890s.” [14] As noted by one Gambia’s renown political writer and analyst, Abdoulaye Saine, in his book Culture and Traditions in the Gambia: “Small became the first African to be elected to the legislative council in 1947, with Chief, Tamba, Jammeh of Illiasa and R J.C Faye of Bathurst in the same year.” [15]. This gave him and his colleagues the opportunity to influence change as Gambians representatives in the house as legislators. However, Small’s efforts did lead to colonial retreat and the eventual need to fasten the process for political liberation of The Gambia, especially in the 1950s-60s onwards because nationalism was winning.


With the gradual decline of colonial rule and power over their colonial subjects, the need for the country’s independence was becoming hugely contested. This is because The Gambia was very small and more so, lacked the economic powers or resources to be independent. As recounted by Alhagi Singhateh, an elected member of Parliament in 1962, who was present in the independence talks, who mentioned in an interview that one of the main concerns: “was the fact that [The Gambia] lacked resources and there were not enough educated Gambians to take up positions[,] so they had to continue working with British officials until they had competent people to take over.” [16] Notwithstanding, The Gambia became independent, despite British and the United Nations’ recommendations to merge the area with Senegal [17] in exchange for Ivory Coast by the French.


In 1930, the British authorised the first representative institutions, the Bathurst Urban District Council and the Board of Health, and in 1959 convened the first of series of constitutional conferences that would eventually lead to independence for the country. Also in 1959, Dawda Kairaba Jawara, a Mandinka veterinary surgeon, formed the People’s Progressive Party. A constitutional conference produced a constitution in 1960, which after another conference in 1961 was amended in 1962. Yet another conference in 1964, produced a new constitution under which the colony became the independent country of The Gambia in 1965. Five years later, in 1970 it proclaimed itself a republic.[18]


While other African nations were fighting oppressively against white domination, The Gambia gained her independence through a peaceful dialogue. “Elsewhere in Africa, the winds for change sweeping the continent encountered entrenched colonial opposition. Until the eve of independence in the Belgian Congo, paternalistic colonial authorities banned political parties and provided few opportunities for higher education” [19]. In Portuguese colonies “[f]ree of democratic pressure, the dictatorial regime in Lisbon brutally suppressed independence movements in its African colonies, leading to protracted liberation struggles in Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique.” [20] The most brutal independence struggle took place in the French territory of Algeria. The French ignored the calls for independence from the native: “[…] leaders of the Algerian nationalism created a secret National Liberation Front in 1954, and forthwith launched their war of independence. It was a fierce and brutal war in which more than one million Algerians died and much of their country destroyed” [21] In Kenya “widespread anti-colonial violence occurred for four years against white settlers and British administration and its supporters.” [22] In the Democratic Republic of Congo at the time under the Belgium rulership of Leopold II. There were numerous attempts to use ethnic suppression to alter the movement for independence known as the Movement National Congolais (MNC) under the stewardship of Patrice Lumumba. As the leader and mastermind of the movement: “Lumumba was imprisoned by Belgium for his efforts. However, the independence fever was sweeping across Africa. Lumumba was released and invited to Belgium in 1960 to negotiate the terms of independence. The Congo obtained its independence from Belgium and Lumumba was elected Prime Minister in May 1960.”[23]


The Gambia gained her independence in 1965, after the famous Marlborough House talks in London in 1962.[24] “Initially disputed over with the French, this territory subsequently was contested by African political movements seeking a transfer of power to an elected Gambian parliament. This was archived in 1965.”[25] The famous independence talks were observed to have included all relevant stakeholders. In summary, the delegation talks included members of the governing party, opposition leaders, and members of the civil society, workers’ representatives and the Commonwealth Secretary: “... six from the Colonial Office; three from the Foreign Office; two from the Home Office; and 14 from the Gambian government, including Sir John Paul, the Governor. Among the Gambia delegation on the government side were Prime Minister Dawda Jawara, Sheriff Sisay, S.M Dibba, J.C Faye, and others. The opposition delegation included P.S Njie, M.C Cham, I.M Garba Jahumpa, I.A.S Burang-John, and Kebba Foon.” [26]  It is therefore fair to argue the independence of The Gambia was negotiated in a very unprecedented-peaceful process.  This is totally different from other countries highlighted in the preceding paragraph.


In summary, this section gives a historical context into the independence of The Gambia. Fundamentally, how the activities of one man in the person of Edward Francis Small dared challenge colonialism through actions in journalism and as a trade unionist. Such a proliferation of nationalism impacted the struggle for political liberation. Therefore, the baton for independence struggle and liberation was passed on to the preceding leaders like Dawda Kairaba Jawara and company, despite scepticism and doubt as to whether a tiny republic like The Gambia could become independent.


Post-Independence Gambian Politics: A Closer examination of Dawda Kairaba Jawara and Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh


In this section, I seek to correlate The Gambia’s two political regimes of the first and second republics. I will examine the first republic under Dawda Kairaba Jawara, the first Prime Minister who later became President, and his eventual military overthrow. How did Jawara consolidate himself into power? What led to his political demise and the rise of Jammeh? Here is a brief nutshell of the party history and the eventual Jawara emergence by Arlnold Hughes and David in their book, Political History of The Gambia, 1816 to 1994:


Three small and highly personalized political parties, the United Party, the Gambia Democratic Party, and the Gambia Muslim Congress, came into being in Bathurst in the 1950s, but proved unable to retain their political domination once the provincial masses were enfranchised and set up their own political party. The Protectorate People’s Party (subsequently People’s Progressive Party [PPP]), under the leadership of Dawda Jawara, emerged as the largest political organization during the general elections of 1960 and 1962 and was accepted by the British as their successors.[27]


This early consolidation makes it easier for the Jawara party to stay long in power. In fact, most of the early liberators and their parties in Africa became father figures and eventually overstaying and ruling with an iron fist.[28] It now begs the question whether to characterise Jawara’s regime as an autocratic regime in comparison with Jammeh, which raises interesting arguments. As noted by Saine in his maiden book: The Paradox of Third-Wave Democratization in Africa The Gambia under AFPRC-APRC Rule, 1994–2000, there is a brief comparison of the Jawara and Jammeh governments. He argued that the overthrowing of Jammeh as a democratically elected president has two main bearings: “It brought about a halt to one of Africa’s longest surviving multiparty system” and an eventual end to the longest serving head of state in Africa at the time.” [29] For more than a quarter of a century there were multiparty democracies in Africa with the like of Botswana and Mauritius[30], as opposed to authoritarian and military regimes plaguing in other parts of the continent. Therefore, Africa “entered into a new era in which military leaders converted themselves into politicians and legitimised their rule through elections making it difficult to conduct multi-party politics.” [31] This was the situation in The Gambia under Jammeh for 22 years of his reign as president. This regime held Gambians and The Gambia to ransom for gross human rights violations with the sole aim of consolidating power against the masses or wish and aspiration of the people.[32]


The Gambia has largely been merited for sustaining a relatively very stable government, hold periodic elections, and maintaining peace since pre- and post-independence. This is important to underscore because most governments who assumed office in Africa in the late 1950s to early 1960s, witnessed post-independence African coups and/or counter coups. “Indeed, between 1990 and 2001, there were 50 attempted coups in Sub-Saharan Africa, of which 13 were successful, which represent a much lower rate of the success in comparison to earlier years, but no significant reduction in the African military’s propensity to launch coup attempts.”[33] It is fair to therefore argue that in postcolonial Africa, militarisation of governments became the order of the day. The Gambia is no exception to such military experience. It is not until in 1981 that the country faced its first military coup led by Kukkoi Samba Sanyang of the then Paramilitary Field Force, which failed to depose President Jawara due to swift military intervention from neighbouring Senegalese. [34] Such a swift brotherly intervention prompted the formation of the Senegambia Confederation in February 1st, 1982 and later ceased in September 30th, 1989 [35]. This and so many other attempts would therefore shape the politics and leadership of this tiny country.


Even though President Jawara was merited for leading The Gambia under the rule of law, there was growing discontentment with the governments realms, because his government had overstayed in power. The government failed to tackle corruption and ethnic dominance that brought about his eventual downfall. “By the mid-1980s-[90s] most [Gambians] had become completely disgusted with corruption and its destructive impacts on all aspects of life in the country.” [36] However, there had been attempts to curb corruption by President Jawara, by occasionally denouncing and periodically reshuffling the cabinet. Yet, the major criticism is that there have not been punitive measures in place. [37] Furthermore, President Jawara wanted to step down in his famous 1992 Mansa Konko speech. It did not materialise as he was compelled by party supporters to stand again for another term.  “In 1992, Jawara remained in office and won re-election (29 April) to his fifth term by over 58 percent of the vote, his party winning 25 of the 36 representatives seats.” [38] Such a move gave birth to one of Africa’s brutal autocratic leadership in the person of Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh. “The Jawara government was overthrown on July 22, 1994, in a bloodless coup by junior army officers, who installed Lt. Yahya Jammeh as chair of a five-member Armed Forces Ruling Provisional Ruling Party” [39] and subsequently renamed The Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).[40]


From the word ‘provisional’, it should have been a transitional takeover.[41] Consequently, a civilian government would have been in place shortly. However, that did not happen as result of both internal and external pressures mounted for the military group to relinquish power. “Following intense pressure from both within The Gambia and outside, the military-led government announced a timetable for transferring power to civilians in 1996 after review of the constitution, probes into the wealth of the public servants, and elections.”[42] Since the military were in absolute control, a referendum was organised for a new constitution to take effect same year on August 8th, 1996. “A decree barred Jawara, his vice president, and all former ministers of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) from contesting the elections and from holding any political office.” [43] Jammeh’s eventual transition to civilian rule “ended on September 26, 1996, after twenty-six months of military rule. It culminated in the election of Jammeh as the second president of the second republic.” [44]

As he consolidates himself into power, his regime became increasingly isolated for gross human rights violations to occur, and increasingly disturbing isolation from in international community. Because of the unilateral powers he had, Jammeh declared The Gambia as an Islamic state, withdrew from the commonwealth, was in the process of withering from the International Criminal Court, threatened to behead gay people, insulted the largest ethnic group in The Gambia group i.e. Mandingo, expelling diplomats, forcedly insulting and attacking neighboring Senegal, and was constantly on national and international rows. [45] “He does not believe that he is doing anything wrong by staying on in power to the exclusion of everyone else. If Jawara stayed in power for 30 years, why not Yahya Jammeh? He has said these words repeatedly, despite his well-documented promise in the aftermath of the July 1994 coup to make sure that no president stays in power beyond ten years.” [46] In the Jammeh era, absolute control was the measure of leadership. It is in his proactive rights and ‘self-styled dictatorship’ as president to cease The Gambia and to run it anyhow he pleases without any form of internal or external influences.


All these issues, missteps, and ignorance of politics cost Jammeh everything to his empathic dismay. Across the country, Gambians felt deeply isolated internationally and threatened internally by ‘Jammehism,’ knowingly or unknowingly. In their quest for a ‘New Gambia’, Gambians including in the diasporas mobilized efforts locally and through online social media to propagate for a removal of Jammeh in the December 2016 election, in a country that Jammeh had vowed to rule for a “Billion Years” [47] with the help of Allah in religious terms. It is important to note that the diaspora is significant in The Gambia. The latest statics obtained from one of the newspapers in The Gambia states that: “Gambian migrants contributed 22% of the country’s [G]ross [D]omestic [P]roduct (GDP) in 2016.[48] Therefore, being a huge contributor in the economy, family members in the diaspora threatened to stop sending money if their families failed to vote against Jammeh in support of the coalition team. “Hopes were [not] high for a peaceful transfer of power, with a crackdown on opposition leaders months before the polls, the banning of international observers or post-election demonstrations, and then the switching off of the internet.” [49] It is fair to assume that the signs and signals were there for the Jammeh government that things were not going right for him.


The Gambia Coalition History


The December 2nd, 2016 presidential election marked an important turning point in the history of the country. It ended 52 years of non-political change of government through the ballot box (1965-2016). Understanding democratic transition especially in Africa varies in experiences. In this section I will use two case studies to position The Gambia’s transition after 52 years of non-change of government through the ballot. I will focus mainly on the 1990s failed political transitions in Togo (dictatorship) and Benin (democratic) succeeded, respectively. Although similar case but different outcomes, the system change was triggered in these two countries by various key stakeholders, including party heads, civil society organisations and governments that decided to call for National Conferences to effect peaceful, smooth, democratic change of governments.


In the two countries mentioned above, it was done to affect a system change, thereby calling for fresh elections to win the trust and confidence of their subjects and for the restoration of international ties to mark a new beginning. In the case of “Benin’s system changes during that emergency national conference, however, conference delegates went far beyond their original mandate, dissolving the old organs of government, electing a transition prime minister and legislative body, and laying the groundwork for a meaningful political transition. It was called a “civilian coup d’état” and its striking success (coupled with a lack of bloodshed) prompted many franco-phone African countries to copy the model.” [50] “Studying the electoral coordination of opposition politicians in regions like in Africa is, at root, about understanding the institutionalizing of opposition as an integral part of democracy condition.” [51] With similar aim in Togo, the transition failed to get rid of the existing rot that seek to perpetuate itself in power. “Togo’s transition government struggled to keep the incumbent party in check, and endured several instances of violent military intervention that prevented them from completing their work as planned.” [52] In summary, Benin succeeded in offering a hope for her people, whereas Togo sustains and still cultivates one of Africa’s oppressive regime in place.


In The Gambia’s case, the transitional government of Jammeh in 1994 was a military takeover. Its goal of coming to power among many reasons was to fight corruption, discontent with Jawara’s regime of having Nigerian military forces and clearly inspired by the successes of a military coup in Sierra Leone under the rule of Strasser. [53] Therefore, Jammeh and company promised a system change and a more transparent and accountable government. The military government “charged that President Jawara had presided over a system that was riddled with corruption, and that as "soldiers with a difference" his party, the Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction, would protect human rights and govern under the rule of law.” [54]. Unfortunately, the same fight of presumption levied against the Jawara regime also consumed Jammeh’s government. Within a brief period, the government of Jammeh started worsening their agenda ‘for a better Gambia’ leading to autocratic rule. Eventually, Jammeh became the president and subsequently killings, disappearances, and the rule of authoritarianism became the order of the day until his shockingly-unprepared defeat in 2016.


Understanding the defeat of Jammeh is indeed important. Many attempts all in the past failed to unseat Jammeh since his first electoral gain in 1996. “Coalition building is a distinct problem for the opposition in Africa’s inchoate democracies. The region’s ethically divided societies also happen to have patronage-based political systems in which electoral support is secured through the provision of money, favors, or goods.” [55] In addition, incumbency in Africa means absolute control over the politics, media, population and public institutions. “In the process, however, he had used those of the system to manipulate the minds and characters of Gambians technocrats, intellectuals, academicians, and politicians in a way had effectively subdued almost all talents into becoming his personal servants.” [56] This is what consolidated Jammeh and his imperiled government for indeed a very long, rough time. His propaganda tools had instilled fear of dissent, made it possible for the suppression of any form of internal movement using force in all spheres. Gambians became fearful of Jammeh that earned him the populism of a frim ruler throughout the bread and length of the country in The Gambia. Every day on national Television his face was always shown, his projects often displayed and while his executive rigidness of sacking, expelling and threats became sound bites for Gambians to be alarmed. [57] Therefore, suspiciousness leading to divide and rule widens in the streets, in schools, work places, at homes with the use of agents and vigilant groups.


Opposition leaders for far too long have always found it hard to come together. The first widely praised attempt was during the 2006 elections in which five opposition leaders gathered in 2003 in Atlanta [58] (Saine 2008: 64). These political parties were: The United Democratic Party (UDP), the Protectorate People's Party (PPP), the People's Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), the National Reconciliation Party (NRP) and the National Democratic Action Movement (NDAM). There an agreement was reached to form a coalition front known as the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) in 2005.[59] However, such an effort was later frustrated after numerous attempts by the government of Jammeh to discredit and to weaken the movement by attacking opposition members including arrests. In fact, the most shocking news came from the resignation of the main opposition party leader, Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party (UDP), who failed to attend the Atlanta meeting but chose to send a representative. [60] In what was poised to become a new beginning for opposition leaders, failed to move forward, thus gave the incumbent (Jammeh) a comfortable ride. In 2011 another coalition attempt called United Front Coalition (UFC) comprising three opposition parties namely PDOIS, NRP and The Gambia Party for Democracy and Progress (GPDP).[61]


After many years, attempts and failures of a new beginning for political opposition parties emerged.  Close to two and/or three months into the December presidential elections members of the opposition parties brokered yet another hopeful deal to form a collation and this time it worked.[62]  This brings us to the current transitional government in The Gambia under president Adama Barrow, a Real Estate Businessman. Before he could contest in the December 2016 election, he had to resigned as the Treasurer of the UDP: “[Barrow] was elected by 308 of 490 delegates at the convention held to elect a flagbearer of the opposition coalition.” [63] He came to power through a coalition team of seven parties and an independent candidate. The United Democratic Party (UDP), the People's Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), the National Reconciliation Party (NRP), The Gambia Moral Congress (GMC), the National Convention Party (NCP), the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the Gambia Party for Democracy and Progress (GPDP) and Dr. Isatou Touray the only independent candidate/female candidate who is known for her strong activism as an anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Women’s Rights Defender. By taking a closer at the coalition, this group became the biggest opposition coalition in the history of the country since gaining independence in 1965.


Barrow won the December president election with 43.34% of the vote against the incumbent Yahya A.J. Jammeh. “The loss of the election by President Jammeh and the emergence of Adama Barrow through coalition of parties represents the commitment of the political class and the people of [The] Gambia to transcend authoritarian rule and foster multiparty democracy.” [64] At the initial announcement of the results, he accepted the result, but later reneged on this, and Barrow was forced to flee first to Mali to attend a security summit and afterwards to neighbouring Senegal.[65] With such a move, it is fair to assume that at the time the international community were already snubbing Jammeh for the sake of weakening his prospects of legitimizing his retracting of the results. After many diplomatic efforts to persuade Jammeh to relinquish power peacefully, notably by the West African Body of the Economy Community for West African States (ECOWAS), a military intervention was likely the last option as tension brews. Barrow was inaugurated at the Gambian embassy in Senegal on 19 January 2017, and Jammeh was forced to leave the Gambia by the ECOMIG forces and go into exile on 21 January to Equatorial Guinea. Barrow returned to The Gambia on 26 January. [66]


President Adama Barrow: Coalition Agreement and the Prospects for a New Gambia


The election of Barrow brought about huge wave of optimism for the people of The Gambia from an autodidactic rule and the dignity/promise for a better Gambia through democratic elections. It goes to teach other autocratic nations and those oppressed that the system can change if people mobilise themselves through electoral means. But again, the opposition must be unified to unite the people in way that would drive them towards a common good. In The Gambia, the defeat of Jammeh was celebrated:


A democratic transition can be a transformative experience, with crowds of demonstrators in the streets, protesters facing off against armed security forces, late night wrangling and jubilant celebrations marking the end of years of dictatorship. Successfully managing the intense uncertainty and fast pace of events requires a combination of skill, luck, and timing, as elites attempt to gauge the prevailing winds and win control of a political system without making the mistakes of their predecessors.[67]


The debate on whether president Barrow should after three years stay or resign is a major discussion in The Gambia. One of the leading voices in this campaign for the relinquishing of power within three years as agreed upon by coalition members is indeed Halifa Sallah of the People's Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS). He was the former spokesperson for the coalition government in power, while on the other side is Ousainou Darboe of the UDP the main opponent and advocate for five years as enshrined in The Gambia’s constitution. For Sallah, the agreement was for three years and not five years. What is indeed clear is the president agreed to a transitional government and that was campaign upon by the coalition members. [68] What Gambians are convinced about going into the elections and hoping for is that: “the Coalition presented a manifesto to the electorate as the basis of its mandate, and therefore the contours of their three-year program have already been broadly mapped out.”[69] It is in the interest of party coalition heads to heed an agreement made during the time of the election campaign as part of their agenda.


The question is: where is president Adama Barrow in these debates? During his acceptance, he was quoted by one of leading newspapers saying: “I am committed and loyal to the coalition and any other agreement that we all appended our signatures on.” [70] But his position seems to have been changing and Gambians are beginning to be divided by it. Another version of the President is that: ‘“People are bigger than parties,” he said, referring to their agreement, which was reached by parties ahead of the December election. “If people say I should go I will go. So, it is the people who will decide now”’ [71] This can be interpreted as the President not thinking of honouring the MoU – something observers are beginning to interpret as a sign of power greed, and morally wrong to fail his campaign promise and the coalition team that brought him in power.


Controversies regarding this MoU are seen a political issue among opposition members. Ousainou Darboe of the UDP was not among the people who agreed to the coalition agreement, because he was held in Mile 2 (notorious prison) by Jammeh. This was about Jammeh’s arrest and detention of some Darboe’s supporters and party leaders: “[...]19 people including the leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) have been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. They were found guilty on six counts relating to participating in unauthorised protests on 16 April 2016 in the outskirts of the capital Banjul.”[72] Upon his release from prison immediately after the elections, the issue to serve three or five became controversial. For opposition heads like Halifa Sallah, it is Darboe who has always been the major obstacle to forming a political coalition. Therefore, it only became successful while he was in prison. For Darboe, two main issues prompted his opposition of the three years: firstly, he alleged that the MoU was not signed but rather it was agreed upon only by members, and secondly the constitution states president Barrow must serve for five years.[73] Vehemently arguing for the three-years agreement to respected, the PDOIS doyen, Sallah noted that: “The presidency, he noted, has a “mandate for five years” but all those who took part in creating the coalition knew the conditionality before agreeing to participate in the presidential selection process.”[74] However, in my view, the government ought to remember this is a transitional government which then means it is supposed to serve for an interim period. Regardless, this government needs to deliver to the Gambian people, especially on transitional justice and the ongoing commission of inquiry into the financial mismanagement of the past regime of Jammeh.




The Gambia has gone through a painful past. From 30 years of Dawda Kairaba Jawara and 22 years Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh reign to the present. The people of The Gambia have ushered in a new democratic dispensation that should be the lesson to carry on. With the new government in place, the need to establish rightful institutions under the rule of law is paramount.  It is therefore up to Barrow to do what is right for a better Gambia. If he fails, the coalition agreement that will bring about painful memories of the past two regimes of Jawara and Jammeh. These two governments had the opportunity to relinquish power but choose not to until their sudden, shocking, disgraceful overthrows. As stated earlier, whether it is the illegitimate coup of the 1994 and/or the heartbroken electoral defeat of 2016, to tidy the system towards a democratic path, Barrow and the people ought to choose from one of the systems: either like Benin for an overhaul of the past systems, or Togo, where the old system was retained thereby yielding another brutal dictatorship.


What must be questioned is the next three years after the coalition MoU agreement: How will the coalition choose to be remembered? Because Gambians expect a system change under the rule of law as opposed to the old system of autocracy. The coalition is expected to lay a democratic foundation for a ‘New Gambia’, which became a slogan during the campaign period. What will become of Barrow’s legacies? As he is expected to respect the coalition agreement for a transitional period and as a transitional government, is the so-called New Gambia a reality? Again, Gambians will not like to take yet another risk to have autocratic, failed and ill-driven politics/politicians in place. All these reflections/questions will define the political dispensation of that country. Therefore, scholars, historians, journalists, independent observers, the international community and the rest of Gambians and/or friends of The Gambia will have to reflect deeply moving forward.






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[1] Samsudeen, Sarr. Coup D'etat by the Gambia National Army: July 22, 1994. (Xlibris, 2007) 20.

[2] Abdoulaye, Saine. The Paradox of Third-Wave Democratization in Africa The Gambia under AFPRC-APRC Rule, 1994–2008. (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009) 2.

[3] Oyekan, Owomoyela. The Columbia Guide to West African Literature in English Since 1945. (Columbia University Press, 2008) 11.

[4] Daniel, Don Nanjira. African Foreign Policy and Diplomacy from Antiquity to the 21st Century, Volume 1. (ABC-CLIO, 2010) 200.

[5]Saine (n 2)2. 

[6] Arnold, Hughes and David, Perfect. Political History of The Gambia, 1816 to 1994. (University of Rochester Press, 2016)78.

[7] John R, Pottenger. Political Theory of Liberation Theology: Toward a Convergence of Social Values and Social Science. (State University of New York Press, 1989) 85.

[8] Derek, Matravers; Jonathan, Pike, and Nigel, Warburton. Reading Political Philosophy: Machiavelli to Mill. (Routledge, 2006) 281.

[9] David, Perfect. Historical Dictionary of The Gambia. (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2016) 402.

[10] Paul Tiyambe, Zeleza. A Modern Economic History of Africa: The Nineteenth Century. (East African Educational Publishers, 1993) 382.

[11] Perfect (n 9) 402.

[12] Basil, Davidson. Modern Africa: A Social and Political History. (Routledge, 2013) 36.

[13] Owomoyela (n 3) 11.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Abdoulaye, Saine. Culture and Customs of Gambia. (ABC-CLIO, 2012) 27.

[16] <http://www.thegambianow.gov.gm/index.php/news/265-marlborough-house-delegate-speaks-about-1962-independence-negotiation> accessed 5th March 2018.

[17] Saine (no 15) 2.

[18] Owomoyela (3) 12.

[19] Shillington, Kevin. Encyclopaedia of African History 3-Volume Set. (Fitzroy Dearborn and Francis, 2005) 466.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Festus Ugboaja, Ohaegbulam. Towards an Understanding of the African Experience from Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. (University Press of America, 1990) 204.

[22] Ibid., 202.

[23] Rocky M, Mizra. The Rise and Fall of the American Empire: A Re-Interpretation of History, Economics, and Philosophy: 1492-2016. (Trafford Publishing, 2007) 414.

[24] Hughes et al. (n 6)1.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Saine (n 15) 35.

[27] Hughes et al (n 6) 3.

[28] Ragies, Masiiwa and Kügler, Joachim. The Bible and Politics in Africa. (University of Bamberg Press, 2012) 158.

[29] Saine (no 2) 1.

[30] Alagi Yorro, Jallow. Delayed Democracy: How Press Freedom Collapsed in The Gambia. (AuthorHouse, 2012) 8.

[31] Ragies (n 28) 158.

[32] Baba Galleh, Jallow. Defying Dictatorship: Essays on Gambian Politics, 2012 – 2017. (CENMEDRA, 2007) XIV.

[33] Tyodzua, Atim. African Politics and Society in the 21st Century. (Author House, 2013) 99.

[34] Owomoyela (n 3)12.

[35] Lansford, Tom. Political Handbook of the World 2016-2017. (SAGE, 2017) 536-37.

[36] Mukum, Mbaku. Corruption in Africa: Causes, Consequences and Cleanups. Rownman and Littlefield Publishers, 2007.

[37] Perfect (n 9) 101-2.

[38] John E, Jessup. An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Conflict and Conflict Resolution, 1945-1996. (Greenwood Press, 1998) 360.

[39] Ibid., 537.

[40] (Saine (n 2) 73.

[41] Ibid., 8.

[42] Owomoyela (n 3)12.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Abdoulaye, Saine. “The Gambia’s 2006 Presidential Election:  Change or Continuity?” [2008].” Cambridge University Press, 59, 62.

[45] Amadou Scattred, Janneh. Standing Up Against Injustice. (Xlibris, 2013) 92-93.

[46] Jallow (n 32) 59.

[47] Ibid., XVI.

[48]<http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/gambian-migrants-contribute-22-of-gdp> accessed 10th March 2018.

[49] <bbc.com, owl.www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38186751> accessed 23rd March 2018.

[50] Jennifer C, Seely. The Legacies of Transition Government in Africa: The Case of Benin and Togo. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) 2.

[51] Arriola, Leonardo Rafael. Multi-Ethnic Coalitions in Africa: Business Financing of Opposition Election Campaigns. (Cambridge University Press, 2013) 21.

[52] Seely (n 50)2.

[53] Saine (n 2) 16.

[54] Saine (no 2) 134.

[55] Arriola (n 51) 22.

[56] Sarr (n 1) 10.

[57] Jallow (n 32) 35.

[58] Saine (n 44) 64.

[59] Saine (n 2) 119

[60] Ibid.

[61] <http://standard.gm/site/2016/08/24/uniting-gambian-opposition-return-2011-failed-ground/> accessed 10th march, 2018.

[62] Seedy, Drammeh. Perspectives on New Gambia. (CENMEDRA, 2018) 34.

[63]<http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/i-am-committed-and-loyal-to-the-coalition-agreement-coalition-flagbearer-says > accessed 10th March 2018.

[64] Samuel Ojo, Oloruntoba, and Toyin, Falola. The Palgrave Handbook of African Politics, Governance and Development. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) 430.

[65] Drammeh (n 62) 63.

[66] Ibid., 57.

[67] Seely (n 50) 2.

[68] (n 64) 59.

[69]<https://jollofnews.com/2017/01/18/gambia-the-three-year-programme-for-the-coalition/>accessed 10th March 2018.

[70] thepoint.gm (n 63).

[71] <http://standard.gm/site/2017/07/31/barrow-sparks-debate-coalition-mou/> accessed 10th March.

[72] < https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/07/gambia-prison-sentences-for-opposition-leaders-continues-downward-spiral-for-human-rights/> accessed 10th March 2018.

[73] <https://gambia.smbcgo.com/2017/08/20/gambias-coalition-mou-never-signed/> accessed 10th March 2018.

[74]<http://www.thegambiatimes.com/barrows-legacy-three-years-transition-government/>accessed 10th March 2018.