As we get closer to the December 4th presidential elections in The Gambia, I look towards my homeland from thousands of miles away with both a sense of hope but also some concern. I have hope because as an emerging democracy, the Gambia, there are hopeful signs of tolerance and political maturity not often associated with countries in transition from dictatorship.
My concerns are however threefold. first, that candidates in the presidential elections may rely on ethnic loyalties instead of addressing national concerns. Demagogues, as we saw recently in the case of some interventions from former President Yahya Jammeh, who has nothing constructive to say but instead stir up old fears and prejudices and work to divide rather than unite the country. We must be alert to these sort of tactics as well as the use of social media to spread rumors and ‘disinformation.’
Second, I am concerned that the results of the election will not be accepted by all parties. In the US, for instance, we have seen former President Donald Trump, without any evidence to support it, continue to claim that the “election was stolen.” Most of his supporters believe this lie and now doubt the outcome of any other election that they may lose in the future.
Free and fair elections are the foundation of any democracy. Therefore, we must ensure that we have free and fair elections and support the outcome – win or lose.
Third, in the strongest possible terms we must condemn any acts of violence or even threats of violence. Political violence injures everyone by instilling fear and the desire for revenge. Those politicians who want to be leaders must condemn violence or any threats of violence, not only with words but actions.
I am also hopeful and optimistic about the outcome of the elections. First, the electoral process, to date, appears to be fair and accepted by most parties. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has successfully vetted and identified qualified candidates.
Also, by the historic act of deposing a dictator and electing a president – without violence- we have set an example for all of Africa and other developing nations. This should therefore become a national tradition in which we can take great pride for generations to come.
Perhaps, our reactions have been dictated by the suffering under 20 years of dictatorship, but it was clear to me during my recent trip to The Gambia that there is a broad and deep commitment to democracy and democratic values. Therefore, I believe that the December 4th election will be an example for all, when a young nation fought for the right to create a government of their own making and then kept that promise.
May the Gambia and its citizens continue to be an inspiration to many around the world for the peaceful commitment to democratic principles.
Representative Samba Baldeh is an American citizen of Gambian origin. He was recently elected to the State Assembly of the US Mid-western state of Wisconsin- the first native African and first Muslim to serve in the state legislature.