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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Guardian view on The Gambia: celebrate the other inauguration Editorial

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The country has seen its first democratic transition thanks to sustained external pressure. That is an encouraging sign for the region as a whole The swearing-in of a new president has brought widespread rejoicing in The Gambia. That departed dictator Yahya Jammeh lasted a mere 22 years after seizing power might be considered a relief, since he had vowed to rule “for a billion years” if God willed it. Brutal to opponents and dissenters and viciously homophobic, he also seemed increasingly erratic, once claiming to cure Aids with a herbal paste. He was startled to learn that the country’s voters did not share his high regard for himself and – to widespread surprise – conceded he had lost December’s election, before changing his mind. For much of last week, a descent into violence seemed imminent. Adama Barrow, his victorious rival, took his oath in the embassy in Senegal rather than return to the country which had chosen him as its leader. Mr Jammeh declared a state of emergency. Gambians fled and so did tourists, hitting an industry that makes up a fifth of the country’s economy. Now Mr Jammeh has gone and the nation is celebrating its first democratic transition, effected by sustained pressure from across the region. The African Union warned that it would not recognise him once his mandate expired, but it was the West African Ecowas bloc which led efforts to remove him. When repeated attempts at persuasion, by Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, Liberia’s leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and others failed, they were followed by preparations for military intervention. Mr Jammeh’s rudeness to mediators did not help his cause. But the concerted drive reflects some encouraging signs of democratic progress. While Ecowas still has elected autocrats in its ranks, Senegal and Ghana have often been praised as good examples of democracies within Africa, and Sierra Leone and Nigeria also have democratically elected presidents. Several of the bloc’s leaders have spent time in opposition themselves. Most importantly, they appear to have realised that hostility to Mr Jammeh had become so intense that his rule was unsustainable and its continuation was likely to lead to instability in the region. The Gambia’s path may not be straightforward. Mr Barrow has no experience of public office and did not appear to have any great hunger for the top job. Had Mr Jammeh not locked up higher-profile rivals, including Ousainou Darboe, the former leader of Mr Barrow’s party, the 51-year-old property developer would not be president today. He is a methodical rather than inspirational figure – though his mild-mannered persona is probably a relief after his predecessor – and though he succeeded in bringing together multiple parties in a single coalition, the unity engendered by opposition to Mr Jammeh will not last forever. There is, however, cause for cautious optimism. Mr Barrow has pledged to promote human rights, release political prisoners, reverse malgovernance and support press freedom. His ability to hold on to power and maintain a stable transitional government will be one test of the man. Rooting out abuses will be another. Stepping down within three years, as he has promised to do, will be the third. The regional support Mr Barrow has received so far has been impressive. He needs and deserves the same backing as he embarks on the task of rebuilding The Gambia’s politics and economy. Source: theguardian]]>

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