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Report says Gambian young people made 2016 change possible

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By Omar Bah

Research on the autocratic breakdown in The Gambia, peer-reviewed and published by the Canadian Journal of African Studies, has attributed the defeat of former president Yahya Jammeh to the young people.

The findings indicate that instrumental strategies utilised by the young and older opposition members contributed to Jammeh’s defeat in the 2016 election. According to the report, most interviewed participants agreed that many factors may have contributed to Jammeh’s defeat, but that the role of the young people cannot be dismissed.

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“Young and older opposition members set up informal groups, conducted weekly or even nightly meetings, and formed WhatsApp forums to deliver the content of political messages to those who cannot speak or read in English. Youths in The Gambia transformed social movements and utilised novel strategies to catalyse a successful democratic transition. The Gambia shows that the pragmatic and effective strategies explored by young people and the older opposition parties could encourage voters to vote against Jammeh,” it added.

These actions, it added, explain why and how some social sectors, such as the youths and the older population who faced relative deprivation during Jammeh’s two decades of rule, contributed to this change.

It argued that alternative explanations can account for different trajectories, such as the proposition that elections worked in the context of The Gambia in 2016, despite the electoral advantages to the incumbent.

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“In addition, the youth and the older opposition members, both in the diaspora and back home, helped build cooperation and trust among the fragmented opposition political parties. In The Gambia, the strength of family ties and inter-ethnic linkages make social bonding salient, which explains why it was easy to counter Jammeh’s ethnic prejudice through peaceful means rather than using violence. People’s involvement in the 2016 election emphasizes the importance of social media tools and other resources in effecting political and social changes that contributed to Jammeh’s unexpected defeat,” it noted.

Young Gambian diaspora members, it stressed, coordinated with the older opposition party members back home to encourage voters to vote against Jammeh in 2016, an important factor that contributed to Jammeh’s defeat.

“The 2016 transition means many of these diaspora members can now return and contribute to future political and social developments. The older political activists in the diaspora worked closely with the country’s youths and opposition parties by raising substantial funds from Gambian diaspora communities in the United States and across Europe and Africa. All interviewees confirmed that significant monetary contributions from the diaspora helped sustain the 2016 coalition campaign activities. In fact, the diaspora participation and contribution enabled the coalition party to pay the fee of one million Gambian dalasis to the IEC needed to sponsor a coalition party candidate (Jeng Citation2020; Ousman Citation2018).

“Furthermore, Jammeh’s exile to Equatorial Guinea reveals the role of domestic and regional powers (Ecowas and the African Union) in removing Jammeh without plunging the country into civil war. However, many political pundits and interviewees rebuked the international community and regional powers for being bystanders to The Gambia’s blatant human rights abuses over the previous twenty-two years. Historically, movements fighting to remove dictatorships and restore democracy have turned to international organisations for support, but in The Gambia, citizens had to empty their bank accounts to donate to the opposition coalition to free Gambia from tyranny, as the interview participants lamented. Overall, the role of the youths in the 2016 election allows scholars and regional and international actors to re-evaluate interventions and approaches to removing an entrenched authoritarian regime through peaceful election.”

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