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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The electoral process in The Gambia: A giant stride in the makings of a viable and stable political sysytem

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It is crystal to note therefore, that The Gambia is naturally known for peace and this peace has not been altered or affected otherwise by election conducts when they come periodically as stipulated in the country’s constitution, rather, election conducts have helped to strengthen it, amidst, the differences in political ideology and expectations as well as tribal affiliations thereby facilitating the growth processes in the country most especially in the post-coup era of 1994 till date. These differences as enunciated above that would have been a source of worry have rather been the conduits that unite the people for national integration and consensus. The paper analogically surveys the diverse strategies that the leaderships of the two republics at their respective times so far in the country, have employed in implementing this national objective for the realisation of a viable electoral process. In consequence, the political and electoral history of the country is firstly surveyed to determine the possible effects of this background to an established political and electoral order. The contributions of major electoral institutions and agencies are examined to see how their roles have contributed in one way or the other to the attainments of an enviable electoral system in The Gambia.

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As a former British Colony, The Gambia is one of the smallest countries on the continent of Africa, situated on the West Coast of Africa within the Ecowas sub-region. The Gambia’s 2013 population and housing census preliminary results released recently revealed that its recorded population is estimated at 1,882,440 presently. However, opinions revealed that the country’s current population could or is likely to be more than this figure released by the Population Commission as preliminary results. Such opinions are putting The Gambia’s current population figures at two million and above.

An approximately total area of 11,000 square Kilometers which is 4,361 square miles is believed to be the country’s size and it is located on both banks of the River Gambia, extending 470 kilometers into the interior of Africa, bordered by Senegal on its three sides, while on the fourth (i.e. western) side by the Atlantic Ocean.

Small as it is as a nation, The Gambia is believed to consist of more than fifteen ethnic groupings with major ones as the Mandinka (being the largest group) and totaling 36% of its population according to the census statistics of 2003 released, followed by the Fula 22%, the Wolof 14%, the Jola 11% respectively. Other minor tribes that exist in the country are the Serere, Manjago (who are mainly Christians of the Catholic faith and a few Pentecostals, the Bambara, Aku (made up of liberated African slaves) from Europe and America and dumped in Bathurst and Freetown (Sierra-Leone) when the slave trade was abolished before colonialism. It is now an overwhelming Islamic nation with 95% of the population being Muslims and 4% of the Christian faith while the insignificant remaining figure is believed to be animists.

Like any other African colonies, the Gambian economy in the pre- independence time had been dependent on international trade, but, after independence in 1965, the trading nature changed slightly with nearly two–thirds of the domestic revenue coming from taxes imposed majorly on imported goods from Europe and on the principal export crop, groundnut, with Britain becoming the largest and most important trading partner up till 1979[10], when the Netherlands came to take the stage as the main recipient of The Gambia’s exports until the 1980s during Dawda Jawara’s republic, constituted the main source of foreign exchange  earnings, while from the Jammeh’s reign, efforts had been redoubled with concentrations on the tourist sector of the economy for greater income earnings for The Gambia.

As a British crown colony, The Gambia’s constitutional arrangements before independence delayed till 1889, despite its acquisition by Britain in 1921, when its present borders were actually established. Until then, the colony consisted mainly of the Bathurst, the capital (renamed as Banjul in April 1973) and a few scattered settlements along the Gambia Rivers.

 Following the partitioning of and scramble for Africa, the French sought control of the colony against British possession, but, the latter blocked every means by the former upon which an agreement was reached on the Anglo- French concentration of August 1889 that gave the new Gambia a considerable chance to expand its tiny size with a protectorate declared over the newly acquired territory. In the words of Perfect, (2008)……. “Until the late 1950s, The Gambia was considered too small and too poor and dependent on its earnings from the groundnut ever to become independent”. In consequence, various options for its long-term future were assessed, but none was considered until in the 1960s when the British Government considered the option of merger with Senegal as a federation. The idea was rejected by the Gambian government in 1964 following a UN team of expert’s recommendation for a Senegambia federation establishment. This development culminated into the final decision reached on the independent status of the nation that Yahya Jammeh, the president described as a snake due to the handiwork of the British coloniser who reduced the country to that size for selfish reasons of their own after hopeless and obnoxious four hundred years of domination and rule. The Gambia became independent on the 18th February, 1965. At independence, The Gambia emerged a multi-party democracy within the Commonwealth and Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara who had become Prime Minister since October 1963 emerged as the first head of government while the Queen Elizabeth ll remained the constitutional Head of State. In April 1970, a referendum was held on the republican status of The Gambia during which the nation was declared a Republic with Jawara becoming the first executive president. After about 30 years of rule, Jawara was abdicated from power in a bloodless coup d’état led by ‘then’ Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh on 22nd July, 1994. Yahya Jammeh ruled the country as a military Head of State for two years through a transitional government, resigned from the Gambia National Army (GNA), formed a political party called Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction (APRC), contested on its platform as a presidential candidate in September 1996 and won landslide. He was later sworn in as the second executive president of The Gambia in January 1997.

Since the takeover, President Jammeh has embarked on giant developmental strides that torch on the lives of the people directly, ranging from infrastructures, agriculture, industry and commerce, especially in tourism and consumer products, education including the establishment of the University of The Gambia, in health and animal husbandry etc. Inclusive also, is human capital development, rural and urban upgrading in the state. He has also lighted up the country to the outside world as a nation to reckon with especially in peace policy, development and regional integration. 

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