President Yahya Jammeh has been in power in The Gambia, a tourist paradise concealed with local miseries, poverty and human rights abuses for 22 years, and has ruled the tiny West African nation with an iron fist. He has easily won four elections facing a very little challenge from the deeply divided opposition.
Opposition parties in The Gambia have failed to unite and were no threat to Jammeh, who came to power through a bloodless military coup. Jammeh’s rule has however not has been as bloodless as the coup that brought him to leading the nation of fewer than two million people.
Seven opposition parties on Sunday united behind Adama Barrow in a coalition to challenge President Yahya Jammeh in the upcoming presidential polls scheduled for December 1.
Barrow, 51, is a business mogul, realtor, and accountant. He became the main opposition UDP’s presidential hopeful after its party leader with his senior executive were “wrongfully” imprisoned by Gambian authorities for taking part in an “unauthorized” protest.
“I am overwhelmed and will work with the opposition and the Gambian people to make the Gambia a better place for all of us,” coalition presidential nominee Adama Barrow.
President Yahya Jammeh is eccentric, unsurprisingly mentored by former Libyan dictator Moammar Al-Ghadaffi – mimicking Ghadaffi’s green flag, green book doctrines and inflammatory speeches and remarks. Jammeh has the backing of his armed forces, which are about 2,300 personnel strong.
Jammeh, 51, has vowed to stay in power for a billion years, repeatedly accused Western government including the U.S. of trying to end his autocratic rule. He has threatened to kill and forcefully imprison anyone, including family members of those who try to overthrow his regime, and said those that wish to replace him should be willing to risk their lives.
“Anyone who intends to become the president of The Gambia after me should be ready to put his life on the line because that is what I did,” President Yahya Jammeh.
Voter turnout in The Gambia has been low, especially after opposition unity talks failed in 2006. Many undecided and opposition voters stayed home, self-pitying in the belief that Jammeh will win without a coalition to challenge him. Party-led coalition talks in the past have failed over leadership disputes. The coming of an outsider, Dr. Isatou Touray, a renowned women’s rights activist as an independent candidate left longtime politicians with no option but to have a party-led coalition or be forced to have her become a candidate for the coalition.
Opposition politicians have been calling for an independent hopeful to lead a coalition. Failure to have united would have ended their political careers and inscribed their names in distrust in The Gambia’s history books.
Touray, who came as a unifier said she would support the coalition because her entire agenda was to get the opposition united for change, whether she leads the coalition or not.
President Jammeh’s government has been accused of corruption, with the former military officer turned civilian said to amass more than US$1.8 billion in wealth. He came to power with less than US$5 in his account – broke and malnourished – suffering from Vitamin C deficiency.
He is said to own a US$30 million mansion in Morrocco, where his wife Zineb Suma Jammeh is from and alleged to have US$10 million mansions in five Eastern European nations, mostly former Soviet nations including Ukraine. Although he presents himself as anti-western and a pan-Africanist, Jammeh reportedly has two multi-million dollar mansions in Western Europe, one of them in France and also has a US$3.5 million mansion in the affluent suburb of Potomac, Maryland.
He has become a president with a net worth higher than the country’s annual GDP. The Panama Papers show Jammeh’s business associates like mogul Amadou Samba stashing more nearly US$2 billion in tax heavens. The Gambia is one of the poorest countries in the world, heavily indebted and many of its youths taking a life-threatening journey across the Sahara and Mediterranean into Europe in hopes for better economic opportunities and to free themselves from Jammeh’s oppressive rule.
With his hands deep down the country’s coffers, Jammeh has heavily invested in Dubai and in many Middle Eastern and Gulf nations.
But making such remarks may land one in prison for sedition in The Gambia. Opposition leaders have stirred away from the politics of directly holding Jammeh accountable for The Gambia’s many problems, yet coming together, though at a very late period ahead of the presidential polls, will present to Jammeh his toughest challenge and an eminent threat to his billion-year presidential dream.
Many voters did not renew their voter cards, many did not register or replace their lost card because there were no hopes that the opposition would have united. Better late than never, Jammeh though predicted to win this election with an eight opposition party, a breakaway group from his ruling APRC party is set to run a third ballot, will be given the run for his money.
The ruling APRC has denied that the newly formed GDC has taken many votes from the party taking with it disgruntled voters including a prominent former lawmaker, Tina Faal.
The elections euphoria has started, the drums are sending rhythmic sounds of change across the Gambian savannah, and hopes are awoken yet again in the world’s newest Islamic state where dancing, prostitution, alcohol, naked tourists, and idol worshipping still thrive.