For many years, Gambians have heard from President Yahya Jammeh and the many promises he made. The people of The Gambia only get to hear from the opposition, mostly every five years ahead of presidential polls making it difficult for the nearly one million voters in this country to decide who to cast their vote for.
For the people of The Gambia, do they trust the more than two-decade ruler whose development projects came at the cost of their liberties and economic freedom or change their government and usher in a new government who are politicking not necessarily on issues that impact their lives and the future of their children?
The Gambia has been left behind in terms of development by the countries with which they have gained independence with. Granted that the country is a peanut exporting nation and mainland Africa’s smallest nation, it’s poor governance system has made it fall behind. Although President Yahya Jammeh said he has taken The Gambia out of the stone age, more Gambians are in poverty today than when he took power.
But Jammeh is to be given some credit. After he took power in a coup in 1994, he successful helped bounced the economy and the foreign exchange reserve increased significantly. Fast forward, he became repressive and his foreign policy became unreliable for allies. Draconian laws were passed and the constitution with policies became tailored to suit his needs and to entrench him in power. Since then, the foreign exchange reserve has depleted by more than 67%.
The opposition for long had served as underlings to Jammeh. They were reactionists rather than propellers of ideas and the dreams of the people. They were unable to unite and remain deeply divided until an unprecedented move by an independent women’s rights activist forced them to form a coalition or be faced with the shame of putting their personal interests before the common good of the nation.
The Gambia have not had an opposition coalition before and it is not the only first epoch-making turnaround of this elections. Many youths have turned from supporting the incumbent President Yahya Jammeh. Many of these youths were born right after Jammeh took power and are first-time voters. They can change the entire outcome of the polls.
Even though the opposition’s manifesto has not been seen and may not clearly have a solution to the problem of the youths, many feel that a more democratic government with term limits in place is what is first needed to have an issues-focused politics in Gambia. The coalition seems to be the only option for that.
On the campaign trail, President Yahya Jammeh has made new promises. There are already tons of pending ones yet to be fulfilled but he said he has done a lot for Gambians to know what is best for them. With the help of the EU, Jammeh’s government did build some significant number of roads and short bridges to network villages and town centers, tens of schools, some few additional hospitals and an airport.
The opposition described it as “quantity without quality” – roads were getting damaged quickly, schools had no teachers with failing students, hospitals had no medicines and the airport does not have direct flights to key global hubs.
The opposition focused their campaign on the economy – that many of the country’s youths are taking a perilous journey crossing the Sahara and Medditerenean to reach Europe for better opportunities. Many have died to attempt to reach Europe and many in rural Gambia, especially are angry.
With Jammeh resounding his development projects and the opposition coalition reminding Gambians of the hardship and pleading to their emotions, Gambians have listened and are the ones that have endured. Today they decide if they will clinch on to Jammeh’s promises or the new Gambia with better economic opportunities that the opposition is selling.