Last year this time, Gambia’s electoral chief Alieu Mommar Njai had to make a difficult announcement, while under pressure to reverse the results of a crucial election he was about to announce.
“I hereby declare Adama Barrow duly elected to serve as President of the Republic of The Gambia,” said Njai, thrusting the country into celebrating the end of dictatorship and the world with disbelieve.
It was the beginning of a new era for The Gambia, the end of decades of repression, the ouster of a brutal leader and the coming of a humble one.
Yahya Jammeh, the country’s authoritarian president of 22 years suffered a surprise defeat in the presidential elections exactly a year ago today.
Current President Adama Barrow handed a humiliating defeat to Jammeh by winning more than 45% of the vote. Barrow received 263,515 votes while Jammeh won 212,099 votes. After his win, Mr. Barrow hailed a “New Gambia”.
Jammeh, who came to power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army officer following a military coup, had won four previous polls. He was already predicted to be the winner of the December election even after seven opposition parties united to back Mr. Barrow.
After Njai’s announcement, Jammeh called Barrow and conceded defeat wishing then-President-elect Barrow all the best.
“I wish you all the best. The Gambian people have spoken and I have no reason to contest the will of the mighty Allah,” Jammeh said.
But the overconfident Jammeh, who boasted that the Gambia’s unique marble election system was rigged- and fraud-proof, allowed instant voter counting and the outcome was not like the previous four polls he won.
A week later, Jammeh contested the polls. His Supreme Court challenge got nailed in the coffin and his state of emergency declaration didn’t stop a military intervention from West African leaders to send him packing to Equatorial Guinea.
News of Jammeh’s departure prompted thousands of young people to take to the streets of Banjul in celebration – some on foot while others rode in cars and trucks and on motorbikes – as confused soldiers looked on.
Jammeh has not yet spoken publicly since his not so colorful eviction to Equatorial Guinea. One year later, he is now the subject of a financial and corruption investigation.
Many Gambians have great expectations in the New Gambia that Barrow promised. It is the younger generation that has been the driving force behind political change, voting for him in unprecedented numbers.
Barrow has vowed to pass reforms and promised to ensure freedom and the rule of law. Now the question is: was the New Gambia delivered? Whatever your answer is, we know The Gambia is in a better place than it has ever been.