On December 1st, 2016, Gambian voters rejected the entrenched Dictator Yaya Jammeh, after violently over -throwing the democratic government of President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, in July 1994. The Gambian Dictator and strong man, not long ago, declared that he will rule for a billion years, and that, even if he lost, he will never leave! Only weeks ago, he claimed that Allah will vote for him, invoking religion again to keep mystifying himself. The Gambian people had other plans, and with the help of exiles leaving in the Diaspora, mounted one of the most prolific, fierce, determined and vibrant campaign, anywhere in the world, to topple him.
But how did Gambians accomplish this feat? All the odds were against the Gambia opposition who, only 6 weeks ago were disjointed and disunited. They came together and elected a unity and consensus candidate in Adama Barrow, campaigned for only two weeks, and defeated a dictator who controlled massive state resources and machinery, and security apparatus at his disposal. The population was exhausted and tired from the divisive politics, combative nature of Dictator Jammeh. The Gambia’s economy had collapsed, the human rights worsened, and cost of living had become unbearable. Also, in recent years, the youths fled the country in thousands to Europe on perilous journeys, looking for better opportunities, with hundreds dying in the process.
Over the past 22 years, Dictator Jammeh had also created so many victims and enemies, exiling thousands who settled mostly in Europe and the United States. The exile community in the Diaspora became highly successful and educated, and maintained their connections to the home country. They kept abreast of events, especially as the political, human rights and economic situation worsened. The year 2016 is pivotal, because the peaceful street demonstrations in April, led to the murder of Solo Sandeng, United Democratic Party Youth mobilizer, and later Solo Kurumah. Both died under mysterious conditions under custody. The events of 2016 seems to be the catalyst that united Gambian people more, and hardened their opposition to the Jammeh junta.
Sensing the groundswell of resistance and challenge, Jammeh used the rubber stamped National Assembly to pass electoral laws to put any challenger at a disadvantage, including prohibitive nomination fees. Some years ago, he also gerrymandered several districts and regions in an attempt to fracture and break up opposition strongholds. All of that was cancelled out and undermined by his own personal actions, in further isolating the electorate.
Here comes the Diaspora Gambians! A very dedicated group of dissidents and exiles, backed by vibrant online media radios and newspapers bombarded messages over the heads of the authorities to mobilize the population more against Dictator Yaya Jammeh and his APRC party. In four weeks, Gambians in the Diaspora alone, raised over $100,000, through the Gambia Democracy Fund ( GDF), an organization which quickly became the fundraising arm for the opposition. The fundraising was mostly done on online radios, in the US and Europe, but monies came from everywhere through Western Union, and GoFundMe.
The next puzzle in this piece was the role played by the Technology and social media, it cannot be under-estimated. The Diaspora applied and harnessed their superior skill sets in the areas of technology, mobilization, messaging, communication, created songs to appeal and connect people emotionally, and access to friendly international organizations. With their Smart Phones, the Diaspora Gambians and organizations galvanized, were able to use applications like WhatsApp, Facebook Messaging, and Facebook and other social networking sites to bypass and overwhelm Jammeh’s information firewall. He became so desperate that on November 29, he shut Gambia’s Gateway system, which controls Internet access and international phone access. By this time the die had been cast, because the voters have already been agitated, motivated and mobilized.
On elections day, there were large turn outs, and all indications are that, it took a lot convincing for Jammeh to concede. There were long, unexplained and mysterious pauses in the announcement of results. The head of Independent Electoral Commission, Alhagie Momar Njie seems to have played a pivotal role to ensure the integrity of the votes, contrary to widespread suspicions that he might not, because of a history of intimidations directed at members of the IEC. The results trickled in drip, drip, to a point that the Chairman, Njie looked and sounded incoherent, raising fears of coercion. Unconfirmed reports are that the US Embassy contacted Kofi Anna, former UN Secretary General, and President Buhari, of Nigeria, and former President Obasanjo to convince Jammeh to concede. So much left to be explained on this aspect of the story.
The preliminary voting patterns revealed that Dictator Jammeh had a geography problem, and also a tribal problem, much of which he unapologetically created, through his own utterances, especially in recent weeks. He seems to have resoundingly lost most of the country side, and almost all of the North Bank of the river, which includes Badibou, and a large concentration of the Mandinka ethnic group ( Adama Barrow is half Mandinka and Fula), whom he threatened to wipe out months ago. They voted massively against him. He also lost the Mandinka vote in other parts, including the Kombos, which has the largest population concentration. The urban areas, which hosts thousands of civil servants, was also unkind to Jammeh. He also lost Banjul, the capital city he abandoned, and turned his home village into a parallel capital out in the middle of nowhere, with no geo-political or economic significance to the country. This defeat of an incumbent Dictator tells more on him than anything else, because of a series of actions he took that corroded even his coerced support base, and it is really a case study in how Not to govern!
On the other hand, he seemed to have swept the Foni’s which has the highest concentration of his Jola ethnic folks, at rates of 70% in some constituencies. The third party candidate, Mamma Kandeh , also seemed to have taken away significant votes from Jammeh, and also some from President Barrow. This defeat of Dictator Yaya Jammeh, is unprecedented in Africa, and a major victory for the forces of democracy and good governance, and it reveals the power, skills, and influence of an educated and competent Diaspora and exiled community. Most or all of the credit goes to the Gambian people, home and abroad, because they could not get international help, because of the insignificant geopolitical presence of the country. In recent years, they got the support of influential and media savvy people, like Jeffrey Smith, who worked for the Africa section at the Kennedy Center, in Washington DC.
The US government refused to impose sanctions of any form against the Jammeh regime, despite evidence of all the violations, and disappearances of two citizens, Ebou Jobe and Mamut Ceesay, and the continued incarceration of US Citizen, Fanta Dabo Jawara on trumped charges. President Barrow received about 45%, Yaya Jammeh 37%, and Mamma Kandeh received about 18%.