Much has been said about the surprising defeat of one of Africa’s longest serving Dictators, Yaya Jammeh, by an unknown real estate businessman, Adama Barrow, after only 15 official days of campaigning and fundraising! Political analysts and pundits still treat this victory as a conventional election, and some even try to be dismissive of the insurmountable odds that the Coalition of eight parties faced before the elections. The regime of Dictator Yaya Jammeh is an oppressive machinery of government with no breathing space for dissent, no freedom of expression, no access to the media, private or public, with a security trained to instill fear in the people. Since seizing power in a violent coup of the democratically elected government of President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara in 1994, Dictator Jammeh has used the very same tools of democracy, government jobs, manipulation the constitution, intervening in the economy, using religion to keep the people subservient, misplaced benevolence with state resources, and brutal crackdown by his personal militia he calls the security services.
In the course of 22 years, thousands of the best and brightest fled the country to settle in mostly Europe and the United States. Such was the brain flight and brain drain that he (Yaya Jammeh), will recycle the same people repeatedly in the same positions because he ran out fresh people he can trust to man those positions. The exiled community or Diaspora, over time, as the Jammeh hardened his grip on power, and intensified persecution and exclusion, became a settler community in both Western Europe and the United States, raising families there, and doing well for themselves. One thing was clear, they never cut their ties with the home country and kept abreast of events as the political and economic situation worsened under Dictator Jammeh. They also started to organize and coordinate better, in resisting the regime from afar through sharing information and engaging human rights organizations and regional organizations like Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States), and the EU (European Union), the United States, and the United Nations.
With better and faster internet connectivity, the exiled Diaspora community, in the last decade alone started several online radio stations, online blogs, and newspapers to increase awareness and connect with the people living under the regime. What used to be a trickle of information seeping out to the outside world, became a downpour. The advent of social media; Facebook, and WhatsApp smartphone applications, especially, provided the tools to directly communicate on the personal level with individuals or created special purpose groups. The organizers behind these special purpose groups were able to tailor nuggets of messages to agitate, organize and mobilize groups across the country to attend the meetings of the Coalition of parties. The messages were simple, and they addressed simple terms that resonated and reverberated with the people; these were bread and butter issues, the prohibitive cost of living, chronic unemployment, illegal detentions and disappearances, brutal suppression of dissent, lack of freedoms, clips of audio and video testimonials from credible people of Jammeh’s bad governance, and people were asked to share. According to President Elect Adama Barrow himself, by the time they arrive at campaign venues, the people were already agitated, motivated and well informed of the issues at state, and knew exactly what to do.
In essence, the ARPC party and regime of Dictator Yaya Jammeh had no answer for the multiplier effect for the Diaspora led social media campaign and fund raising; the mulplier effect of thousands of volunteers sending social media messages at the same time, and asking people to share overwhelmed their abilities to even understand and appreciate what they were being hit with. By the time they realize the Tsunami of message transmission into the country, the damage was done, albeit a two day shutdown of the external Internet service and access. The exiled brain power of the Diaspora harnessed and aggregated all their resources, organizational skill sets, and talents to take on and defeat the one person, and ideology which exiled them in the first place. For years, the regime effectively used the state controlled media outlets, the GRTS TV station, radio and Observer Newspaper to castigate the Diaspora as no more than servants who will amount to no more than low end, and dead end jobs in Europe and United States, and unpatriotic. Some of the regime’s surrogates, and sympathizers routinely referred to the Diaspora in derogatory, and condescending manner as, “The So-Called Strugglers”, or “Keyboard Warriors”, wasting their breaths on “$100 online Radio stations”!
In actuality, the Gambian Diaspora, comparatively, are highly educated and accomplished, even over-achieve in very lucrative industries, such as medical and in the technology field. The Gambian Diaspora also contribute, conservatively, some 30% of GDP in annual remittances, and direct cash injection into the economy. The ARPRC regime of Jammeh despised the Diaspora because they could not be bought, and have access to information. He despised the Diaspora so much he never made any genuine attempt to harness their potential as development partners, and never appointed a representative to look into and manage Diaspora affairs, unlike Senegal and India, for example. Unemployed youths also fleeing the country, in what is called the backway syndrome, in their tens of thousands, received no sympathy from Dictator Jammeh, when he publicly wished them death, in one of his incoherent remarks!
So the December 1st elections in Gambia was no conventional elections, and yes it was very personal to the Diaspora, that finally they were able to apply that exiled brain power to effectively agitate, organize, mobilize, and fund the campaign that would oust Dictator Yaya Jammeh after being entrenched in power for 22 years. Not to forget that Dictator Jammeh deliberately violated election laws, by Not allowing the Diaspora the vote. This will change in the new government, because President Elect Barrow is sure to reinstate the right of Gambian citizens living in the Diaspora to vote in April 2017 parliamentary elections.
The December 1st election victory was unprecedented on the African continent; larger and more endowed countries of Gabon and Uganda tried the same this year alone, and failed. The Congo (DRC) is applying some of the same tactics and symbols from Gambia (The Red Card) to remove President Joseph Kabila from power, and dozens have died so far without success. The Jammeh regime failed to acknowledge this new variable and tool in 21st Century electioneering: the exiled brain power’s, influence and skills of the Gambian Diaspora in harnessing the power of social media, and it proved to be his undoing on December 1st, 2016! He was so stunned by the outcome that he has since rejected his own concession and the results, placing the country on the path of a potential mandated external intervention by ECOWAS, if he refuses to surrender power unconditionally, come January 19th, 2017.