President Yahya Jammeh scored only half his previous ballot box tally in last week’s election, handing victory to opposition coalition leader Adama Barrow. But why did Gambians turn against Jammeh after 22 years in power?
A triple blow has been dealt to the Gambian economy in the last three years, making life close to unbearable for many and sending thousands across the Mediterranean to seek a better life in Europe.
A 2013 drought was followed by the region’s Ebola crisis, which despite never actually touching The Gambia itself scared off tourists who account for 20 per cent of the country’s GDP.
This year the Gambian authorities slapped a huge increase on customs fees for trucks entering its territory from Senegal, causing a blockade and cutting the country off from vital supplies for months.
Repression and fatigue
The word heard most often on the streets in connection with Jammeh was “tired”.
Gambians were tired of their country’s descent into isolation due to their leader’s unpredictable behaviour, including the declaration of an Islamic republic in a country with a history of religious tolerance, and its withdrawal from the Commonwealth and International Criminal Court.
The perception that Jammeh simply took over businesses and properties for his personal gain also angered many.
Finally, police harassment and impunity by the security services, especially the National Intelligence Agency that reported directly to Jammeh, fed growing resentment.
The opposition coalition pulled in 45.54 of the vote, while Jammeh took 36.66 per cent.
But third party candidate Mama Kandeh, a former ruling party MP standing for the Gambian Democratic Congress (GDC), pulled in a significant proportion of votes (17.80 percent), largely from typical Jammeh supporters.
Kandeh’s spokesman Essa Jallow told AFP: “Mr Kandeh pulled a lot of votes from the ruling party because he was part of them and has a good inside knowledge of the party.”
Serving as a national assembly member for the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) for 10 years, Kandeh was a well-known face that APRC members frustrated by Jammeh could trust.
The coalition united a previously weak and divided opposition that joined forces after the jailing of several important figures in the United Democratic Party (UDP) in July.
One of eight coalition party leaders, Isatou Touray suspended her own bid for the presidency in the belief a united front was the only way to win.
“Seeing the coalition coming together, all the difficulties that they are having, it raises hope, addressing that feeling of fear the state has instilled in people,” she told AFP.
Several interviewees told AFP they didn’t necessarily support Barrow but wanted Jammeh out at all costs, seeing the coalition as the best way to achieve it.
Ethnic fault lines
In July, Jammeh made a serious mistake by saying he would “wipe out” the Mandinka people, The Gambia’s largest ethnic group, adding he would put them “where even a fly cannot see them”.
Jammeh is from the minority Jola people.
The comment was condemned as “public stigmatisation (and) dehumanisation” by the United Nations Special Adviser on genocide, Adama Dieng, who said it was an incitement to violence.
In addition, third party candidate Kandeh polled well among the Fula ethnic group, to which he belongs.