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The Gambia - Politics

The Gambia became a British protectorate in 1894. It gained independence from Britain in 1965, with Dawda Jawara as Prime Minister. In 1970, The Gambia became a Republic following a referendum and Jawara was elected as President. Jawara and the People's Progressive Party dominated Gambian politics, until 1994, although the country retained a multi-party system, and opposition parties were represented in the small parliament. A coup attempt in 1981 was only put down at the expense of hundreds of people being killed. In the 1980s and the early 1990s the government became increasingly unpopular, largely due to allegations of corruption.

In July 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) seized power in a military coup d'etat, deposing the government of Sir Dawda Jawara. 26-year Lieutenant Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state. The Gambia has suffered from a poor human rights record since the change of regime in 1994. Jammeh targeted opponents and several of his own ministers in recent years, while surviving multiple attempts to remove him from power. Both the commonwealth and the EU have been vocal in their condemnation. Jammeh's initial 4-year program for return to civilian rule 1994 after the coup was widely condemned at home and abroad.

Foreigners should refrain from making political commentary. In The Gambia, it is illegal to speak out against the president. It is even illegal to speak negatively to a photo of the president. Jammeh had long been accused of overseeing a government that imprisons, tortures and sometimes kill its opponents, according to human rights groups.

H.E. Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh was born on the 25th May, 1965 in Kanilai Village which is in the Foni Kansala District, Western Region. His mother's name is Aja Fatou Ashombi Bojang and he is married to the Gambia's First Lady Madam Zineb Yahya Jammeh. She was born in Rabat, Morocco, on the 5th October 1977 to the Guinean Soumah family. He received his early education at Kanilai Primary School, Saint Edwards Primary School in Bwiam, and Gambia High School in Banjul.

In 1983 he passed the General Certificate of Education (GCE 0' Level) with Credits in Geography, English, French, Biology and Physics. Also obtained passes in Chemistry and Oral English. The following year President Jammeh joined what was then the Gambia National Gendarmerie in 1984 and later moved to The Gambia National Army and was commissioned in 1989. He attended the Military Police Officers Basic Course (MPOBC) at For McClellan, Alabama, in the United States of America and in 1994 obtained a Diploma in Military science.

President Jammeh served under various military units in The Gambia National Army. From 1984-1986 he was in the Special Intervention Unit, 1986-1989 the Gendarmerie Training School (Escort Training Instructor); 1989-1990 Presidential Guards (in charge of Presidential Escort); 1991 served as Officer commanding in the Mobile Gendarmerie and in 1992 was Officer Command The Gambia National Army Military Police, up till 22nd July 1994 when the Gambia National Army toppled Sir Dawda Jawara and his PPP administration in a bloodless coup. At the time the Jawara regime was toppled, Jammeh was a Lieutenant. In 1994, Jammeh was promoted to the rank of Captain and in 1996 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel. President Jammeh retired from the army in 1996.

1996 Election

The AFPRC announced a transition plan for return to democratic civilian government. The Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) was established in 1996 to conduct national elections. The transition process included the compilation of a new electoral register, adoption of a new constitution by referendum in August 1996, and presidential and legislative elections in September 1996 and January 1997, respectively.

After a two-year transition period, Jammeh, who is a Jola, the smallest ethnic group in the country, and his colleagues retired from the army and set up the APRC to contest the 1996 presidential election which he won amid widespread allegations of irregularities and fraud. Having denied his desire to stand until late in the day, Jammeh won the presidential elections of September 1996 with 56% of the vote, and his newly formed party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), won 33 of the 45 parliamentary seats in January 1997.

Foreign observers did not deem these elections free and fair. Retired Col. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh was sworn into office as President of the Republic of The Gambia in November 1996. The PIEC was transformed to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 1997 and became responsible for registration of voters and conduct of elections and referenda. Despite the elected government, political stability remained fragile. Few senior ministers retained their posts for long, rumours of coups regularly circulated in the country and the independent media and opposition were regularly harassed for allegedly stirring anti-government feeling.

In late 1999, Behind the Mask also reported that President Yahyah Jammeh of Gambia had "join[ed] the league of African heads of states persistent on declaring homosexuals worse than animals" (Nov. 1999), when he stated in an interview with the BBC that "'I have seen that animals in general behave better than human beings .... [A]mong my animals [the president reportedly keeps a herd of disparate animals], there are no lesbians, no gays or whatever'" (BBC Focus on Africa Oct.- Nov. 1999, 45)

2001 Election

In late 2001 and early 2002, The Gambia completed a full cycle of presidential, legislative, and local elections, which foreign observers deemed free, fair, and transparent, albeit with some shortcomings. President Yahya Jammeh, who was re-elected, took the oath of office again on December 21, 2001. The APRC maintained its strong majority in the National Assembly, particularly after the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the legislative elections. In National Assembly elections in January 2002, Jammeh's APRC party won a huge majority 40 of the 43 elected seats (the remaining 5 seats being nominated by the President), largely owing to a boycott by the opposition due to allegations of malpractice over the electoral register. Jammeh made effective use of government media and funds to ensure victory in the October 2001 presidential elections, with 53% of the vote in the second round against 33% for the main opposition party the United Democratic Party (UDP) led by Ousainou Darboe.

According to Behind the Mask, "a website on gay and lesbian affairs in Africa," sex between men is hidden or secretive because Gambian society is hostile to men who engage in same-sex behaviour, stigmatizes homosexuality, treats it as sinful and criminalizes it (10 Dec. 2002). In March 2003, a religious leader argued that "a more reaIistic" approach to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) would be to engage in a "fight against adultery, homosexuality and lesbianism" (Behind the Mask 17 Mar. 2003). In November 2002, The Independent reported that homosexuals, as well as prostitutes and illegal aliens, were facing a difficult time in Gambia because the Immigration Department had launched "consistent nationwide raids" against them, allegedly to crack down on "the swelling number of foreigners entering the country without proper documents" (25 Nov. 2002).

2006-7 Election

In March 2006 the regime was shaken by an alledged coup attempt, following which 27 people were arrested and the former chief of staff of the army disappeared, having been accused by Jammeh of being behind the coup. Both the Jammeh government and the country itself emerged unscathed and stable from the episode. The Gambian public rallied around Jammeh following the failed coup attempt and, with the groundswell of popular support for Jammeh, the failed plot ensured his re-election in the fall.

Preparations for elections were controversial and the independence of the Independent Electoral Commission was seriously compromised by the dismissal of 3 Chairmen by the President. The opposition coalition (the National Alliance for Democracy and Development), which had undertaken to field a single candidate against Jammeh, split in February 2006. This damaged the capacity of the opposition to mount an effective challenge to Jammeh in the one-round election, which was held on 22 September 2006. Prominent attorney Ousainou Darboe was the nominee of the alliance between the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the National Reconciliation Party (NRP). National Assembly Member Halifa Sallah ran as the candidate of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD).

It was unclear how a Darboe administration would differ from the present administration, except perhaps the likely cessation of blatant human rights abuses. Darboe had not, in this contest, or any previous contests, presented a clear outline of his vision for progress and development in the country. He sometimes gave the impression that he wants the presidency not for what he can do for The Gambia but for what being president of The Gambia can do for him. Sallah's intellectualism was apparent in everything that he said or wrote - his downfall. He talks over the heads of ordinary Gambians, often using complex evaluations and explanations to make even the most mundane point. Even other intellectuals sometimes find it difficult to follow his arguments.

Jammeh's supporters pointed to improvements in education, healthcare, roads, and a relatively good airport as evidence of the progress that President Jammeh has fostered in The Gambia compared to the Jawara regime. His detractors pointed to human rights abuses and the wealth that President Jammeh has amassed while the Gambian people continue to experience persistent problems with electricity and water supply.

President Jammeh was re-elected for a third 5-year term on September 22, 2006 with 67% of the vote. The UDP received 27% of the vote, and instead of boycotting future elections, vowed to take part in the 2007 National Assembly elections. In the January 2007 parliamentary elections the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) won 42 of the available 48 elected seats. In the event, 3 candidates were accepted: President Jammeh, Ousainou Darboe of the UDP and Halifah Salah of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD). President Jammeh won the elections with 6% of the vote to Darboes 27%. The vote was considered by observers to have been free and fair on the day, although the Commonwealth Secretariat noted 'abuses of incumbency' in the lead up to the polls.

Legislative elections were held on 25 January 2007. The two largest opposition political parties, the UDP and the National Reconciliation Party, continued to run as a separate alliance. The ruling APRC won 42 of the 48 elected seats, and President Jammeh appointed five nominated members, including the speaker. The ruling APRC confirmed its overwhelming dominance of the political scene, winning 37 of the 43 elected seats, but the voter turn out was low at 41%.

International observers declared the presidential and National Assembly elections partially free and fair with shortcomings, noting under-age voting, voting by non-nationals, and biased media coverage in favor of President Jammeh. There were reports of security officers demonstrating partisan support while on duty in the days before the January 25 elections. However, observers agreed that both election results represented the will of the people. Opposition parties criticized these irregularities and stated that the APRC did not adhere to the code of conduct in the political memorandum of understanding brokered by The British Commonwealth in 2005. The government arrested members of the opposition and an opposition candidate during the year 2007.

2011 Election

On 25 November 2011, voters reelected President Alhaji Yahya Jammeh to a fourth term in a peaceful, orderly election that was neither free nor fair. President Jammehs party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), continued to dominate the political landscape. There were instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of civilian control. The most serious human rights problem in the country was the governments harassment and abuse of its critics, which resulted in a muzzled press and the death, torture, arrest and detention, and sometimes enforced disappearance, of citizens.

Voters reelected President Jammeh to a fourth term with 72 percent of the vote. The election was peaceful and orderly, and more than 83 percent of voters participated. UDP leader Ousainu Darboe came in second with 17 percent, and independent candidate Hamat Bah received 11 percent. Prior to the election, ECOWAS said its investigations found an opposition and electorate cowed by repression and intimidation. Explaining its decision not to send election observers, ECOWAS added that the preparations and political environment were not conducive to the conduct of free, fair, and transparent polls. Mustapha Carayol, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, characterized the ECOWAS criticism as lies. Other government sources claimed the ECOWAS boycott was the result of a personal dispute rather than based on fact.

The opposition criticized government control of the state-owned media, a shortened official campaign period, use of state resources by the ruling party, and the overt participation in political activity by government officials and members of the security forces. However, the UDP and its alliance partners did not challenge election results in court, claiming that they were not given sufficient time to do so.

President Jammehs party, the APRC, held 42 of 48 seats in the National Assembly and continued to dominate the political landscape. APRC membership conferred advantages, such as expediting government transactions, facilitating access to certain documents, and securing employment contracts.

Gambia launched occasional crackdowns on the country's gays. In a January 2011 speech to army officers, President Jammeh announced he wanted a professional army free of gays and saboteurs. In a 2009 speech before the National Assembly, President Jammeh called homosexual conduct strange behavior that even God will not tolerate. Despite such statements, there were no reported incidents of physical violence against LGBT individuals during the year. There were no LGBT organizations in the country. A 2012 raid at a poolside birthday party in the capital, Banjul, led to the arrests of 18 men, some of whom said they were interrogated and beaten before undergoing a very public trial that destroyed their reputations.

The Irish Times conveyed the point : "Jammehs reign was the stuff of horror, the Dublin-based newspaper wrote. Paranoid, he hunted down hundreds of Gambians on charges of sorcery in 2009, bussing them to secret locations and poisoning them with a hallucinogenic concoction.

2016 Election

Longtime strongman Yahya Jammeh lost Gambia's December 2016 presidential election to businessman and political newcomer Adama Barrow. Jammeh had held onto power since he staged a 1994 military coup that ousted Dawda Jawara, who himself had been president since 1970, just five years after the country's independence from Britain.

Jammeh, who has previously said that with the will of God he could rule for a billion years, has been accused by rights groups of abuses, including killing political opponents and clamping down on journalists and gays. During his reign he swung the country in an Islamic direction, declaring the country an Islamic Republic in 2015.

Jammeh's personality is mercurial -- he can be charming, as he is on the campaign trail, but he can also be ruthless and spiteful, arresting critics from the media and opposition politicians, and firing Ministers and other civil servants for questioning or embarrassing him. He is prone to hyperbole and bravado in his speeches and often makes outlandish remarks such as saying that some coup d'etats are good and that the Gambian people will have to wait at least 30 years before he turns over power.

He was eager to be perceived as an African statesman, but pursued that goal through pomp, pageantry and excess, rather than through substantive achievements. He had no appreciation of the concept of separation of powers and wields his power relentlessly over most branches and agencies of the Gambian government. He had no qualms about asking civil servants to join the APRC and to campaign for him. He has little regard for the Gambian constitution except when he wanted to change it to suit his needs.

The Statement by President Yahya Jammeh on the occasion of the Gambias 49th Independence anniversary 18th February 2014: "Homosexuality will never be tolerated and in fact will attract the ultimate penalty since it is intended to bring humanity to an inglorious extinction. We will fight these vermins called Homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes; if not more aggressively. We will therefore not accept any friendship, aid or any other gesture that is conditional on accepting Homosexuals or L.G.B.T. as they are now baptised by the powers that promote them. As far as I am concerned, L.G.B.T can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhoea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence."

In December 2014, there was an unsuccessful coup perpetrated by Gambian dissidents at the State House. As a result, The Gambian government arrested/detained/questioned countless individuals in an effort to locate conspirators and identify those perceived to be in opposition to the government. The resulting crackdown inspired fear in many Gambians. The government seized the opportunity to arrest those that have taken opposing views. It even arrested family members (including young children) of coup plotters and is known to torture those in custody during interrogation. Over the past several years, politically-motivated arrests have become more frequent and arbitrary, and the government has cracked down on the independent press and others who are seen as opposing the government

Nearly 50 protesters were arrested in April and May 2016, including Ousainu Darboe, leader of the opposition UDP party, and at least 18 other senior members. Two died during their detention. On April 14 and April 16, 2016, a group of opposition members and sympathizers carried out a peaceful demonstration that was violently put down by the government. Several individuals were arrested and at least one opposition member reportedly died while in police custody. Approximately 38 protesters were arraigned before the Banjul High Court on seven counts, including conspiracy, rioting, and incitement of violence. As of late April, the arrested protesters remained in police custody.

Gambian authorities refused the European Union access to observe the 2016 election, raising doubts about how free and fair it will be, although Jammeh promised a credible process. African Union observers were admitted. Eight opposition parties rallied behind businessman Adama Barrow in a bid to end Jammeh's 22-year rule, which activists and diplomats said had been marred by human rights abuses and torture, claims the president's supporters deny.

Gambians voted 01 December 2016 in a presidential election where incumbent Yahya Jammeh, in power since 1994 and criticized for widespread human rights abuses, was running for a fifth consecutive term. About 880,000 Gambians were eligible to vote when more than 1,400 polling stations open. The winner will serve a five-year term. Two candidates, Adama Barrow, the candidate for a coalition of seven opposition political parties, and Mamma Kandeh, of the Gambia Democratic Congress party (GDC), are challenging Jammeh.

The European Union was denied coming into the country to observe the election. Likewise, the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) were not coming to observe the election. Its only local observers who are totally under intimidation and supervision of the government.

Jammeh denied accusations of rigging the election. He has said his victory is all but assured with divine intervention and has warned the opposition against protesting. Our election system is fraud-proof, rig-proof, you cannot rig our elections, he said. Jammeh warned that even peaceful protests will not be permitted after the election.

The head of Gambia's electoral commission said 02 December 2016 that President Yahya Jammeh would concede defeat in the country's presidential election. The announcement came from commission chair Alieu Momarr Njai, who told reporters in Banjul that it's "very unique" that Jammeh would accept defeat after ruling the country for so long. Jammeh, 51, had ruled the tiny West African nation since taking power in a military coup in 1994.

A little known businessman, the 51-year-old political newcomer Adama Barrow was picked by a group of political parties to head the opposition ticket under his United Democratic Party. The electoral commission said Barrow received 263,000 votes to Jammeh's 212,000, giving him a five year mandate in the poor country of some 890,000 people. Mama Kandeh, a third candidate of the only opposition party not to join Barrow's coalition, got 102,969 votes.

Owner of his own estate agency, Barrow was employed at The Gambia's largest property rental firm, and lived in Britain for three and a half years when he was younger. His time in Britain saw him work as a security guard in London, where he developed a love for Arsenal Football Club. A husband to two wives and father of five, he is a self-confessed workaholic, with football one of his few known distractions. "I work 12, 13, 14 hours a day," said the devout Muslim, insisting his faith guides every step of his life, as well as his politics. "If you are a religious man it always influences you," he told AFP in an interview. Long-time President Yahya Jammeh reversed course and said 09 December 2016 that he would not accept his defeat in the 01 December 2016 elections due to irregularities. Gambia's leader of some 22 years, Jammeh announced that he would no longer accept defeat in the elections, plunging the West African country into turmoil with a demand for fresh polls. Jammeh's surprise reversal was certain to spark outrage among the tens of thousands who took to the streets after Adama Barrow was announced the president-elect in the vote, shouting "Freedom!"

Gambian security forces deployed en masse on 10 December 2016 as President-elect Adama Barrow appealed for calm. The African Union called for security forces to remain neutral. Soldiers were in the streets of the capital, Banjul, as Gambians closed down shops in fear of unrest. Gambia's president-elect said that the outgoing leader who now rejected his defeat had no constitutional authority to invalidate voting results or call for another election, and called on Jammeh to facilitate a smooth transition in the interest of the country.

Barrow said the Independent Electoral Commission is the only competent authority to declare a winner. "It has already done so and I am the president-elect," Barrow said. "President Jammeh is the outgoing president. He is to hand over executive powers to me when his term expires in January."

West Africa's regional bloc has threatened to use force in Gambia if the country's longtime leader does not step down in January as scheduled, following his loss in presidential elections. The chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Marcel de Souza, told reporters 23 December 2016 that the bloc has a standby force. "The deadline is January 19, when the mandate of [President Yahya] Jammeh expires,'' de Souza said. "If he doesn't go, we have a standby force, which is already on alert." He said the force should be able to intervene "to restore the will of the people." ECOWAS had chosen Senegal to lead any military operation. Senegal, which geographically surrounds Gambia on three sides, had previously said that military action would be a last resort.

Gambia's electoral commission chairman fled the country 02 January 2017 after he received threats having declared President Yahya Jammeh the loser of the Dec. 1 election. Teranga FM, which translates news from Gambian papers into local languages, was ordered shut by national security officers on 01 January 2017 for unspecified reasons. Teranga FM was taken off the air four times in recent years, and its managing director was charged with sedition in 2015 and has remained imprisoned since then. A second station near the capital, Hilltop radio, was also reportedly closed.





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