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The Gambia - Politics

Gambia's defeated leader, Yahya Jammeh, flew into exile Saturday 21 January 2017, ending 22 years of strong-arm rule and a political stalemate that brought the West African nation to the brink of a regional military intervention. Jammeh made no statement as he departed the airport at Banjul with his family in an unmarked plane, landing several hours later in Equatorial Guinea. He was accompanied by Guinean President Alpha Conde, who had sought in recent days to negotiate an exit plan. The departure of Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, ends weeks of tension that began when he refused to leave office following his surprise defeat in national elections on December 1. It also averts the threat of military action by a force of 7,000 troops from Senegal and Nigeria who entered Gambia on Thursday to confront Jammeh's military loyalists.

Jammeh agreed Friday 20 February 2017 to relinquish power and leave the country. Yahya's decision came after Guinean President Alpha Conde and Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz arrived together in Banjul early Friday to convince him to cede power and leave the country or face military action.

Jammeh had until midday Friday to hand over power and agree to leave the country or face military action, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said in a statement. We have suspended operations and given him an ultimatum, said Marcel Alain de Souza, head of ECOWAS, adding that if by midday, he doesnt agree to leave The Gambia ... we really will intervene militarily, he added. De Souza said 7,000 troops would be mobilized by Senegal and four other nations, a day after they first crossed into Gambia. Final talks would be led by Guinean President Alpha Conde in the Gambian capital, Banjul.

The leaders of Guinea and Mauritania arrived in Gambia's capital Friday in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to get defeated President Yahya Jammeh to cede power. The United Nations Security Council recognized Adama Barrow as Gambia's new president while longtime leader Yahya Jammeh refuses to give up power. Barrow took the oath of office 19 January 2017 at the Gambian embassy in neighboring Senegal. Following Barrows swearing in, hundreds of Gambians celebrated in the streets of Banjul, cautiously at first, and then gradually in larger numbers as they realised the security forces looking on were not going to open fire. Army chief General Ousman Badjie, who had publicly stood by Jammeh, was seen smiling on the streets and navigating through a mass of jubilant Banjul residents who were shouting and dancing.

The central market in Banjul was deserted 18 January 2017 amid a heavy police presence throughout the downtown area. The National Assembly extended President Yahya Jammehs term by three months under a newly declared state of emergency. Senegalese and Nigerian forces gathered on the border and vowed to take action if Jammeh did not heed a call from West African leaders to step aside for Adama Barrow, the declared winner of the 01 December 2016 election. Barrow, who was in neighbouring Senegal, has insisted he will be sworn in as Gambias third president on Thursday, January 19.

Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries and has had just two rulers since independence in 1965. Jammeh seized power more than two decades ago and his government has gained a reputation among ordinary Gambians and human rights activists for torturing and killing opponents. Jammeh, who took power in a coup in 1994, is notorious for his bizarre and, at times, belligerent behavior. Jammeh was accused of using any and all means at his disposal to repress political dissent in Gambia. His ruthless tactics earned him a reputation as a dictator a reputation he embraced.

Jammeh also claims to have miraculous healing powers. In 2007, he boasted to having cured HIV/AIDS using medicinal herbs and magical incantations. He has also alleged to have successfully treated asthma, epilepsy and infertility, often demonstrating his special abilities which he says he inherited from his father on television.

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.

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 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 remained imprisoned since then. A second station near the capital, Hilltop radio, was also reportedly closed.

Yahya Jammeh and his ruling Alliance for Patriotism, Reconciliation and Construction (APRC) were defeated and forced to step down after 22 years in power. The Gambia celebrated President Adama Barrow's inauguration on 18 February 2017. Tens of thousands of Gambians turned up for the ceremony, including several West African leaders.

The Gambia elects a new parliament on 06 April 2017. The Gambia's first legislative election since the downfall of Yahya Jammeh was expected to inject democracy into a parliament which under authoritarian rule was derided as a rubberstamp assembly. Election observers believe the turnout will be very high. For the first time in many years, people in The Gambia feel that they will be able to change things by casting their ballots. For that reason, if none other, the elections can already be regarded as a success.

The Gambia's electoral system dates back to the colonial era and electoral procedure testifies to its British origins. Gambia's seven provinces are divided up into 53 constituencies. Each constituency is represented by a seat in the national parliament. 239 candidates from nine parties and 42 independent candidates are competing for the 53 seats. The three biggest parties are the APRC, the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC).

Under Jammeh's rule, the APRC used its influence in local affairs to secure votes at the ballot box. In addition, the opposition was repressed which prompted seven of the country's eight parties to boycott the last parliamentary election in 2012. In the new elections, the APRC would find it difficult to win votes and seats outside its traditional strongholds. Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) meanwhile suffered a stunning reversal of fortune, going from 48 seats to just five.

The Gambia's longtime opposition won an absolute majority in parliamentary elections, easily defeating the party of ousted leader Yahya Jammeh, results announced 07 April 2017 showed. Official results announced by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) showed the United Democratic Party (UDP) had won 31 of the 53 available elected seats in the country's National Assembly. Five more seats are appointed by the president to give a total 58 seats in the chamber, giving the UDP a two-seat majority. An expected surge for the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), an upstart party which did not join the coalition, failed to materialise, with the youth-led movement gaining just five seats. Smaller parties who joined the coalition took 11 more seats, and one independent candidate took a seat.

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Page last modified: 09-04-2017 18:56:50 ZULU