Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Supporters of the newly elected Gambia's President Adama Barrow tear down posters of the incumbent Yahya Jammeh in Serekunda on December 2, 2016.

MARCO LONGARI/AFP / Getty Images

One of Africa's most brutal and bizarre dictators has suffered a shocking electoral defeat at the hands of a former security guard with little political experience.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, an army lieutenant who seized power in a 1994 coup and dominated his tiny country for 22 years, had vowed to rule for "a billion years." Instead, the country's electoral commission has announced the victory of real estate developer Adama Barrow, leader of a coalition of opposition parties.

Cheering crowds quickly thronged Gambia's streets on Friday, singing, dancing and blowing whistles. The dictator's defeat was a remarkable victory for African democracy, which has been under siege in many other African countries this year as authoritarian regimes crush protests and extend their rule.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Jammeh was an eccentric ruler who claimed to be able to cure AIDS and infertility with his homemade herbal potions. While his secret police jailed and tortured his opponents, he threatened to decapitate gays and ordered the arrest of suspected "witches and wizards." His police have arrested people for failing to show enough enthusiasm for the President when his motorcade drove past. He even banned soccer in the countryside, ordering villagers to focus on farming.

The election result is good news for the Canadian government's campaign to save the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes war crimes and crimes against humanity. Under the Jammeh regime, Gambia was one of three African countries that had announced plans to quit the international court, leading to speculation of a wider African withdrawal. But Mr. Barrow has promised to lead Gambia back into the court.

With its sandy beaches and luxury resorts, Gambia was a paradise for Western tourists, attracting tens of thousands of sun-worshipping Europeans every year. But the vast majority of its citizens lived in desperate poverty, and a growing number have risked their lives to escape. More than 10,000 have fled the country this year alone, braving the dangerous journey through the Sahara and across the Mediterranean to Italy, a route on which many die.

Mr. Jammeh had tried to control Thursday's election by banning foreign observers, shutting down the Internet, sealing borders, halting all international phone calls and arresting journalists and opposition activists. But those tactics failed to prevent his loss. He won only 36.7 per cent of the vote, while Mr. Barrow won 45.5 per cent, according to the election commission.

Opposition parties had formed a coalition with Mr. Barrow as its candidate, and he was greeted by large crowds throughout the campaign. Earlier this year, a growing number of Gambians had joined street protests against the regime.

Human-rights activists welcomed the election result on Friday. "The last two weeks have shown how much Gambians of all parties value free speech," said Sabrina Mahtani, a researcher for Amnesty International.

"There is a huge obligation now for the future administration to transform the human-rights situation in Gambia, freeing political prisoners, removing oppressive laws and entrenching newly found freedoms."

Story continues below advertisement

Many Gambians who had fled their homeland said they were now ready to return. Mbye Njie, a Gambian in exile in the United States, tweeted: "Can't believe I get to go home finally. I get to see my family. Can't stop crying."

Gambia is one of the few African countries where democracy has taken a substantial step forward in recent years. Nigeria last year experienced its first peaceful transition of power in a democratic election, when former president Goodluck Jonathan accepted the victory of his challenger, Muhammadu Buhari.

In another West African country, Burkina Faso, an authoritarian ruler was pushed out of power by protests in 2014.

But in many other African countries – including Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan, Gabon and Zimbabwe – authoritarian rulers have recently extended their power by revising their constitutions, rigging elections or violently crushing peaceful protests.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies