The Gambia’s critical moment

Gambian President Adama Barrow
Gambian President Adama Barrow must decide whether to step down after this year, as agreed with his coalition partners, or to serve out his five-year term (source: dpa)
  • Gambia’s new president has taken positive economic and political steps
  • It will take time before ordinary Gambians reap the benefits of those reforms
  • The country is in a fragile position, where several factors could lead to instability

For 22 years, The Gambia was under an authoritarian regime: a dictatorship sustained by patronage and state violence. Though nominally “democratic,” the country’s elections – sometimes held more freely, sometimes less – were, more than anything, a ritual designed to legitimize the government.

The 2016 ballot, however, was different: President Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office. The Gambia suddenly became an exception in Africa, where dictators seldom leave power through conventional methods. President Jammeh’s defeat was the result of a specific combination of factors.

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