The world has seen another political bombshell – and this time it is in Africa!
It almost feels too good to be trueOpposition coalition member
Businessman Adama Barrow has scored a shock election victory in The Gambia, defeating its longtime president who had vowed to stay in power for “a billion years”.
For the last 22 years, Gambians have been ruled with an iron fist by Yahya Jammeh.
But the authoritarian leader has now formally conceded defeat, confirming that he won’t contest the result announced by the Electoral Commission.
Celebrations erupted in the streets of the capital Banjul, a normally sleepy seaside city whose white beaches lined with palm trees are a draw for European tourists.
Gambians shouted: “We are free. We won’t be slaves of anyone”. Some waved the Gambian flag and opposition party signs.
Earlier this week, Jammeh said that his “presidency and power are in the hands of Allah and only Allah can take it from me”.
Thursday’s vote was a rare show of defiance against a leader who human rights groups say crushes dissent by imprisoning and torturing opponents.
“I never in my dreams believed he would concede. It almost feels too good to be true,” said Ramzia Diab, an opposition coalition member who fled to neighbouring Senegal after receiving death threats.
It is unclear whether Jammeh, who seized power in a coup in 1994, will insist on some kind of immunity for alleged abuses under his rule in the tiny West African country – a former British colony which he declared an Islamic Republic last year.
The man who defeated him has pledged to revive the economy, amid poverty and unemployment that push thousands of Gambians to flee to Europe in search of a better life.
Barrow, a real estate developer who once worked as security guard at retailer Argos in London,
has also vowed to end human rights abuses and to step down after three years as a boost to democracy.
Gambians had voted on Thursday amid a total blackout of the internet and all international calls, and with land borders sealed. European Union observers were barred and only a small team of African Union observers came.
But Barrow somehow managed to unite and galvanise Gambia’s opposition for the first time since Jammeh took power in the country of 1.8 million people.
A peaceful change of power in Gambia would be a welcome surprise for African democracy at a time when many of the continent’s leaders have been rigging polls, fiddling with constitutions to extend their terms in office and cracking down on peaceful protest.