The Gambia, little Gambia that one of my Ghanaian friends calls “Gambia Village” has done it to the collective delight and admiration of most Africans. Determination, mass mobilization, and grassroots engagement are the watchwords. Above all, a sustained and relentless push back from the diaspora Gambians, who for the longest time have refused to be silent about the oppression in their native land. They were called ‘Cyber/Keyboard Warriors’, but through their sustained campaign, they showed that the pen (keyboard in this case) is mightier than the sword (guns in this case).
In Africa, we are accustomed to corrupt leaders and corrupt systems that are sustained by brute force, intimidation, torture and extra judicial killings. The cycle only changes with another military coup and a then the repeat button is hit again. With the exception of very few countries, we as a people do not see hope in the democratic process for instituting change. With the state machinery at their disposal, incumbents hardly ever lose elections in Africa, and so the citizens have resigned their fate to enhancing the status quo through voter apathy, but in fact people power always reigns supreme if unity is sought.
The Gambian experience is unique in that regard. Here was a man who overthrew a democratically elected government and set the stage for self-perpetuation which lasted 22 years. With the state machinery fully at his disposal, dissent was entirely suppressed, people with political capital and popularity banned from contesting elections under the guise of preventing the ‘old guard’ from assuming power and bringing back the corrupt old ways, or simply claiming age limits as a constitutional, rubber stamped by his ‘national assembly’. With the electoral commission fully sponsored by the state and the constitution reformed to eliminate term limits and institute simple majority as rule, with a divided opposition and a very short (few days) political campaign window, the stage was set for repeat wins at the polls. And so it was until this year (2016), when with immense pressure from the citizens, especially the diaspora Gambians that opposition unity was achieved.
With the odds stacked against them in every way and a total media blackout, the online radios took the airwaves, the voice and SMS call apps (WhatsApp and Viber), Facebook and Twitter, were used to set up ‘command centers’ and information exchange platforms. Calls for funding were constantly sounded and most importantly the need to not be intimidated but to get out and vote. All these efforts, coupled with the opposition caravans on the ground doing house to house calls, literally; culminated in a shock defeat for a 22 year entrenched dictator.
The Gambia was dealing with a dictator skilled at his trade. He unilaterally decided to rescind the country’s membership of both the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court (ICC), declared the country and ‘Islamic Republic’, and was actively campaigning to wrench sovereignty from the people and reside it in himself by declaring the country a monarchy. Many observers saw this election as the last election in The Gambia prior to the declaration of a monarchy by Yahya Jammeh.
But the Gambian people, emboldened by the sacrifices of the main opposition party leader and his executive, as well as countless other Gambians, fearful of a new mandate that could see the country slide down the path to civil strife with the president’s utterances against the largest ethnic group; the Mandinka, that many saw as insults, they came out in droves to declare their dissatisfaction with the status quo. With a resounding NO, they declared their determination to end tyranny. This, with a steady, brave and united leadership saw the defeat of a tyrant unwilling to let go of power no matter the cost.
To this generation and the upcoming generation of Gambian, no one can convince them that their vote does not count. The greatest achievement of all these efforts was the unity of purpose and the political awakening of a generation. With this win, the Gambia is set to never allow any leader to overstep his or her mandate ever again, people power is real and when harnessed, it brings about lasting positive change.
In little Gambia, the will of the people shall rule henceforth, for the vanguards who fought such a hard battle are watching. The Smiling Coast smiles again and with that beaming smile, every African nation whose citizens are forced to submit to the whims of a tyrant can see hope and every tyrant should see an example of what an emboldened people, determined to reclaim their sovereignty are capable of.