Getting Rid Of Jammeh Was Hard; Fixing His Mess Will Be Harder

By Omar Alieu Touray

Gambians have ndured a lot under Jammeh’s 22 year rule, but the level of anxiety that gripped the country in the past 13 months has been unprecedented. In the past 13 months alone, two opposition party members – Solo Sandeng and Solo Krumah – died while in state custody; and Ousainou Dabo, leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), and several members of the UDP executive committee were jailed for protesting against the death of Solo Sandeng. It was also during this period that Jammeh openly took his bigotry to a superior level by calling Mandinkas “foreigners and unbelievers,” accusing Jolas as being “witches,” and deriding Banjulian women as “skin bleachers.”

But typical of dictators, Jammeh came to believe that despite lording it on them, Gambians love him sufficiently to vote for him, and that his control was so unshakeable that he could afford to win in a free and a fair elections. What he failed to recognize was that the heightened level of anxiety and anger has jolted Gambians into action first by bringing the opposition parties around a single candidate and by galvanizing all the stakeholders both at home and abroad into a level of political mobilization that only the power of social media could sustain. The result was a resounding electoral defeat that shocked Jammeh and the people around him. The concession statement of 2 December  2016 was made out of shock – as all those who know Jammeh knew the man making the concession speech was not him. The U-turn made on 9 Devember showed us the Jammeh we all know: the Sheikh, the Professor and the “Babili Mansa”.

With the U-turn and the threat of regional military intervention, anxiety and fear rose to a level that saw Gambian residents (including European tourists) fleeing the countries in their thousands. It was only the considerable military might that ECOWAS displayed from 19 January that made Jammeh realize that it was all over. He therefore decided to leave with all the wealth he could carry with him.

But for all intent and purposes, getting rid of Jammeh may turn out to be the easiest task for the coalition; fixing his mess will be tougher.

APRC supporters will be quick to point to the road networks and school infrastructure that Jammeh has built over the years. In an earlier article, , I indicated the main sources of finance for those roads and other infrastructure projects. They are by no means Jammeh’s largess to the Gambia. In fact, Jammeh’s intransigence in the area of governance and human rights has cost the Gambia a lot in terms of development support that major development partners have withheld.

Jammeh did not only mess up our relations with the outside world; the mess has pervaded all aspects of Gambian life. It ranges from bad governance, economic decline, and low human development (failing health and education systems).

The arbitrary arrests, detention and extra judicial killings, the hiring and firing willy nilly of civil servants, ministers, parliamentarians, judicial officials, army and other security personnel, regional and municipal governors, district chiefs, Alkalolu have been the hallmark of bad governance under Jammeh. But these, together with liberty to manipulate the constitutions do not exhaust the bad governance that Gambians went through.

The poor performance of the Gambia’s economy in recent years has been the subject of a number of reports. Not only has inflation been high (7%), the country’s currency, the Dalasi, has seen a sharp decline against major currencies. According to the Central Bank of the Gambia (CBG), the Dalasi has dropped by 8.8% against the Dollar, 4.4% against the Pound, and 15.7% against the Euro. Budget deficit went through the ceiling in recent years and national debt (both domestic and external) stood above 100% of the GDP (sustainable level is below 40% for countries like the Gambia). In a press statement of June 2016, the Central Bank of the Gambia also reported that the Gambia’s official reserve had dwindled to US$62.24 million, which represented barely 3 months import cover.

Bad governance and economic decline have engendered poor human development as measured by access to quality education as well as average life expectancy. Nothing is illustrative of the poor quality of education than the recent results of grade 12 exams. Out of 11659 candidates that sat to the grade 12 exams in 2016, only 444 (3.81%) students got 5 or more credits. Only 3.32% of the students got 5 or more credits in the previous years. The figures for 5 or more credits for Nigeria for the same period were 53% in 2016 and 39% in 2015.

Although life expectancy in the Gambia has increased from 46 years in 1980 to 60 years in 2015, the country’s human development index remains below the average of countries in the low human development group as well as the average of sub-Saharan African countries as a whole.

Fixing these problems would prove to be the coalition Government’s biggest challenge. Not that Barrow Administration will not have the human and financial resources to address the various difficulties; it is the time required to fix them for which Gambians may not have patience.


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