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Gambian leader's new term darkened by politics, economy

By Laurent LOZANO
Gambia Winner: Adama Barrow waves to supporters on Sunday after his election victory.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)
DEC 7, 2021 LISTEN
Winner: Adama Barrow waves to supporters on Sunday after his election victory. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)

Freshly re-elected, Gambian President Adama Barrow faces the stark early challenge of lowering the political temperature in his fledgling democracy and tackling its economic woes.

Barrow was easily returned to power in Saturday's vote after his first five-year term ended the 22-year dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh.

According to official results, the former property developer notched up 53 percent of the ballot, far ahead of political veteran Ousainou Darboe's 27.7 percent. Turnout was high at 87 percent of the electorate.

But post-election friction is worryingly visible -- and how the candidates and their supporters respond to victory or defeat over the next few days could be crucial.

Clashes broke out hours after opposition leader Ousainou Darboe appealed to his supporters for calm.  By GUY PETERSON (AFP) Clashes broke out hours after opposition leader Ousainou Darboe appealed to his supporters for calm. By GUY PETERSON (AFP)

Late Monday, police used teargas against Darboe followers in the capital Banjul, just hours after he appealed for calm and said he would pursue his grievances against the result in court if necessary.

At the Manjaikunda food market near Banjul, Nima Sagna, a 32-year-old trader, and fellow vendor Abdou Dicko, 36, symbolised some of the lingering antagonisms.

Sagna, who voted for Darboe in the belief that it was time for change, was embittered to hear that Dicko had partied until the early hours to celebrate the result.

Dicko dismissed this -- "she's UDP, she's jealous," he said, referring to Darboe's party.

Jammeh problem

While Barrow won on the strength of his pitch as the candidate of continuity, he faces mounting pressure for action, both from home and abroad.

International partners are pushing for the tiny West African state to push ahead with reforms to strengthen its democracy, including changes to the 1997 constitution that would limit presidential terms.

At home, Barrow has to deal with demands from victims of the Jammeh dictatorship for root-and-branch prosecution of those responsible for years of persecution and abuse.

The Gambia.  By afp (AFP) The Gambia. By afp (AFP)

The litany of crimes was spelt out in a long-awaited report that was handed to Barrow just before polling day.

He has six months to respond and has promised justice, although he has also urged victims to be patient.

Some fear, however, that he will be less than exhaustive, given that his party forged an electoral alliance with Jammeh's. The former dictator was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after losing at the ballot box to Barrow, then a relative unknown.

Economic worries

For many Gambians, the prime concern is the daily struggle to survive.

A sliver of land about 480 kilometres (300 miles) long surrounded by Senegal, The Gambia is one of the world's poorest countries.

About half of its 2.4 million people live on less than $1.90 per day, the World Bank says.

Supporter: A man wears a traditional mask during Barrow's final campaign rally.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP) Supporter: A man wears a traditional mask during Barrow's final campaign rally. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)

The tourism-dependent economy was dealt a severe blow by the Covid-19 pandemic, and rising prices are a worry for many.

Barrow "has a lot to do -- unemployment, electricity, health centres, peace," said Dicko, adding that inflation pressure came from abroad and was not the president's fault.

Essai Njie, a teacher in political science at the University of The Gambia, said that even before the pandemic, Barrow's infrastructure-based economic policies had had little trickle-down benefit for ordinary citizens.

For many Gambians, the big issue is the daily struggle to survive.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP) For many Gambians, the big issue is the daily struggle to survive. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)

Lamine Njie, a 30-year-old carpenter, said he was fed up.

He said he planned to go to Senegal the following day and from there head to the United States.

Gambian leaders "are doing nothing and are eating up the country's money," he said.

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