Democracy is a fragile thing and in Africa, the rise of dictators has dotted the political landscape following coups and military assumption of power, post-independence of several states.
In the Gambia is one of such authoritarian leaders known by his titles, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Awal Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen Babili Mansa. He is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of the Gambia, a position he has held for 22 years.
A president known for harassing and detaining political activists, Yahya Jammeh, has announced his intention to run for a fifth term.
He came into power as a 29-year-old lieutenant in 1994 following a coup d’état that interrupted the reign of the longest serving democratic government and head of state in Africa.
Elected as President in 1996, and subsequently in 2001, 2006 and 2011, following a 2002 constitutional amendment, Jammeh currently portrays himself as a devout Muslim with extraordinary powers, such as the power to cure people of Aids. He also believes that homosexuality threatens human existence and was once quoted as saying that homosexuality was “more deadly than all natural disasters put together”.
“Governing is between me and God Almighty”
The popularity of the eccentric leader has been on the decline in recent years.
On December 30, 2014, President Jammeh’s forces foiled an armed attack by disillusioned soldiers on the presidential palace in the capital Banjul, while he was visiting Dubai.
The soldiers accused of being involved were sentenced to death.
Gambia’s once-open society has diminished, just as the repressive rule of Jammeh has grown–the police, even when only on crowd control duty, are armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
In a move expected to deter opposition, parliament members had voted in favour of a bill that mandated all candidates for the presidential elections pay 500,000 dalasis ($12,740), up from a fee of 50,000 ($1,279) in previous polls-an increment of 10 times the original amount.
However, the incumbent President Jammeh still faces stiff opposition, as other candidates and an unhappy electorate are poised on unseating him. Adama Barrow and Mamma Kandeh are campaigning hard to win the votes of about 1.8 million people in the tiny West African country, come December 1, 2016.
Election observers have questioned the credibility of Jammeh’s past successes; 2001, 2006 and 2011 elections with 53%, 67.3% and 72% of votes respectively. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), refused to endorse his victory and boycotted the 2011 elections, saying that the process was neither free nor fair.
The European Union (EU) has said that it had been refused access to monitor the 2016 elections.
Earlier in the year, there were civil uprisings that revealed the discontent with Jammeh’s rule. The protests resulted in the alleged torturing to death of opposition activist Solo Sandeng and the jailing for three years of most of the members of the main opposition party, including its leader, Ousainou Darboe.
International criticism has been on the increase despite the dictator’s supposed love for the West as he announced Gambia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC), joining the likes of other countries such as Burundi and South Africa. His earlier decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth has increased growing isolation of the tiny nation.
The EU also cut off €13 million of funding, threatening to block another €150 million in response to the violation of human rights in the country.
The current mood in Gambia can be described as fear as opposed to fair, but the electorate seems ready to engage in the process as a means to express their hopes and aspirations, one can only hope the end justifies the means.