The World Today for December 02, 2021


The Politics of Atonement


In 2017, after ruling the Gambia for 22 years, former dictator Yahya Jammeh went into exile in Equatorial Guinea after neighboring countries sent troops to enforce the election that resulted in the victory of current President Adama Barrow.

Jammeh “orchestrated the crimes of mass killings and raped innocent mothers and daughters, and fathers and sons for 22 years,” the BBC explained. A Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission is now examining those crimes.

That history is one reason why many Gambians became angry with Barrow when he announced that he had reached a deal with Jammeh’s former political party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction. The deal is apparently a means for Barrow to gain votes for the Dec. 4 presidential election after he fell out with the leaders of his old party, the United Democratic Party, according to African Arguments.

But critics wonder if Barrow is seeking Jammeh’s help in his reelection bid, perhaps with a promise of pardoning the former president before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission can render its judgments.

Barrow faces six candidates in what is shaping up to be a tough race, if only because of the economic catastrophe of the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reported. The incumbent’s chief rivals include Ousainou Darboe, the head of the United Democratic Party, Essa Mbye Faal, the head of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission and Mama Kandeh, who has hosted video feeds of ex-president Jammeh at his political rallies.

Barrow had warned Jammeh not to interfere in the elections. But the former president ignored his successor’s order – possibly because Jammeh was not necessarily acting illegally, noted the National Interest magazine. As Al Jazeera wrote, Jammeh recently appeared virtually at a Kandeh event, saying the candidate would bring “free education, free medical care for all Gambians…Gambia will be developed to a point where it will be one of the most developed countries in the world.”

Other presidential candidates include a Rasta Internet engineer running on a platform of legalizing marijuana, Deutsche Welle reported, as well as Jaha Dukureh, an activist who helped achieve a ban on female genital mutilation in The Gambia, the Guardian reported.

Barrow’s critics claimed that he has not cooperated with the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission to investigate the former president’s misdeeds. In running for reelection, Barrow also alienated voters by reneging on his initial promise to serve as a transitional leader after Jammeh’s departure.

It might sound like The Gambia hasn’t come far since it ousted its dictator. That would be false. These days, comedians poke fun at presidential candidates and journalists write without fear. All that would have been unthinkable five years ago, the BBC noted.

Barrow helped bring that democracy to The Gambia. Now, democracy might help usher him out.

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