The prospect of another stolen election by the flamboyant President Yahya Jammeh took a surprise turn this week when the Gambian leader calmly accepted his defeat at the hands of opposition leader, Adama Barrow.
In a concession speech broadcast on state TV, Mr. Jammeh declined to contest his loss.
“I told you, Gambians, that I will not question the outcome of the results and will accept it,” he said. “I did not wish to contest or find out why (some) did not vote for me. I leave that with God.”
Only days before, President Jammeh had confidently predicted that he would rule for a billion years.
In fact, Jammeh was among those leaders disparagingly called “presidents for life”. Despite constitutional mandates restricting their years in power, these leaders have extended their terms indefinitely. They include in a partial list: President Paul Biya of Cameroon, holding power since 1982, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda since 1986, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe since 1980, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea since 1979.
Mr. Jammeh seized power in a coup in 1994, and became known for unproven claims to cure AIDS with herbs, for threatening to behead gay people and to kill members of the Mandinka ethnic group “like ants”, and arresting and prosecuting journalists and supporters of the opposition.
In a recent threat against the Mandinkas, he was quoted to say: “All my enemies and Gambia’s enemies will die before the elections. No policeman or soldier will arrest you. You will all die one by one before the elections.”
For this reason, Gambians urged a reporter not to make the common outsider’s mistake of treating their leader as a maverick or eccentric. “Tyrant” was nearer the mark, they said.
Until his victory, Barrow, the new president, was not a household name in The Gambia. He was described as “little-known” even by the local media houses supporting him.
A member of the Fula ethnic group, he was born in 1965, the year of Gambian independence. After studying in the UK, Barrow returned home in 2006 and set up a real estate business.
“Gambians have been suffering for 22 years, he told the BBC, “and we’re ready for change.”
“It is the birth of a new Gambia where we can together as people raise our fists to the sky and say ‘never again shall we experience dictatorship,’” exulted Sheriff Bojang Jr., a Gambian journalist speaking from Dakar, Senegal, where he has lived in exile for the last 15 years.