Why Jammeh lost: Gambian leader’s downfall in five points

President Yahya Jammeh, pictured, is looking to the Arab world for support to replace western aid funding to the Gambia, according to critic Sidi Sanneh. Photograph: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

President Yahya Jammeh. Photograph: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

President Yahya Jammeh scored only half his previous box office tally in last week’s election, handing victory to opposition coalition leader Adama Barrow.

But why did Gambians turn against Jammeh after 22 years in power?

Economic crisis

A triple blow has been dealt to the Gambian economy in the last three years, making life close to unbearable for many and sending thousands across the Mediterranean to seek a better life in Europe.

A 2013 drought was followed by the region’s Ebola crisis, which despite never actually touching The Gambia itself scared off tourists who account for 20 percent of the country’s GDP.

This year the Gambian authorities slapped a huge increase on customs fees for trucks entering its territory from Senegal, causing a blockade and cutting the country off from vital supplies for months.

Repression and fatigue

The word heard most often on the streets in connection with Jammeh was “tired”.

Gambians were tired of their country’s descent into isolation due to their leader’s unpredictable behaviour, including the declaration of an Islamic republic in a country with a history of religious tolerance, and its withdrawal from the Commonwealth and International Criminal Court.

The perception that Jammeh simply took over businesses and properties for his personal gain also angered many.

Finally, police harassment and impunity by the security services, especially the National Intelligence Agency that reported directly to Jammeh, fed growing resentment.

Split vote

The opposition coalition pulled in 45.54 of the vote, while Jammeh took 36.66 percent.

But third party candidate Mama Kandeh, a former ruling party MP standing for the Gambian Democratic Congress (GDC), pulled in a significant proportion of votes (17.80 percent), largely from typical Jammeh supporters.

Kandeh’s spokesman Essa Jallow told AFP: “Mr Kandeh pulled a lot of votes from the ruling party because he was part of them and has a good inside knowledge of the party.”

Serving as a national assembly member for the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) for 10 years, Kandeh was a well-known face that APRC members frustrated by Jammeh could trust.


The coalition united a previously weak and divided opposition that joined forces after the jailing of several important figures in the United Democratic Party (UDP) in July.

One of eight coalition party leaders, Isatou Touray suspended her own bid for the presidency in the belief a united front was the only way to win.

“Seeing the coalition coming together, all the difficulties that they are having, it raises hope, addressing that feeling of fear the state has instilled in people,” she told AFP.

Several interviewees told AFP they didn’t necessarily support Barrow but wanted Jammeh out at all costs, seeing the coalition as the best way to achieve it.

Ethnic faultlines

In July, Jammeh made a serious mistake by saying he would “wipe out” the Mandinka people, The Gambia’s largest ethnic group, adding he would put them “where even a fly cannot see them”.

Jammeh is from the minority Jola people.

The comment was condemned as “public stigmatisation (and) dehumanisation” by the United Nations Special Adviser on genocide, Adama Dieng, who said it was an incitement to violence.

In addition, third party candidate Kandeh polled well among the Fula ethnic group, to which he belongs.

In this article:
Yahya Jammeh
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  • Alpha Dinni Thanni

    ,,,,,,,,,,, A BIG FOOL ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, an end to a DISASTER that befell Gabon . Other African countries should do away with his LIKES in our continent.

  • Lemmuel Odjay

    I have met quite a few Gambians in the Diaspora and all of them without exception loathe Yahya Jammeh. They claim he has entrenched a system of tribalism in the country that had firmly divided Gambians along ethnic lines. He had chased most Gambian intellectuals out of the country in order to entrench his reign of tyranny over the country. I was surprised to learn that Jammeh had not only been defeated in the election but that he had surrendered to the victor. For many young Gambians, life without Jammeh in power could be traumatic, while this event signals an opportunity for exiled Giambians, usually educated, to return from exile. Jammeh’s story is another sad tale of Africa’s sit tight heads of state. Thankfully, they are being replaced with little or no resistance coming from them, unlike in the past when such events were occasioned by bloodbath.