Adam Valavanis is a former intern with the Africa Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. He received a master’s degree in conflict studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The Gambia has found itself on the brink of a new political crisis, just three years after the dramatic fall of longtime strongman Yahya Jammeh. Last Month, protestors filled the streets of the capital Banjul, demanding President Adama Barrow’s resignation. Barrow originally agreed to stay in power as a transitional authority for three years, stepping down on January 19, 2020. But earlier this year, Barrow began to lay the groundwork for extending his tenure in office. In late December, Barrow formed a new political party, the National Peoples Party, which would allow him to contest next year's presidential election.
Barrow came to power in January 2017, after a surprise victory over Jammeh at the ballot box. Jammeh, stunned by his loss, initially refused to concede to Barrow, forcing the Economic Community of West African States to intervene on Barrow's behalf. Jammeh then fled to Equatorial Guinea, where he resides today.
Betrayed by his refusal to honor their agreement, the coalition of parties that supported him in the 2016 election has begun to turn their backs on Barrow. His team has made it clear that he will remain in office until the 2021 elections. They argue that the agreement in 2016 has no legal basis and since he won the election, he is entitled to serve his full term.
Barrow's time in office has been a mixed bag. His greatest achievement has been the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC), launched in 2018. Since its formation, the TRRC has uncovered many of the abuses of the Jammeh regime, having heard from some of the country's most notorious hitmen. Many observers welcomed the TRRC, viewing it as the start of a new chapter in the country’s political history. The commission is expected to release its final recommendations this year.
While the TRRC has proven wildly popular in the country, issues such as corruption and economic stagnation persist. Barrow had promised to create jobs and repeal Jammeh-era laws during the 2016 campaign, but very little progress has been made to that end. Some Gambians feel disillusioned under the Barrow regime, seeing it as more of the same.
Barrow's broken promises, particularly his decision to renege on his promise to serve just three years and the potential that he seeks reelection in 2021, have stalled efforts to restore public trust in the government. His self-interest is doing long-term harm to consolidating democratic gains in a country long troubled by authoritarianism. Compounding this unease, there has been recent reporting that Jammeh is seeking reentry into the country following his three-year exile.