The Gambia

Executive Summary

The Gambia’s constitution enumerates a full range of provisions and assurances for a multiparty democratic republic. In 2016 Adama Barrow, the candidate of a coalition of seven political parties, defeated incumbent president Yahya Jammeh in what international observers deemed a peaceful and credible election. After initial acceptance of the results, the former president subsequently rejected them, claiming voter fraud and irregularities. This led to a six-week political impasse that was resolved largely through peaceful regional and international intervention, including by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member countries. President Barrow was officially sworn into office in January 2017 in Dakar, Senegal, amid security concerns due to his predecessor’s refusal to accept the election results. In February he was sworn into office again in Gambia after the political impasse with the former president was resolved. In the April 2017 parliamentary elections, the United Democratic Party (UDP) won 31 of the 53 seats contested. International and domestic observers considered the parliamentary elections to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. ECOWAS military personnel remained in the country at the invitation of the president.

Human rights issues included harsh and potentially life threatening prison conditions; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; and child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute or punish some individuals who committed abuses. Nevertheless, impunity and the lack of consistent enforcement remained problems.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election in 2016, in which Adama Barrow, the candidate of an opposition coalition, defeated Yahya Jammeh, the incumbent. The election was largely peaceful and considered credible. The defeated incumbent initially accepted the results, before declaring them “null and void,” alleging irregularities in the process. This led to a six-week political impasse before Jammeh dropped his claims and went into exile, bowing to regional and international pressure and the threat of military force from ECOWAS, the member states of which massed soldiers on the Gambia’s borders. The country also held legislative elections in April 2017 that were described by domestic and international observers as mostly free and fair. Mama Kandeh, leader of the Gambia Democratic Congress rejected the results, claiming to have evidence that would expose the unfairness of the entire process. Kandeh, however, did not provide any evidence to substantiate his claim.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Evidence suggested cultural constraints limited women’s participation in the political process; men greatly outnumbered women in the cabinet and parliament.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future