The Gambia

Executive Summary

The Gambia’s constitution enumerates a full range of provisions and assurances for a multiparty democratic republic. Human rights organizations and opposition parties, however, claimed the government repeatedly took steps to restrict the democratic space. In 2011 voters reelected President Yahya Jammeh to a fourth term in a peaceful, orderly election; however, international observers considered it neither free nor fair. President Jammeh’s party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), continued to dominate the political landscape, winning an overwhelming majority of national assembly seats in the parliamentary elections in 2012 and local assembly seats in local elections in 2013. Six of the seven opposition parties boycotted or otherwise did not participate in both the National Assembly and local government elections to protest government intervention and intimidation of opponents.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. The regime responded with excessive force to peaceful public protests on April 14, April 16, and May 9. More than 70 supporters of the United Democratic Party (UDP) were arrested; several were beaten and tortured during the three protests. Thirty of the detainees were convicted on July 20 and July 21, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Two of the detainees died in custody.

During a period of political crisis, President Jammeh first accepted, and then rejected, the results of a December 1 presidential election in which he was defeated by Adama Barrow, the candidate of a coalition of opposition parties, in what international observers assessed to be a fair and democratic vote. On December 9, Jammeh declared that a new election would be conducted, and during the month he authorized three petitions challenging the election results in the Supreme Court. Jammeh refused to leave power despite visits by the UN special representative of the secretary general for West Africa and the Sahel and two high-level Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) negotiating teams. Several individuals wearing T-shirts with the slogan “#Gambia has decided” were arrested between December 9 and the end of the year. The military occupied the headquarters of the Independent Electoral Commission on December 13. In December Jammeh also refused the requests of several local religious, professional, nongovernmental, and civil society organizations that he hand over power peacefully to President-elect Barrow.

The most serious human rights abuses reported included torture, arbitrary arrest, and prolonged pretrial and incommunicado detention; enforced disappearances of citizens; and government harassment and abuse of its critics. Officials routinely used various methods of intimidation to retain power.

Other reported human rights abuses included a corrupt and inefficient judiciary; poor prison conditions; denial of due process; restrictions on privacy and freedoms of speech, press, and assembly; corruption; violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); early and forced marriage; trafficking in persons, including child prostitution; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and child labor.

The government enacted laws banning FGM/C and early and forced marriage and 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 constitution and law provide the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; however, citizens were unable to exercise this ability fully in the 2011 presidential election due to government intimidation of voters and ruling party control of the media. The country held generally peaceful national assembly elections in 2012 and local government elections in 2013. The country has an independent electoral commission (IEC), but the president appoints members in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission and the Public Service Commission. The current members of the commission have all exceeded their terms in office.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2012 voters elected members of the National Assembly. Six of the seven opposition parties boycotted the voting after the IEC refused to accept demands they had submitted, including for a postponement of the election. President Jammeh’s party, the APRC, won 43 seats, the opposition National Reconciliation Party (NRP) one seat, and independent candidates four seats. In August 2015 the NRP won another seat in a by-election in the Lower Saloum constituency, following the president’s dismissal of the APRC incumbent, Pa Malick Ceesay.

During local elections in 2013, independent candidates won 10 of the 45 wards in which they competed. The ruling APRC party and the NRP were the only parties that participated. Incumbent mayor of Banjul Samba Faal (APRC) lost to independent candidate Abdoulie Bah by a wide margin. In April 2013, before the election, the APRC expelled Bah from the party, citing “manners incompatible with the Party’s code of conduct.” Bah then decided to run as an independent and focused on the poor state of roads in Banjul.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The APRC held 42 of 48 elected seats in the National Assembly and continued to maintain tight control over the political landscape. An additional five seats were filled by presidential appointees. APRC membership conferred advantages, such as expediting government transactions, facilitating access to certain documents, and securing employment contracts. There were eight opposition political parties. In May 2015, six opposition political parties jointly presented a set of 13 proposals and demands for electoral and constitutional reforms before the commencement of a new electoral cycle in 2016. Neither the IEC nor the government met with opposition parties to address the proposals before the elections were held. IEC chairman Alieu Momarr Njai addressed one of the 13 concerns when he revitalized the Interparty Committee to serve as a forum for dialogue and cooperation. President Jammeh’s statement against members of the Mandinka ethnic group limited their rights for political participation. For example, during a June 3 political rally in Talinding, Kanifing Municipal Council, the president reportedly threatened to kill members of the Mandinka tribe, the country’s largest ethnic group (constituting 42 percent of the population). He reportedly said, “I will wipe you out and nothing will come out of it,” and “Anybody who dares to demonstrate, go ahead and see what will happen.”

Participation of Women and Minorities: Observers noted there were cultural constraints on women’s political participation. There were four women in the 53-seat national assembly: three elected and one nominated by the president. At year’s end there were five women in the 21-member cabinet, including the vice president. Of 1,873 village heads, only five were women.

No statistics were available on the percentage of ethnic minority members in the legislature or the cabinet. The president and many members of his administration are from the minority Jola ethnic group.

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