He came into power in the most dramatic way. A month before the elections on December 1st 2016 his chances of defeating the dictator and unseating him from power were almost next to zero. The trend especially in Africa was that dictators don’t lose elections they preside over. The international community had no hope of Jammeh being defeated through elections he controls in every sense of the word. But something remarkable happened, the Gambian people from every corner of the world were determined to end the dictator’s reign and the voters were ready to exercise their power at the ballot box.
Jammeh had managed to isolate himself from every major economic power in Africa and around the world. He had made enemies almost with every nation that his government had relied on indirectly. He had insulted Gambia’s closest allies who had held economic packages and bilateral technical aid to Gambia. He was a damaged good and Gambia was now placed on the international community’s economic and political emergency radar. No nation wanted him in power and were just waiting for the Gambian people to exercise their power to remove their dictator from power either through elections or by force.
It was on this background that Barrow and the coalition went to elections with dictator Jammeh. While the whole world waited for him to be re-elected so they can condemn him and continue to withhold economic aid, they were shocked with the election results in Gambia on December 2nd. For the first time in African political history, a dictator has been defeated through the battle box using his very own system of rigged elections. His subsequent rejection of the results was too little too late. No one would buy his excuse that the elections were rigged and therefore the whole world rallied for the Gambian people and demanded Jammeh to leave. ECOWAS and the United Nations intervened to put pressure and convinced Jammeh to leave peacefully.
President-elect Barrow became the darling of the sub-region and the world. The Gambian people had made history as the smallest nation that defeated a dictator through the ballot box without bloodshed. The International community were trilled on how Gambia did it peacefully and their template became an instance case study for peacefully ousting dictators using their own rigged system. World leaders couldn’t wait to visit the new President-elect and lend their support to little Gambia from the clutches of tyranny. Human rights organizations congratulated the Gambian people and also expressed their support to the new incoming government.
It was clear at this point that world economic powers and all nations around the world were ready to come to Gambia’s rescue politically and economically. It was a matter of Gambia’s new leaders taking advantage of the situation and rally resources to dig Gambia out of it’s economic and political mess. The new leaders had one of the strongest cases to make to the International community to not only get debt relief or interest reduction but massive economic package in grants to boost Gambia’s tiny economy. Gambia’s next door neighbor Senegal, ECOWAS and the African Union were all on standby to help Gambia. The Barrow government had to scramble to put together a government without strongly appealing to the International community for technical assistance. They would have had technical advisers from the United Nations, the European Union and ECOWAS to put together a strong foundation backed by International resources to help Gambia have a good start.
One of the major mistakes or miscalculations the new government made was to think that the problem in Gambia was exclusively yahya Jammeh and his repressive system. The new government was never prepared for the challenges and never had a complete grasp of the economic mismanagement and deterioration of the state in Gambia. Almost every institution in the Gambia particularly the civil service and public corporations were on the verge of failure. The challenge was greater than just putting together a governing structure from two decades of economic destruction and political isolation.
The transition government had the right mindset when they initially put together a think tank group to advise the government and put together a commission of inquiry to unearth the massive economic mismanagement and looting by Jammeh and his government. These two institutions should have been a catalyst to put together a strategic economic blueprint to ask for massive economic package from the International community. The think tank would have been responsible for putting together a strong economic case while the commission of inquiry findings would be used to justify to the International community why Gambia needs a massive rescue package in millions if not billions of dollars to help save the country. The opportunity to engage the international community and harness Gambia’s massive economic brain drain was still visibly available during the honey moon period. This is a rare opportunity Barrow and his new government failed to take advantage of while they put back together the pieces.
However, lack of experience and fear of being branded as a retaliatory government in the eyes of the international community some how undermined the new government’s ability to take advantage of two decades of political repression. Yahya Jammeh’s two decades of human rights abuses are a political gold mine for the government which they don’t seems to take advantage of. By demonstrating that Jammeh emptied Gambia’s coffers with gross economic mismanagement, this administration could have made a strong case to not only go after Jammeh’s looted assets but win over hearts and minds of major donors.
On a final note, many of us have been advocating for the Barrow government to call for an international donor conference. Gambia could have easily harnessed economic ties with over a hundred countries to come to its economic rescue. The $225 Million Euros the European union pledged and the additional millions from the United Nations gave the government a moral booster. Compare to the what other resources the government could get from other international donors, this would have given them a solid start. If the finance minister were to follow through on a proposed donor conference, Gambia could have received massive economic grants from individual development partners. The idea that the Barrow government will continue to rely on International loans to fund it’s programs and projects shows the miss-opportunity the government failed to take advantage of. Gambia is already heavily indebted to a level no nation can sustain. A strong case of debt forgiveness or boost in technical aid from major partners could have been a great source of revenue for the government. The economic and political isolation of the Gambia for two decades is a golden opportunity this government can still harness. Resorting to operating a bankrupt country as a normal government is failure to exploit Gambia’s political misfortune under Jammeh. A donor conference could still go a long way to help the country but it appears that the government has not been able to put together such a conference. The longer they wait the more they will look like any other normal government.