1. KEEPING THE YOUTH’S HOPES ALIVE
Barrow’s successful first-time bid for the presidency was largely thanks to the participation of the young people in both mobilising support and voting for him. Sixtythree per cent of the Gambian population is under 25 years of age. Most of them had only known one leader: Jammeh. A large number of them have taken to the Mediterranean to reach the shores of Europe in search of greener pastures.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Gambians were the fifthhighest (behind Nigerians and Nigeriens) arrivals in Italy by sea between January and October last year, despite The Gambia being the smallest country in mainland Africa by area and having an official population of just 2 million. Most of them attributed their decision to take the perilous journey to the lack of economic opportunities at home.
The inclusion of young people in the dayto-day affairs of the government will thus be key. Already there are murmurs that the first 11 cabinet appointees comprise mostly old men and just one woman. “If there was one thing ex-President Jammeh taught Gambians in the 22 years of his rule, it was the demystification of the capabilities of women and young people in every sphere of endeavour in his regime,” Rohey Samba, a young Gambian writer and poet wrote in The Women’s Torch , an online paper.
2. JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS OF JAMMEH’S DICTATORSHIP
When Adama Barrow’s victory was announced, 24-year-old Fatima Sandeng shed tears of joy and celebrated with her family in the Senegalese village of Ngekokh, where she spent 9 months in exile after the death in custody of her father, Solo. He was arrested in April last year after leading a rare street protest outside Banjul, calling for electoral reforms. Amateur video footage showed how state security agents beat him and dragged him into a vehicle to take him to the offices of the notorious and feared National Intelligence Agency (NIA). A few days after the arrest, reports emerged that he had died in custody from torture. The government later admitted his death ‘during cross examination’, defending itself by saying that such incidents also happened elsewhere in the world. In exile, Fatima, his second daughter, became a symbol of defiance and during the election campaign, she dedicated her time, with TV appearances and social media posts, to gathering support for the candidacy of Barrow. Now she wants justice for her father.
“I heard a lot of people saying that we need to forgive each other and move on as a nation. I hope they realise that forgiveness cannot be imposed on people, that there must be justice,” Fatima says.
Solo Sandeng’s body wasn’t given to his family for burial and the government hasn’t informed them where he was buried. For Fatima, “those responsible for his death must tell his family what happened to him and they must be held to account”.
Many Gambians who contributed to Barrow’s victory are victims, like Fatima, of the Jammeh dictatorship. Among them are journalists, politicians, security personnel, civil servants and ordinary citizens who were arrested, detained and tortured by security agents. Some in these areas died, while others disappeared without trace. Both victims and their families are seeking justice and President Barrow will be under pressure to bring those responsible to book.
For many other people, healing the wounds of dictatorship will depend on whether or not Jammeh will get away with all the crimes he has allegedly committed. They are worried that the ex-leader’s chances of being tried in a court of law will be reduced by the fact that he’s in exile in Equatorial Guinea, which is not part of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
3. SECURITY REFORMS
Former President Jammeh’s biggest strength was his ability to use the state security agencies to strengthen his grip on power. He had treated the army in particular as his personal property, and used the NIA as agents of torture. During the political crisis when he refused to relinquish power, the army stayed loyal to him. And when he was boarding the plane to exile, military men and women in uniform were at the airport weeping and crying as they waved him goodbye.
President Barrow, at a press conference last month, admitted that the security sector needed a drastic overhaul. A few days later, NIA was renamed SIS (State Intelligence Services), with a new mandate which excludes arresting and detaining people. This is the first step in reforming the institution.
The president is expected to drastically reform the army, perceived by many Gambians as being more loyal to Jammeh than to the nation. Currently, the security affairs of the country are in the hands of the thousands of Ecowas troops who are in the country at the invitation of President Barrow. Their presence will help the new government reform the army without there being a major threat to the peace and stability of The Gambia. The reforms will include the replacement of some top officials.
4. FREEING THE PRESS
Adama Barrow campaigned on a platform of running an inclusive government where every Gambian voice, include dissenting ones, will matter. His ability to listen to the voices of the people will now be sorely tested.
Forty-eight hours after his return from Senegal he pledged: “From today, there is press freedom in The Gambia”. The Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), which did not enjoy freedom during the Jammeh era, Saikou Jammeh, welcomed the president’s pronouncement, calling on the new government to transform rhetoric into action in the interests of transparency and accountability.
Media repression was a key trait of the Jammeh era. Experienced journalists were forced to flee into exile. Now, the new government will face the thankless task of keeping its love affair with the media burning, even while knowing that it will not be long before it becomes the main target of media criticism.
5. THE REFORM AGENDA
Barrow promised during his campaigns to introduce political and legal reforms, key among them the setting up of a two times five-year term limit for the presidency. He will also face a huge task in fighting corruption and nepotism in the civil service.