The Gambia’s Election and Communication Blackout

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Today, The Gambia is going to the poll to elect a new president. There are three presidential candidates, mainly the incumbent President Yahya Jammeh of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Reconstruction, Adama Barrow of the Independent Coalition of parties, who is the sole candidate for the coalition of opposition parties and Mamma Kandeh, of the Gambia Democratic Congress. However, many observers believe the main contest will be between the president and Mr. Adama Barrow.

With an extremely long queue at many voting stations outside of the capital, Banjul, the very high turnout of voters this year appears unusual for a country that has known only two presidents since independence from the UK 51 years ago; many political observers are therefore watching the poll with keen interest.

For the first time in his fifth term in office, since he came to power 22 years ago, President Jammeh is facing not only a strong, credible opponent, he is contesting against a candidate backed by most of the opposition. That makes the race very competitive and interesting. Despite his confidence to win the election and the prediction of “the biggest landslide in the history (of The Gambia)” victory, some believe the present election could end President Yahya Jammeh`s grip on power. Yet, others predict violence before or after the result of the election. However, President Jammeh has called for peace and warned against violence. Meanwhile, in a move seriously criticised by opponents and many human rights activists, the government blocked internet communications and international calls including online messaging services, such as WhatsApp and Viber, several weeks prior to the election. The government claimed the move was to prevent election violence. However, others believe the aim is to secure a political advantage for the president through an indirect crackdown on the opposition, using the ban on communication and yet unfair domination of state media. By blocking internet communication and online messaging services and allowing limited communication during the election, opponents claim, the authorities have systematically denied the Gambians their rights to peacefully express their views on the outcome of the presidential election.

While President Yahya Jammeh`s supporters praised him for bringing peace and stability in the country as well as introducing free education and affordable health services in The Gambia, others rejected that and insist that schools and hospitals in the country have little or no books and medical supplies. Furthermore, opponents of President Yahya Jammeh accuse him of being allergic to democracy and opposition. They claim that the president has dictatorship tendencies and that country would do better economically and politically in the hands of a good leader.

Regardless, with the country`s seductive beaches, cheap cost of living, coupled with low-cost flights, The Gambia has become an attractive destination for many European and American tourists. Others believe the country would just do better if well governed. Perhaps the result of this election could decide what the Gambians want for their country. The world is watching closely.