GAMBIA DECIDES

Africa’s strongmen rushed to congratulate Trump but not Gambia’s democratic ouster of its 22-year leader

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

The surprise presidential win of a real estate agent and political novice over Gambia’s leader of 22 years has the country, and many on the continent, celebrating. Gambia’s longtime leader, Yahya Jammeh, who once promised to rule for “one billion years,” conceded the presidency to Adama Barrow, after electoral officials announced results of the Dec. 1 poll last week.

Gambians took to the streets, dancing and tearing down posters of their former leader. Observers elsewhere quickly hailed the election as a win for democracy on a continent that seems to be increasingly under the sway of leaders intent on holding on to power.

There’s one conspicuously silent corner. Barrow, who returned to Gambia in 2006 to start a property business after studying and working as a security guard in London, has not received congratulations from several of his fellow African state leaders.

Among the silent are Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, who issued a controversial constitutional amendment last year to continue for a third term in office; Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 30 years; Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, who aims to stay in office for another 17 years; and Gabon’s Ali Bongo, who recently extended his family’s nearly half-century rule of the country. In contrast, all of these leaders came out to heartily congratulate Donald Trump on his win in November.

In fact, few of the continent’s 11 longest-serving leaders have said anything about Gambia’s election. (Angola’s president of 37 years, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, has said that he will step down next year.)

Paul Biya, president of Cameroon, issued a congratulatory message to Barrow on Dec 5.

The only other two leaders that have publicly congratulated Barrow are Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, who unseated Goodluck Jonathan last year, and Ghana’s John Dramani Mahama, who faces reelection in an upcoming presidential poll.

Sign up for the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief — the most important and interesting news from across the continent, in your inbox.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search