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Down to the wire: Who will be Gambia's future president?

·5-min read

RFI takes a look at each candidate in The Gambia's presidential election on Saturday, in their own words and those of their supporters.

Adama Barrow

Incumbent president Adama Barrow, after promising to carry out his duties within a transitional three years and then leave office, has worked the full five-year term and is seeking re-election.

Many of his supporters came from other parts of The Gambia for the final rally on Thursday, including Babina Drameh, from Basse, Upper River Region, who explains why Barrow changed his mind about the three-year plan.

“His first three years didn’t work, because of the coalition. Some people behind him were undermining him, says Drameh, referring to the multi-party coalition formed to get former president Yahya Jammeh out of the statehouse.

Others see Barrow as a supporter of those outside Banjul, the capital.

“He has started working in the rural areas, and that makes me proud of him. So many presidents before him only work in the urban areas, and the rural areas don’t have any facilities,” says Tijan Barry from Sukuta.

One of the supporters at Barrow’s final rally who actually comes from Banjul calls him “a man of integrity.” “Barrow has brought freedom to The Gambia. From him we have freedom of speech and democracy,” says Sidia, comparing him to former authoritarian ruler Yahya Jammeh.

A number of political activists who spoke to RFI say that Barrow lost the youth and civil society vote after the revised constitution did not pass, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRRC) report was only given to him a week before the polls.

The report, outlining the human rights abuses carried out during ex-president Jammeh’s tenure, also gives a list of recommendations in the pursuit of justice. The TRRC has not been a campaign point for Barrow, especially after his failed alliance with Jammeh.

Ousainou Darboe

A candidate who has gained a lot of ground is veteran politician and lawyer Ousainou Darboe, who heads the United Democratic Party (UDP).

The former vice president, minister of women’s affairs and foreign minister under President Barrow, Darboe maintains that this is his time in the presidential seat. Although slated to run for president on the UDP ticket, Barrow took his place (with his blessing) while he was in jail for coming out to demonstrate due to the death of activist Solo Sandeng.

“I’m really elated and I’m really excited – for personal reasons, and excited for the Gambian people,” he tells RFI, saying that the repressive laws and systems that were to be changed under Barrow’s tenure will finally be dealt with.

“Gambia’s transition starts with my swearing in, and that transition is really geared towards a system changing, we’re going to ensure that laws that are inimical to good governance are all repealed.”

Darboe bristled under accusations that he, at 73, and other older candidates are not fit to run for Gambia’s top office. “I do not see what age has got to do with ability … because older people not only bring integrity, they bring experience,” he says.

The advent of smart phones and social media has breathed new life into his campaign, according to his advisor Momodou Sabally, a former secretary general of the Jammeh APRC party.

“We have a vibrant youth wing, thanks to whatsapp groups and facebook live, where we can get the information out instead of having it controlled on State Media, like in Jammeh’s time,” he says.

Essa Faal

Front and center on the radio and televisions of Gambians watching the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) was Essa Faal, the former chief prosecutor. The independent candidate tells RFI that he was encouraged to run for office by many who were impressed by his handling of the TRRC.

“If you look around it may not be apparent, because we are a very peaceful people, so the frustrations of the people may not be at the forefront, but people are suffering on a daily basis,” he says, adding that salaries are low and agriculture has been devalued.

“There are things that could start out country looking north, like our abundant rice fields are neglected by the government, where this president has never been to any of these rice fields. This should be the jewels of the country,” he adds.

As for the TRRC report, which was delivered to President Barrow only one week ago, he says that the timing of this handover was also deeply political, to avoid it being a campaign topic.

“The president has all the luxury in the world to never publish the report, until after the elections, and then it becomes a subject matter in a new republic or new presidency,” he adds, saying that Barrow hasn’t mentioned it on the campaign trail.

Mama Kandeh

Candidate Mama Kandeh, officially representing the GDC party, is considered ex-president Jammeh’s proxy in this election. Jammeh, from exile in Equatorial Guinea, has been a key part of the Kandeh machine, addressing rallies via speakerphone, pushing his supporters to vote for Kandeh.

Some fear that if Kandeh is elected, he will invite Jammeh back to the country, and will shelve the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRRC) report. The report lists recommendations for further investigations into Jammeh abuses, as well as lists what measures should be taken in terms of the human rights abuses he carried out or was aware of during his tenure as president.

The GDC is aligned with Jammeh’s splintered APRC party, specifically those who have served in office. The others have put their vote behind Barrow.

Halifa Salah

Elder statesman Halifa Salah, secretary-general of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism party (PDOIS), represents the strategic Serekunda region in the National Assembly, which is also his stronghold. Well-respected by politicians and Gambians alike, Salah, 68, has vowed to be a one-term president if he wins the race.

Participating in the first Gambian televised presidential debate, Salah stressed that healthcare would be one of his priorities, especially in terms of ensuring it would be accessible throughout the country.

Salah says eradicating poverty, injustice and ignorance is his primary agenda.

Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh

The former Gambian aviation chief and leader of the National Unity Party (NUP), Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh has vowed to tackle youth unemployment, which reportedly stands at more than 45 percent.

He stands behind creating more technical education centers in order to teach youths new skills.

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