CW 49/2021: Democracy on the Test Bench
Press Review 3 December 2021 to 10 December 2021

Elections in Gambia

Incumbent President of Gambia Adama Barrow of the National People’s Party (NPP) prevailed in last Saturday’s elections with about 53% of the vote against his main rival Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party (UDP), who received about 27.7% of the vote. Mama Kandeh of the Gambia Moral Congress (GMC) party got around 12% of the vote. After the announcement of the election results, there were increased protests among opposition supporters. The defeated opposition politicians Darboe and Kandeh announced that they would take legal action against the election results. At the same time, Barrow’s supporters celebrated his second term in office. The election is the first since the overthrow of former head of state Yahya Jammeh in 2016 and is seen as a test for the young democracy. The strong public interest is reflected in the turnout, which according to official figures was 87%. For 22 years, Gambia was ruled autocratically by Jammeh and the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). To this day, the West African state is struggling with the aftermath of the dictatorship: President Barrow is increasingly confronted with demands from the victims of the Jammeh dictatorship, who are calling for a reappraisal of and compensation for the systematic political persecution. The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission appointed by Barrow submitted its report at the end of November and named culprits who are to be legally prosecuted. Barrow also faces major economic challenges: The country’s tourism-dependent economy has been severely weakened by the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to rising food prices. Internationally, Barrow is also under increasing pressure to push ahead with reforms announced back in 2017 to strengthen the country’s democracy. In particular, an amendment to the 1997 constitution is at the centre of the demands, which should, among other things, limit the term of office of the president. The current election has attracted international attention, however, mainly because of the unique way in which the election was conducted in Gambia. To enable illiterate people to participate in the election, voters cast their ballot by throwing a marble into the ballot box. This is marked with the colour and photo of the candidate.


American Democracy Summit with African Guests

From Wednesday to today, Friday, the Summit for Democracy is taking place, a virtual summit organised by the US government to which 113 countries have been invited, including 17 African countries. Among the African states invited are the two Compact with Africa countries Ghana and Senegal, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa. Various African heads of state, including the presidents of Botswana, Malawi and Zambia will speak at the summit, which will focus on curbing authoritarian threats, fighting corruption and promoting human rights. The main aim is to come up with specific and realistic action plans to address the problems and to raise the necessary resources to do so. As recent developments show, the regression of democratic achievements is a global phenomenon. Thus, the summit was of course not an Africa-specific meeting, but US President Joe Biden made it clear that his administration is committed to strengthening its engagement with Africa. In addition to state actors, civil society and media actors also participated in the summit, and they were also involved in the planning in the run-up to the event. Nevertheless, the selection of the invited countries met with criticism, not only with regard to the African continent: in part, it was not clear according to which standards the countries had been invited, as not all countries were to be classified as “free” according to common indexes. The summit is the first of its kind and the start of a year-long campaign by the US government to promote democracy. A second summit is being prepared and is scheduled to take place in presence as early as February 2022.


In other News

On 6 December, Abdulrazak Gurnah received the Nobel Prize for Literature, crowning his literary works on immigration and colonisation. The writer, who was born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, and has lived in exile in the UK for over half a century, is the first author of African origin to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature since the South African J.M. Cotzee in 2003. Receiving the prize from Swedish Ambassador to the United Kingdom, the latter highlighted the jury’s assessments. Abdulrazak’s work was described as “sensitive and uncompromising about the effects of colonialism and the fate of refugees caught between cultures and continents”. At the same time, the author was praised for his “adherence to truth and aversion to simplification”. His latest novel, Afterlives, tells the story of a young boy who has been taken away from his parents by German colonial troops and returns to his village to find his lost parents and sister. With the awarding of the Nobel Prize, the Booker Prize and the Prix Goncourt to African personalities, 2021 was a successful year for African literature.

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