Author : Chido Mutangadura
Publication site : Institute for Security Studies
Type of publication : Article
Date of publication : October 2021
In a shocking political about-turn, Gambian President Adama Barrow has joined forces with the country’s former ruling party ahead of the December 2021 elections. Barrow’s surprising new ally – the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) – was headed by former president Yahya Jammeh until his exile in 2017. Jammeh had refused to accept Barrow’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections that ended his 22-year rule.
The alliance has angered survivors of human rights abuses committed while Jammeh was in office. In 2017 Barrow set up the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) to investigate these atrocities, promote national reconciliation and advise the government on prosecutions, amnesty or reparations for the accused.
Instead of honouring the process he started, Barrow’s latest political maneuvering comes just weeks before the TRRC’s third attempt to submit its final report to him. Many hoped the commission’s task of compiling 16 volumes of reports dating back to 1994 would be the first step to ending impunity by prosecuting crimes committed under the previous government.
Can Barrow juggle the new alliance and still deliver on his electoral promise to see justice done for Jammeh-era violations? His political balancing act comes after a fallout with the allies who helped him achieve his historic victory over Jammeh in 2016. The United Democratic Party (UDP) had backed Barrow’s campaign as part of the Coalition 2016 (together with six other parties). Barrow vowed that sweeping reforms would follow, including justice for his predecessor’s victims.
Cleavages within the coalition soon emerged when it became clear that Barrow wouldn’t keep his electoral promise of serving only a three-year ‘transitional’ term. The alliance’s collapse became imminent in 2019 when Barrow sacked prominent coalition members from the government, including UDP leader and vice-president Ousainou Darboe. In January 2020, Barrow formed his own party, the National People’s Party (NPP), effectively ending his ties with the UDP.
Gambians are also unhappy over the continued presence of regional forces in the country
Since then, the president has faced increasing resistance in the form of popular dissent. The Three Years Jotna pressure group emerged in 2019 to protest against Barrow’s decision to serve a five-year term. In response, the government banned the movement, labelling it as ‘subversive, violent and illegal.’
Gambians are also unhappy over the continued presence of regional forces in the country. Troops provided by the Economic Community of West African States Mission in The Gambia and Senegal were deployed in December 2016 to pressure Jammeh to concede electoral defeat. Despite efforts to reform the country’s security sector, Barrow’s strained relationship with his security chiefs has compelled him to use regional forces as the presidential guard.
After burning bridges with the UDP, Barrow has become an increasingly isolated leader, struggling to secure a sufficient support base for the NPP. Then in September 2020, APRC members of parliament allied with Barrow’s camp to block the adoption of the draft constitution, which included a two-term limit. This motivated the president to gamble on a formal alliance with the APRC.
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