The Gambia is a small river country, named after the river which cuts through its heart, the smallest country on mainland Africa, which is entirely surrounded by Senegal on one side and the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean on its western side.
It experienced one of the variety of the now so-called bloodless coups in Africa, when a young military officer, Yayha Jammeh took over power in July 1994, ending the 29 year-rule of Dawda Jawara.
But the most interesting developments, for which I write this submission, of course with the above background of the bloodless coup, would occur 22 years later in December 2016.
For the first time, a democratic election went in favour of the opposition, a coalition of seven political parties, led by the United Democratic Party (UDP).
Its presidential candidate, a man called Adama Barrow, after some futile resistance to the election result by Jammeh finally became the third president of the Gambia.
Interestingly, Barrow had only become the leader of the UDP and its presidential candidate for barely three months, in September 2016, before he was announced as an independent candidate in November, when he won the December 2016 election.
The main and popularly known opposition leader, Ousainou Darboe of the UDP failed to contest the election after his arrest in September 2016.
Coincidentally, I gave the above as one of the scenarios for the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe after the late Morgan Tsvangirai was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, which I called the Adama Barrow scenario.
In this scenario, among many others, as given to the Daily News of 8 October, 2017, there was a possibility that Tsvangirai would not contest in the elections and a totally new opposition candidate from his party would step up to challenge the ruling party Zanu-PF.
I said: “This is what I would call the Adama Barrow scenario because it is like what happened in The Gambia, where an unlikely candidate emerged to lead the opposition coalition and won the presidency, when the known opposition leader couldn’t run.”
In the same story, I weighed that Chamisa would be sellable to the young generation, which is probably the case now with movements such as #generationalconsensus backing him.
Together with the Nigerian coalition which backed Muhammed Buhari in the country’s first democratic power transfer, The Gambian scenario was presented as one of successful examples by analysts, who urged the Zimbabwean opposition parties to enter into a coalition.
The first condition of the Adama Barrow scenario has been fulfilled sadly after Tsvangirai succumbed to cancer and a new opposition candidate, Chamisa equally backed by seven political parties stepped to the challenge.
Just like Barrow, Chamisa’s candidature, equally supported by a seven-party opposition coalition, the MDC Alliance comes just a few months before the 2018 elections, unleashing a wave of support for change with a real chance of even winning the election.
Zimbabwe might fast-track history from November 2017, where Zimbabweans had known just one president for 37 years, into delivering the country’s third president and maiden democratic transition in the forthcoming 2018 election.
Unfortunately, in The Gambia, the military-backed regime of Jammeh tried to block the will of the people only giving in to pressure after the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had intervened with the option of using military intervention.
Unfortunately, Barrow had to be inaugurated at The Gambian embassy in Senegal, which became a sort of embarrassment for the Afrian continent.
After the so-called “smart coup” in November 2017 in Zimbabwe, the military factor cannot be ruled out in sabotaging democratic transition, while the regional bloc Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has been weak in its responses so far.
The fact that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has promised free and fair elections, and that international observers will observe the elections presents a slice of hope, which requires the vigilance of all stakeholders to guarantee a democratic outcome.
The Barrow election proved to be a truly democratic breakthrough for The Gambia, which is worthy emulating.