A tale of two Presidents

As we know, on Friday Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States. This was in a carefully choreographed handover of power, laid down by the Founding Fathers of the nation a couple of centuries ago. This is a country of 319 million people with a GDP per capita (PPP) of $53,750. Trump was elected in a process which took two years in total. Controversial but smooth.

Just a few hours before, election winner Adama Barrow was sworn in as President of The Gambia, one of Africa’s smallest states. It is smaller, in land area, than Yorkshire. It has 1.9 million people. The equivalent GDP figure here is 3% of that of the USA. This Presidential inauguration was rather different to the one in Washington DC.

Barrow took his oath of office in a different country – Senegal – in the Gambian embassy. This was because the previous President Jammeh refused to shift from the State House in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. He had originally conceded defeat in a remarkable TV performance which is worth watching. That extravagant concession was made all the more remarkable by its emphatic revocation a few days later.

However, forces from ECOMIG, the military arm of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), emboldened by a UN resolution, moved into The Gambia and were met with, in the words of The Gambian Army head, “a cup of tea”. While they circled their tanks around Banjul, two African Presidents went in to have a cosy chat with former President Jammeh and managed to eventually persuade him to leave for exile in Equatorial Guinea.

This is “The Gambian Way” – a peaceful transition (eventually) to only the third President in the country’s history of independence since 1965.

I have followed Gambian politics in a very small way for a couple of decades. I never thought I’d see the day when Jammeh left power without a shot being fired. The new President Barrow now promises a truth and reconciliation commission to look at human rights abuses of the past.

It is a day to be optimistic about The Gambia, but also about Africa. The way the West African nations came together to help democracy along in The Gambia is very heartening.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jan '17 - 11:35am

    We have visited Gambia as tourists. The range of commercial aircraft was adequate, refuelling in the Canary Islands. The country is a result of the competing French and UK empires, so that English is spoken in Gambia, French is spoken in Senegal, but the same African language may be spoken by border guards of both countries. The British Empire got the river Gambia and a sliver of land on both banks, the French empire got much more land but less water. A British business was intending to take water out of the river to irrigate surrounding land in Gambia, but had given no thought to the consequent changes of the salinity of the delta, or any effects on the mangrove forests.
    At a pro-European dinner in London the guest speaker was the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, a Nigerian, who must have been Emeka_Anyaoku.
    I asked him about West African politics. Britain and France were both members of the EU (or whatever it was called then) so why could Gambia and Senegal not get together?
    Through clenched teeth he said that there were “institutional differences”, which presumably meant that Gambia was a democracy, but Senegal was not.
    While we were in Gambia we took a day trip in a 12-seater plane over Senegal to Guinea-Bissau, which displayed large pictures of Karl Marx. The most beautiful beach we have ever seen was miles long, sloping gently into the sea and totally unoccupied except for us.

  • The population of Yorkshire is three times bigger than Gambia – but virtually the same as Scotland. 5.3 million. I hear the last President of Gambia made off with £ 11 million – nearly £ 10 per head. Be interesting to know where he ends up.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jan '17 - 7:20pm

    Our holiday must have been between 1 July 1990 – 31 March 2000 from the dates of the Nigerian Commonwealth Secretary. When Senegalese were introduced at Liberal International meetings we were usually told that they were not in prison.

  • @ Paul ” I don’t want to upset Yorkshire people!”

    That’s not too difficult, Paul !!

  • Simon Banks 24th Jan '17 - 5:41pm

    It’s worth remembering, as we contemplate President Trump and the rest, that sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America have seen a quite dramatic spread of democracy from the days when very few states indeed were out of the hands of dictators or military juntas for long.

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