Extremely welcome news from The Gambia – ‘the marbles have spoken’

Well, well, well. Wonders never cease. President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia has conceded defeat after the country’s Presidential Election. Those are words I never thought anyone would write. Jammeh has been President of The Gambia for 22 years. He once said he would rule for ‘a billion years’. He has recently become increasingly erratic and autocratic.

First, a little about The Gambia. It is in West Africa. It is a little slither of land, smaller than Yorkshire, that runs along The Gambia river. Apart from the Atlantic Ocean, it is surrounded by its bigger neighbour, Senegal. It is has been called “a banana in the mouth of Senegal” (and worse). It was a British colony until 1965 and has only had two Presidents since then, the second being Jammeh. Alex Haley’s family slavery book, Roots, featured The Gambia and its capital Banjul, was established as a centre of anti-slavery operations.

I have great affection for Gambians and The Gambia due to a family association and a couple of visits. The people are wonderful. But, when I visited this year, I noticed that the army barracks near Jammeh’s residence bore a picture of him with the words “Our King”. It seemed inconceivable that he would ever stand down from power.

So Yahya Jammeh deserves credit for conceding to Adama Barrow in a prompt and extremely gracious way. (It is worth watching the charming video of his concession speech and mobile phone call below).

Gambians vote with glass beads, leading a BBC online writer to quip: “it seems that the marbles have spoken.”

I wish President-elect Adama Barrow and all Gambians the very best in moving their country forward. I hope that the transition of power is indeed peaceful and acts as a little inspiration for a few other African countries with long-standing rulers.

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

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