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Gambia Election Outcome: Experts say it’s a good development for Africa’s democracy

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Incumbent Gambian president Yahya Jammeh (C) leaves the polling booth after casting his marble for presidential election in a polling station, in Banjul on December 01, 2016. The first of some 880,000 eligible voters headed to polling stations despite an internet blackout imposed overnight in a nation long accused by rights groups of suppressing freedom of expression. The Gambia's unique voting system, which sees citizens vote by dropping a marble into a coloured drum for their candidate, could not be rigged, he added, meaning "there is no reason for anybody to protest."/ AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI

Incumbent Gambian president Yahya Jammeh (C) leaves the polling booth after casting his marble for presidential election in a polling station, in Banjul on December 01, 2016.<br />The first of some 880,000 eligible voters headed to polling stations despite an internet blackout imposed overnight in a nation long accused by rights groups of suppressing freedom of expression. The Gambia’s unique voting system, which sees citizens vote by dropping a marble into a coloured drum for their candidate, could not be rigged, he added, meaning “there is no reason for anybody to protest.”/ AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI

Democracy on the African continent recorded another plus during the week, when Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, conceded defeat after losing to Adama Barrow.

Many political analysts did not see Jammeh losing, as the thinking was that he would stay on, especially considering he had made up his mind to hold on to power for life, with his forecast of ruling for a billion years.

Ironically, Jammeh, who also predicted he would win with landslide in this election when he was casting his vote, conceded defeat immediately the results were announced.

Speaking on the implication of Jammeh’s action, a lecturer of African History at the University of Lagos, Dr Iwuagwu Obichere and a political scientist, Dr Oyedele Ashiru, said that it is a good development, which shows things are changing on the continent positively.

Obichere noted that ordinarily, people would have thought it was not possible. “Personally, I did not know it was possible, the way Jammeh had carried on in Gambia for sometime now. Jonathan started it and people are beginning to see that it is the way to go. And we are praying for Ghana elections in a few days, that whatever the outcome, the candidates would also accept.”

Ashiru also said that it is an indication that more democrats are emerging on the continent after long years of unbridled dictatorship and tendency to sit tight in government.

“The fact he conceded defeat to his opponent put many pundits wrong, as they felt he was going to behave the way he used to. So, he must be commended for having such a large heart to accept defeat and bow to the wishes of the Gambia people,” Ashiru stated.

On how to sustain this new culture, Obichere argued that it is not something to legislate or what regional bodies can do.

“After all, do we not have the regional bodies all these years. What we need is best practice, what we need is more examples from African leaders, now that Jammeh has done it, more people will do it.”

On his part, Ashiru, who is also a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Lagos, said that Africans and their leaders must understand that democracy thrives only when actors within the democratic space respect the wishes of the people.

“Although it may appear premature to say this is a newfound spirit in Africa, because the culture of incumbent yielding to the wishes of the people in an election is an emerging phenomena only in one, two, three cases, so it is still isolated.

“To sustain this, however, the people must be alive to their responsibilities, they must challenge dictatorship anywhere they see one and confront any dictator to step down; once the people feel enough is enough.”



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