Welcome to the new Gambia
“Welcome to The Gambia. We are a very small country but very unique. Our president don´t like stress, so in Gambia no stress”. Those were the words from a border guard back welcoming me in 2012. While the words correspond to the touristic narrative of The Gambia as smiling coast, they were far away from reality for many Gambians.
In 2012 Gambia was still under the rule of Yaya Jammeh. A former general who seized power in a coup deetat in 1994 and ruled the country since then with an iron fist. Any political opposition was suppressed. Systematic human rights abuses, torture, enforced disappearance and killing were widespread. Most of his victims were journalist, civil servants, students and the LGBTQ community.
With a election defeat in the presidential elections of December 2016 his rule surprisingly came to an end. A coalition of seven opposition parties chose Adama Barrow as their endorsed candidate. Jammeh reject the results and refused to step down which pushed the country on the brink of a crises. International political pressure, the work of civil society group and a military intervention from ECOWAS troops made Jammeh finally leave into exile to Equatorial Guinea.
Welcome to the new Gambia was a common saying after Adama Barrow got inaugurated as the countries first democratic elected president. But how will this new Gambia look like? Barrow promised to improve the economic situation, foster the democratic transition and deal with the atrocities of the past. But it is a bumpy road ahead. 23 years of Jammeh rules left a dysfunctional state, a looted treasury and a deep distrust within the society.