Subscribe

Upset in Gambia election: The unlikely rise of 'no drama Adama'

Adama Barrow never planned on running for president. In fact, he only learned of his candidacy when he showed up to vote in September. On Friday, he was declared president-elect of Gambia.

  • close
    Supporters of president-elect Adama Barrow celebrate Barrow's election victory in Banjul, Gambia, Friday.
    Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

A decade and a half ago, Adama Barrow was working 15-hour shifts as a security guard at retailer Argos in north London, harboring dreams of making his mark as a real estate developer.

On Friday, he was declared president-elect of his homeland, the tiny riverside West African nation of Gambia, ending more than two decades of rule by Yahya Jammeh, a feared authoritarian who once said he would rule for "a billion years."

Gambians are now looking to the man nicknamed "no drama Adama" because of his cool, calm collectedness, to reverse 22 years under President Jammeh's erratic rule that have hurt the economy and made the popular holiday destination a regional pariah.

It is not a job that the soft-spoken Mr. Barrow – a member of the Fula ethnic group from rural eastern Gambia – had sought out. He only learned he was even being considered as a party leader when he turned up for the vote in September.

Jammeh, a former army officer, seized power in a 1994 coup before he had even turned 30. In contrast, Barrow, 51, was unknown to most of his compatriots before the main opposition United Democratic Party's (UDP) leadership election.

"(Before) Barrow came to vote for a new UDP party leader, he didn't even know his name was on the ballot," said Ramzia Diab, a leading member of the coalition that backed his run for the nation's presidency.

In April, small protests in Banjul calling for electoral reform had led to dozens of arrests. Two UDP members died in custody while others were sentenced to jail time.

When the UDP's then-president Ousainou Darboe, who had lost to Jammeh in four successive elections of questionable credibility, was handed a three-year prison sentence, the party needed a leader.

"(Barrow) was absolutely thrust into this position," said Jeffrey Smith, founding director of the advocacy group Vanguard Africa. "He took hold of that leadership and played a seminal role in rallying the disparate opposition leaders around him."

'The opposite of Jammeh'

Until he took control, Barrow was mainly known within the UDP, which he joined in 1996, for his methodical management of the books as party treasurer.

But he quickly proved to be an adept opponent, turning Jammeh's attempts to stamp out dissent against the administration and galvanizing a coalition of eight parties to back a single candidate in the Dec. 1 vote. They chose him.

"I am overwhelmed by your confidence," Barrow said timidly in a speech accepting the candidacy.

Barrow plans to reverse some of Jammeh's capricious acts, including stopping Gambia's withdrawal from the International Criminal Court announced last month, his spokesman Karamba Touray said. He will also ask to rejoin the Commonwealth and nullify Jammeh's declaration of Gambia as an Islamic republic.

"He is the absolute opposite of Jammeh. He wants to restore democracy, it will be entirely different," Mr. Touray said.

The biggest test of this ambition comes in three years' time: Barrow has pledged to step down by then to open up newly democratic Gambia's political space.

 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...