Human Rights in GambiaHuman rights in Gambia remain limited. The small West African country struggles to provide its citizens with freedom of expression. Meanwhile, politically driven police brutality and arbitrary arrests continue.

In April 2016, Gambian citizens were beaten with batons and exposed to tear gas while protesting the death of Solo Sandeng, who died at the hands of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) while in custody. Nineteen of those protesters faced three years imprisonment. Forty more people were arrested while protesting the trial of the 19 sentenced, and 14 of those 40 went on trial near the end of 2016.

Gambians were reportedly beaten and tortured, and others died due to insufficient medical care while in custody. The president admitted that people die in custody regularly. Political and religious leaders are arrested and abducted, including leaders of the United Democratic Party (UDP), which opposes the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) and President Yahya Jammeh.

Anyone who speaks against the government runs the risk of retaliation, representing a huge denial of human rights in Gambia. In fact, many journalists avoid strong criticism of the government for fear of arrest or death, and many have left the country out of fear.

The government would not allow the U.N. or outside organizations to record prison conditions, but some NGOs report poor air flow and pest problems. Furthermore, many members of the UDP were held in solitary confinement.

A separate, but important issue for human rights in Gambia is human trafficking. Women and children continue to be sold into sex and domestic slavery, and yet the government has not taken adequate action to resolve this.
Although human rights in Gambia desperately need improvement, major gains in women’s rights were made recently. Gambia made child marriage illegal in July 2016. Previously, “according to the U.N., 40 percent of women aged 20 to 49 in Gambia were married before the age of 18, while 16 percent married before they turned 15.”

Gambian women also suffered significantly from female genital mutilation. However, in late 2015, legislation passed to make this illegal as well.

The victor of the 2016 presidential election, Adama Barrow, shows promise for progressing toward less corruption and stronger human rights in Gambia. Gambia must have fair and lawful leadership in order to leave behind its history of injustice.

Emma Tennyson

Photo: Google

Last month, the African nation of The Gambia swore in its first-ever democratically elected president, Adama Barrow. The incumbent president took power after a month-long constitutional crisis in which former president Yahya Jammeh rejected election results and refused to leave his seat.

Initially, Jammeh accepted the 2016 election results until Dec. 10, when he declared his rejection of Barrow and refusal to cede power in The Gambia. The announcement incited political uproar within The Gambia. The uproar was so intense that Barrow, fearing for his safety, fled to Senegal.

Barrow was eventually sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, and returned to The Gambia with a number of West African troops. On the same day Barrow was sworn in, military forces from Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana attempted to restore power in The Gambia through military intervention.

The power shift was celebrated in the Gambian capital of Banjul where the conflict had generated fear for the security of many citizens’ lives amongst the turmoil.

Jammeh, who ruled the nation for over 22 years, was exiled to Equatorial Guinea after he finally stepped down in late January.

This shift of power in The Gambia may symbolize the strengthening infrastructure of politics within the African continent. Other nations’ decisions to rally behind the election results and defend Barrow’s ascent to power in The Gambia is recognition of a standard for good governance.

While the events in The Gambia do not signify themselves a wholehearted embracement of democracy, they certainly set a precedent for alliance and administration across the continent.

With rulers like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe or Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi, both who have held power in their respective nations for over a decade, it is clear that there has been a continual problem with leaders who refuse to step down following the results of democratic elections.

There is still a long way to go as it seems the Economic Community of West African States enforces election results selectively. However, the shift of power in The Gambia signifies a positive development in the political dichotomy prevalent on the African continent.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Gambia
The Islamic Republic of Gambia is a small West African nation of fewer than two million people and surrounded on almost all sides by Senegal. With an economy built on a small patch of tourism, peanuts, and money sent home from abroad, poverty in the Gambia has had a period of stability for the past two decades.

The authoritarian government of outgoing president Yahya Jammeh has been in power since 1994. As recently as 2006, President Jammeh’s campaign claimed that government aid and continued development would only go to its supporters, while those who supported others should expect nothing.

Hope for Reducing Poverty in The Gambia

Today, more than a third of The Gambia’s population lives below the U.N. poverty line of $1.25 per day. The nation’s poor are mostly in rural areas, and 60 percent of The Gambia relies on agriculture to make a living. Irregular rainfall, economic instability and fluctuating food pricing all contribute to the plight of the Gambian proletariat.

Low productivity persists in the staple area of rice farming, where inefficient technologies and practices lead to less yield during harvests and contribute to worsening soil fertility. Few rural institutions are able to provide basic social services and credit.

In a surprise turn of events, President Jammeh lost this year’s election to a candidate who ran on issues of economic revival, ending human rights violations, and establishing a more earnest democracy. With the end of Jammeh’s presidency comes a potential for The Gambia to begin receiving increased funding from the U.N. and E.U. Ban Ki-moon and Federica Mogherini have stated, on behalf of the U.N. and E.U. respectively, that their institutions are prepared to support The Gambia.

The President-elect, Adama Barrow, is already promising to strengthen relations with Europe and other potential partners in development. Many relationships had been strained by the Jammeh administration, and after 22 years, The Gambia may be in a position to put its most vulnerable at the forefront of its government.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr