How ‘underestimated’ Barrow won second term in the Gambia

Wednesday December 08 2021
 Adama Barrow.

Gambian President Adama Barrow wins second term. PHOTO | AFP


An image of three opposition politicians together has become one of the most referenced among Gambians on social media since the December 4 presidential election in the West African nation.

Reject results

Ousainou Darboe, Mama Kandeh and Essa Faal, three of the five people who challenged Adama Barrow, had convened a press conference to announce their rejection of the results that put the incumbent on the path to victory.

Barrow was declared winner, but with such a huge margin that it has left everyone in awe, even his own supporters.

Barrow, a rank outsider and late comer in politics, had already made history when he defeated veteran Yahya Jammeh in an open election in 2016, despite the latter winning by more than 75 percent in previous elections.

Critics of the opposition say they did last what they should have done first – forming a coalition against the incumbent.


But even more surprising about the image was the affinity of the politicians involved, particularly Darboe and Kandeh, who have hugely divergent views.

But such is the impact of the surprise performance of the incumbent in the election. Even when all the votes of his five challengers are put together, Barrow still beats them.

How did a man considered a political novice manage to do this?

Coming to power 

Barrow came to power in 2016 on the ticket of an opposition coalition formed against former President Yahya Jammeh, who was forced into exile after rejecting the outcome of that election on the grounds of irregularities.

After about a year into his first term, Barrow fell out with his coalition partners and subsequently formed his National People’s Party (NPP), under whose ticket he has secured his second term.

In the history of Gambian politics, no leader has been brought down without opposition politicians coming together. This is probably why independence leader Sir Dawda Jawara ruled for 30 years, until he was removed by the barrel of the gun in 1994.

Jammeh, who removed Jawara, stayed in power for 20 years, partly because of the inability of the opposition to come together and form a coalition, despite several failed attempts. In 2016 the opposition pulled it off.

The 2016 coalition disintegrated amid accusations and counteraccusations of betrayal among the various parties.

After this, individual parties felt less threatened under Barrow, the “accidental presidential” considered a novice, with many thinking that his newly formed party could easily be outdone by the established ones.

The opposition then remained disunited ahead of the 2021 election.

What many did not expect was Barrow remaining in power.

Enemy turned ally

One thing he did to make up for his deficiency, for instance, was to surround himself with people with a wealth of experience, even if they were people with murky backgrounds.

This included Seedy Njie, a former MP, who stood with Jammeh even as he tried to bring the country to the brink of war to resist calls to hand over power to Barrow during the impasse in 2016.

Njie, a former student leader, was a nominated member of parliament.

In the dying days of the Jammeh regime, as his ministers were ditching the increasingly isolated leader, Njie was one of the few people who stood with him.

Jammeh even appointed him Minister of Information, a position he held for just 12 days, during which period he made comments that made him an accomplice to treason.

Njie would accompany Jammeh into exile in Equatorial Guinea, but later returned to the country.

His association with former Jammeh allies is probably why at some point in the last three years, much of which was spent politicking, it felt like Barrow was taking lessons from the former dictator’s playbook.

During this period, Barrow succeeded in casting aside everyone with ties to the coalition of opposition political parties that brought him to power, except for a few insignificant players.

As the election approached, Barrow perfected his acts. Not only did he take from Jammeh part of his supporters, after a botched coalition deal, he also made effective use of Jammeh’s most powerful tool – fanning ethnic division to neutralise his main threat, his former party, the United Democratic Party (UDP) of Mr Darboe.

The irony is that while Jammeh hails from a minority ethnic group, Barrow was attacking his own ethnic group.

“It’s better to die than to be shamed,” the president, known for his extraordinary oratory skills in local languages, once said, sparking weeks of debate about his supposed dictatorial tendencies.