The Gambia: An uphill struggle
Before his rise to the Gambian presidency, little was known of Adama Barrow, who was finally installed in the post in December last year. The incumbent, Yahya Jammeh, who had ruled for 22 years, tried to dispute the election, and Barrow had to be sworn into office in the country’s embassy in nearby Senegal.
Barrow is faced with a task of righting the country’s brutal political past under his predecessor, which included shooting of protesters, unlawful detentions, torture of prisoners and repression of the media and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It is a process he started slowly, and after three months in office his public ratings were low, especially on social media.
“President Barrow’s first 100 days have included some momentous steps forward for human rights in the Gambia, but there remains a huge amount to do in order to make a decisive break with the country’s brutal past,” says Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa director Alioune Tine.
Barrow’s government released 171 political prisoners in February, but it rounded up and detained 51 people from Jammeh’s stronghold in the west of the Gambia over allegations they provoked his supporters to violence. Those arrested included 26 children, who were later released. Barrow’s government must send a clear signal that the era of illegal detentions, torture and a prison system built to instill fear in the population is over, says Tine.
The new president hails from Mankamang Kunda, a small village in Jimara district, the Gambia’s Upper River Region – more than 300km from the capital, Banjul. Born in February 1965, he went to study in Banjul in 1981.The poor West African nation offered little or no opportunities for higher education for rural youth at the time, and rural poverty in the country has yet to be tackled.
Fifty-two years after independence, the World Bank ranks The Gambia as the 8th poorest country in the world, with a GDP per capita of $488.60. Nearly half of the country’s population of 1.8 million lives under the poverty line of $1.25 dollars a day. The UNDP’s 2016 Human Development Index ranks the country at 173 out of 188 countries.
Gambia performs poorly in the human development index because education, health care and living standards are declining, says Abdoulie Kurang, a development studies lecturer at the University of The Gambia. “Barrow has to ensure that the education system is reformed to enhance quality, ensure more teachers are trained and well paid. He needs to pump more resources into the sector,” he says.
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