Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled the West African nation for 22 years since he staged a coup, will concede defeat to opposition leader Adama Barrow, according to the chairman of the country’s electoral commission.
Alieu Momarr Njai said the incumbent president had accepted the result and would give a statement later on Friday. “It’s really unique that someone who has been ruling this country for so long has accepted defeat,” Alieu Momar Njie said during a press conference.
Social media was abuzz with ordinary Gambians expressing their joy:
WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!!!— Dad_SwaGga™ (@dadswagga) December 2, 2016
MOMMMMMMMMAAAAAAA WEEEEEEE MADDDEEEEEEE IT!!
I CAN’T STOP CRYING!!
This is how our grandparents felt when Gambia gained independence #GambiaDecides— yahaddy (@Yahaddyy) December 2, 2016
The shock result potentially brings an end to Jammeh’s rule, which began in 1994 and saw the president win elections in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011. A 2002 constitutional amendment removed presidential term limits.
There were concerns that elections would not be free and fair after state security services conducted a violent crackdown on the opposition parties, culminating in the death of United Democratic Party figure Solo Sandeng in August while under police custody.
Those concerns were heightened on election day when internet services, messaging platforms Whatsapp and Viber were blocked, according to Human Rights Watch said. Meanwhile, Senegalese security source confirmed to AFP in Dakar that The Gambia had closed the borders on Thursday, a common occurrence during elections in West Africa.
However, president-elect Barrow, who headed a coalition made up of eight opposition groups, secured 45.5% of the vote, while Jammeh won 36.7%. Around 880,000 voters were registered to participate at more than 1,400 polling stations across the tiny country.
Jammeh has survived multiple attempts to remove him from the presidency. The outgoing president once vowed to rule the Gambia for “a billion years”, and recently said that he would not accept the result if he lost. But if the president concedes later today as is assumed, then it would mark a historic moment in Gambia’s history.
Barrow’s victory comes on the back of a campaign promising to implement human rights reforms and to revive the economy, which has been in the doldrums following the Ebola crisis of 2014. While the virus did not spread into Gambia, the country’s primary driver of economic output, tourism, was affected as holidaymakers decided to stay away from the region.
The direct contribution of the tourism sector to Gambia’s GDP plummeted by 44% year-on-year to $43mn in 2014, according to the World Travel and Tourism council. This caused economic growth to plummet year-on-year from 4.8% in 2013 to 0.9% in 2014, according to World Bank figures. Growth rebounded in 2015 to reach 5%.
Meanwhile, tackling youth unemployment – which is at 38%, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) – will be a key economic priority for the incoming government. The lack of opportunities at home has forced many young male Gambians to seek better work prospects in Europe, with round 153,900 leaving the West African country in 2015.