The Dictator Who "Conceded"

What happens when a long-time, iron-fisted dictator of an African nation loses an election...and concedes?

We’ve all been hoping for a change of government for years now. Ideally, it would be a peaceful, democratic transition. But really, any form of change would be welcome by many. Some even hope for a violent event, a sacudón. And the geeks like me have invested some time reading about past toppled dictatorships, watching movies like No, the Otpor! documentaries, and -for the real intensos- reading Gene Sharp. All of which is why it was so fascinating for me when Emi called me up and told me to take a look at what was going on in Gambia.

There’s no possible way a long-time military dictator of an African nation would run for elections unless he had rigged every inch of them, right? Well, apparently something fell through the cracks for Yayha Jammeh, who had been ruling Gambia with the proverbial iron fist since he took power via coup d’etat in 1994, until his electoral defeat to Adama Barrow on December 1st.

Oh, and let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Gambian people, quite apart from voting through the usual ballots, voted by putting marbles into drums marked for each candidate.

Which is still no big deal. Dictators have lost elections before. All they have to do is switch the numbers, or claim there’s been some sort of fraud, or throw someone in jail. You know, dictator stuff. But Mr. Jammeh shocked the world by acknowledging the results. In his words:

I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Adama for his victory. It’s a clear victory. I wish him all the best and I wish all Gambians the best. As a true Muslim who believes in the almighty Allah I will never question Allah’s decision. You Gambians have decided.

Now let me emphasize here: a dictator of over 20 years lost an election and acknowledged the results. Think of what this means for all who, like us, live under a dictatorship. Think about the implications for those who want a peaceful transition into a Democracy. It’s a much needed glimmer of hope.

Or, it ought to have been…

Because one week after the initial concession, Jammeh took it all back. Rejecting the results, he demanded the whole country vote again.

In his words:

I announce to you, Gambians, my total rejection of the election results and thereby annulling the elections in its entirety. We will go back to the polls because I want to make sure that every Gambian has voted under an independent electoral commission that is independent, neutral and free from foreign influence

The country is in complete turmoil now, not knowing who will be President, whether they have to vote again, or just what will happen.

I really wish I wasn’t writing this. All I wanted was to show our readers a little hope from a far-off land. But the truth is neither good nor bad, lo que no tiene es remedio.

I know some of you will take this as the cue to launch a fresh anti-democratic rant, and I can’t blame you. The fact is that, in Gambia, votes aren’t enough to topple a dictator. Whatever that means for us. Which, I hope, is very little.


Carlos M. Egaña

Carlos is a Law and Liberal Arts student at Universidad Metropolitana, and a teacher of Philosophy, Entrepreneurship, and Public Speaking at Instituto Cumbres de Caracas. MetroMUNer (@MetroMUN) and VOXista (@voxistas). But really, he's just an overcompensating, failed singer-songwriter.