Gambia crisis: Marlborough friends of Gunjur anxious after President's refusal to accept election defeat
Given Marlborough’s 34 year relationship with Gunjur in The Gambia through the Marlborough Brandt Group and the friendships that have arisen between so many people in the two communities, it is hardly surprising that many people have been concerned about the outcome of the recent Presidential election - with the army now patrolling the streets.
At the time of writing President Jammeh is refusing to accept defeat in the recent election and is coming under great international pressure to stand down - including from a delegation of four African leaders who flew into the capital Banjul.
The previous President Sir Dawda Jawara was elected at the time of Gambian Independence from the British in 1965 and became the longest serving Commonwealth Head of State. He generously welcomed people from Marlborough at a meeting in 1989 when they were accompanied by MBG patron Lord Judd, onetime Minister of Overseas Development and director of Oxfam.
In 1994 after 29 years in office, Sir Dawda was overthrown in a military coup led by the then 29-year-old captain in the Gambian army, Yayha Jammeh.
Jammeh’s reign as President has been marked by intolerance of opposition, by human rights abuses, by anti-British rhetoric, and by the withdrawal of The Gambia from the Commonwealth in October 2013.
Jammeh declared that “The Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism” - this at the time Rwanda and Mozambique were both accepted as new members of the Commonwealth.
In the meantime, Gambia has severed ties with countries that have given support for development - like Taiwan and Iran - and has become increasingly isolated from the international community.
It has been estimated that 13 per cent of the migrants arriving from Africa in Lampedusa off the Italian coast, come from The Gambia. It is the smallest African country and it is clear that its very poor economic and poor political climate is persuading so many young Gambians to take the perilous 'back way', as it is described, to Europe.
Many of them die either while crossing the Sahara, or as a result of the treatment meted out to them while in transit through Libya. And many drown as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean in unsuitable boats provided at a steep price by the people smugglers.
Thus, for the majority of Gambians it was welcome news greeted with great enthusiasm to hear that President Jammeh had lost the election held on December 1 to the relatively unknown businessman Adama Barrow - and that Jammeh had conceded defeat.
This despite the fact that in the 48 hours prior to and during the election process, all international telephone lines and the internet were blocked to prevent the Gambian diaspora in Europe, the US and Scandinavia - many of whom are political exiles - from influencing their family members to vote for the opposition leader.
The enthusiasm for the election result was short-lived when President Jammeh made a swift U-turn and announced two days later that he did not accept the result and was sending in the army to investigate the workings of the Electoral Commission during the election.
A delegation made up of the Heads of State of Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana flew into The Gambia on Tuesday (December 13) to meet Jammeh to try to persuade him to accept the result of the election and stand down. The UN Security Council, the African Union and the European Union have all expressed concern at Jammeh’s rejection of the election result.
Many of us in Marlborough are particularly concerned for the welfare of our friends and colleagues in Gunjur and more widely in The Gambia.
In a message, Claire Perry MP, who visited Gunjur with her daughter in 2013 and has the welfare of The Gambia at heart, writes: “It is so sad to hear of the latest political travails in the Gambia - a country that many of us have visited and feel a connection to given the close links between Marlborough and Gunjur. I just hope there can be a peaceful end to this process”.
Image above by Gainako Radio - whose website is a good source of news and opinion about this crisis.