The Gambians elect their president on Saturday, a crucial vote for a young democracy seeking to overcome its dictatorial past and the effects of Covid-19 on a fragile economy.
From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (local and GMT), voters choose their next head of state by depositing a ball as a ballot in one of the cans in the colors of each candidate, a process that has been established for a long time because of widespread illiteracy.
Outgoing Adama Barrow and five other candidates, all men, are vying for just under a million votes, and the charge of leading for five years the smallest country in mainland Africa, which is also one of the most poor in the world.
There is only one turn. The first results could be known as early as Sunday.
Five years ago, Adama Barrow, a former property developer now 56 years old and then almost unknown, defied the prognosis and beat the dictator Yahya Jammeh after more than twenty years of regime characterized by a multitude of atrocities committed by the State and its agents: assassinations, enforced disappearances, rapes, acts of torture …
Mr. Jammeh refused to acknowledge his defeat. He was eventually forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea under the pressure of a West African military intervention.
The 2021 presidential election is the first without him since 1996.
The possibility that he has to be held accountable is one of the stakes of the election, along with the economic crisis.
The Gambians interviewed by AFP agree on the observation of a freedom regained after years of fear, and on the importance of going to vote to consolidate a vulnerable democracy.
Adama Barrow calls for this return of freedoms, the construction of roads and markets, and the pacification of relations with the international community. His party preaches the “continuity of unprecedented developments”.
– Eternal second –
The one who is expected to be his main adversary, Ousainou Darboe, 73, a human rights lawyer, accuses him on the contrary of having “failed miserably” and of having failed in all his commitments to remain in power. He calls for change.
“I definitely believe it”, he said when AFP asked him if, after having been Yahya Jammeh’s second four times, he thinks his time has come against Mr Barrow, of whom he was minister and deputy. -President.
Mr Barrow reneged on his original promise to only stay in office for three years during a transition period. He has toned down his past commitments to bringing justice to those responsible for the crimes of the Jammeh years.
On the contrary, his newly created party has forged an alliance with that of the former autocrat.
Victims wonder whether, if re-elected, Mr Barrow will implement the recommendations of a commission to investigate the Jammeh period.
The committee reported back to him in November, the start of a six-month countdown for the President, Mr Barrow or his successor, to decide on the follow-up.
From his exile, Mr. Jammeh continues to influence the politics of his country where he still has many supporters.
But many Gambians interviewed expressed more immediate concerns. Almost half live below the poverty line. The country has been hit hard by the Covid-19. Apart from agriculture and remittances from the diaspora, the country, with its beaches on the Atlantic, lived on tourism, whose flows have dried up.
Tourists are starting to come back. But many jobs have disappeared. The Gambia was already proportionally one of the main points of departure for migrants seeking to reach Europe by canoe. Gambians are suffering from rising prices of basic necessities such as rice, sugar, oil, but also water and electricity cuts, and lack of access to healthcare.