Democracy and rights
Since Yahya Jammeh, who had ruled the Gambia with
authoritarian methods for over two decades, lost the
2016 presidential election, citizens' freedoms and
rights have been strengthened. The new government under
Adama Barrow has set up a Truth Commission to deal with
the human rights violations committed under Jammeh's
When Jammeh took power in a bloodless coup in 1994, a
three-decade-long democratic tradition in Gambia was
broken. A civilian government was reintroduced two years
later, but all opposition was suppressed, and the
opposition parties did not in practice appear to have
the opportunity to threaten President Jammeh's and his
party's power holdings. The fact that Adama Barrow from
the opposition Democratic Party (UDP) could win the
presidential election was due to the fact that a large
part of the opposition was able to agree on a common
candidate, but it was only after neighboring countries
in Gambia with troops that the change of power was
confirmed (see Current policy).
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Despite problems such as low turnout and shortages in
voting lengths, the Gambian election in 2016 was
conducted in relatively orderly forms.
Since then, parliamentary and local elections have
also been held. Prior to the local elections, there were
unrest where supporters of the former ruling party
Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Reconstruction
(APRC) and Barrow's UDP rallied (see Calendar).
There are about 10 political parties that can operate
relatively freely. Anyone wishing to form a party must
pay a fee of $ 21,000. Political parties may not,
according to the constitution, be formed on ethnic
religious or ethnic grounds, but in practice APRC has
its main support among the Christmas people and the UDP
among mandinkas (see also Political system). The
National Assembly has been dominated since 2017 by the
UDP, which has its own majority in the House.
The military is still a factor of power in the
Women are under-represented in politics. Two of the
58 members of the National Assembly are women, both of
whom have been nominated by President Barrow. In
addition, the country's vice president, Isatou Touraym,
is a woman. ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bom Bensouda is a
Barrow has ruled that Gambia should be a secular
state, but there is some discrimination against
Corruption is a problem, at all levels of society.
Barrow has promised to address this, but so far progress
has been poor. All members of the government are
required to declare their financial assets, but this
information has not been made public. An inquest into
corruption under Jammeh's government in March 2019
stated that the ex-president personally seized $ 362
million. He should also have brought a number of luxury
cars and other valuables. Jammeh has been in exile in
Equatorial Guinea since 2016. The Barrow government has
said that it should try to get the money back.
According to the organization Transparency
International's index list of perceived corruption in
the countries of the world, Gambia in 2019 ranked 96 out
of 180 countries, three places lower than the year
Freedom of expression and media
After the change of power in 2017, conditions for the
media have improved, but there is still much to be done
when it comes to respect for freedom of the press and
opinion. Journalists are still at risk of being arrested
and beaten by police.
The Gambians' ability to openly criticize the
government has also increased. But the Supreme Court
ruled in 2017 that the legislation requiring police
permits for public meetings still applies. The law was
used the same year to stop a meeting planned by an
opposition leader. At the same time, many of the
restrictions that previously existed for NGOs appear to
have been abolished.
Under Yahya Jammeh's rule (1994–2017), advocacy laws
and prohibitions on publishing "fake news" imposed
severe restrictions on all critical scrutiny of power.
Media that nevertheless criticized could be exposed to
direct threats from government teams. Two journalists
were murdered during the 1990s, according to the CPJ
press freedom organization.
One internationally well-known case is the journalist
Ebrima Manneh, who "disappeared" in 2006 since the
security service removed him. According to information
in the Gambian media, he died in 2008, on his way to
hospital. Another well-known case is the 2004 murder of
regime critic Deyda Hydara, who was the editor-in-chief
of The Point newspaper, correspondent of the French news
agency AFP and chairman of the Gambian journalist
association. No one has been charged with the murder,
which many believe was politically motivated. In 2009,
six journalists were sentenced to prison for having, in
an open letter, urged the government to admit their
involvement in the murder. They were pardoned a month
later, following pressure from, among others, the EU.
Self-censorship has diminished after Adama Barrow
took power in early 2017 and just under a third of the
roughly 100 journalists who had fled the country had
returned to their home country by 2018. The Supreme
Court has annulled parts of the prosecution law, citing
its contravention of the Constitution, but the ban on
the ban on publishing "fake news" was maintained. In
2017, the authorities forced the Daily Observer magazine
to shut down for two weeks, citing that the magazine had
tax liabilities. In June 2018, Pa Modou Bojang, head of
a radio station, was beaten when he reported on unrest
in the village of Faraba Banta (see below).
On Reporters Without Borders index of freedom of the
press in the world, Gambia in 2019 ranked 92 out of 180
countries, which was more than 30 placements better than
At about the same time, several signs emerged that
the media climate was getting tougher, as several
journalists were arrested and radio stations were shut
down for arbitrary reasons in connection with protests
against President Barrow (see Calendar).
Radio and TV are the most important sources of
information for most Gambians. The state broadcaster's
monopoly on broadcasting news has been abolished. Today
there are several privately owned radio and TV channels.
Television broadcasts first began in 1996.
Judicial system and legal security
The legislation in The Gambia is based on a mixture
of British laws and domestic customary law. Islamic
Sharia law is applied in family law matters for Muslims.
The legal system is formally independent and human
rights are guaranteed in the constitution. The
government is responsible for appointing judges. During
Jammeh, it was common for foreign judges to be hired,
which could easily be dismissed if they made decisions
that went against the regime. President Barrow has
chosen, to the extent possible, to replace them with
Under Jammeh's rule, violations of human rights were
numerous. The security service committed abuses, torture
and extrajudicial executions. Opposition politicians,
journalists and human rights activists risked
"disappearing". After the change of power, the situation
has improved, but arbitrary arrests still exist,
although in many cases the detainees are released after
some time without any explanation as to why they were
taken into custody. The dreaded security service Nia
has been shut down. The Truth Commission to investigate
murders, tortures and other abuses committed under
Jammeh's 22-year rule began its work in early 2019 (see
The conditions in the country's prisons are poor.
The Gambia has the death penalty. However, as far as
is known, no prisoners were executed between 1981 and
August 2012, when nine executions were executed.
However, Adama Barrow is about to completely abolish the
death penalty (see Calendar). In May 2019, Barrow
pardoned 22 convicted prisoners who had their sentences
converted to life imprisonment.
However, in the summer of 2018, three people were
shot dead by security forces in connection with
environmental protests in the village of Faraba Banta
(see Calendar). As a result, the head of the national
police was forced to resign. An investigation
recommended that five police officers be indicted for
the murders, but the indictment was dropped, according
to Gambian media, in early 2019 since villagers should
have turned to the president for this to happen.
In the fall of 2016, Gambia announced that the
country would leave the ICC but the exit process was
halted after the change of power in 2017 (see Calendar).