30th November 2016
Political: Gambians are set to go to the polls on 01 December 2016 to elect a new president. Incumbent Yahya Jammeh has held the position since coming to power 22 years ago, in a coup. More than 10,000 Gambians have fled the country this year. Protests by regime critics in April and May led to 30 people being sentenced to three years in prison. The state broadcaster’s director-general was dismissed and arrested after airing the nomination of opposition candidates. Two other journalists critical of the regime were also arrested in November. The main opposition candidate, Adama Barrow, leads the first significant alliance of opposition parties since Jammeh came to power. ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), a regional bloc of 15 West African states, have boycotted this election (as they did in 2011) over transparency concerns. Human Rights Watch have voiced similar concerns. The European Union have been refused access to officially observe the election.
The President has access to a patronage network thanks to the use of state resources. Jammeh also maintains strong control of the security apparatus of the state and has previously used it to strengthen his own position. The transparency of the vote is likely to be questionable with vote-rigging a highly probable eventuality. Jammeh’s stranglehold over power means that even if the opposition somehow manages to win the election, it is very unlikely that they will be able to unseat the president.
Gambians have increasingly shown discontent with the ruling regime; they have protested against its excesses in the recent past and could do so again. In the final few weeks of the campaign, thousands have come out to cheer Barrow and the united opposition, and protest against the ruling regime. Pro-regime demonstrators have also taken to the streets to voice their support for President Jammeh. The likelihood for post-election civil unrest or violence is high, especially if irregularities mar the election. Police are known to brutally put down protests and often use tear gas and water cannons.
Intrinsic Security Advice:
The Gambia: Low Political: Moderate
Travellers should be aware that there is likely to be an increased security presence within The Gambia both during and after the vote, especially so in the capital Banjul. President Jammeh has already stated that no protests are to be permitted after the vote. Increased checkpoints are likely countrywide as well as security patrols. If travelling within country, it is vital that travellers adhere fully to the instructions of security forces; opposition may result in a forceful response.
It is recommended that post election protests are avoided. It is likely police will use forceful measures against demonstrators given recent history and the warnings issued by Jammeh during the election campaign. Political gatherings may initially seem peaceful but can escalate quickly into violence. It would be advisable for travellers to maintain a low profile in the short-term. Foreigners may be treated with suspicion as a result of international criticism of the impending election.
Intrinsic would advise clients to employ enhanced security measures when visiting The Gambia – airport meet and greet and a security driver for the length of a visit should be minimum security precaution. Travellers may also wish to employ executive protection.