A tale of two Presidents

As we know, on Friday Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States. This was in a carefully choreographed handover of power, laid down by the Founding Fathers of the nation a couple of centuries ago. This is a country of 319 million people with a GDP per capita (PPP) of $53,750. Trump was elected in a process which took two years in total. Controversial but smooth.

Just a few hours before, election winner Adama Barrow was sworn in as President of The Gambia, one of Africa’s smallest states. It is smaller, in land area, than Yorkshire. It has 1.9 million people. The equivalent GDP figure here is 3% of that of the USA. This Presidential inauguration was rather different to the one in Washington DC.

Barrow took his oath of office in a different country – Senegal – in the Gambian embassy. This was because the previous President Jammeh refused to shift from the State House in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. He had originally conceded defeat in a remarkable TV performance which is worth watching. That extravagant concession was made all the more remarkable by its emphatic revocation a few days later.

However, forces from ECOMIG, the military arm of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), emboldened by a UN resolution, moved into The Gambia and were met with, in the words of The Gambian Army head, “a cup of tea”. While they circled their tanks around Banjul, two African Presidents went in to have a cosy chat with former President Jammeh and managed to eventually persuade him to leave for exile in Equatorial Guinea.

This is “The Gambian Way” – a peaceful transition (eventually) to only the third President in the country’s history of independence since 1965.

I have followed Gambian politics in a very small way for a couple of decades. I never thought I’d see the day when Jammeh left power without a shot being fired. The new President Barrow now promises a truth and reconciliation commission to look at human rights abuses of the past.

It is a day to be optimistic about The Gambia, but also about Africa. The way the West African nations came together to help democracy along in The Gambia is very heartening.

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