Adama Barrow reneged on a promise to step down as president after three years and not five. The constitution puts him on fairly firm ground but citizens of post-dictatorship Gambia are determined to hold him to his word.
Gambians protest over President Barrow’s decision to renege on his promise and govern for longer than three years.
The public backlash that Barrow is facing for failing to adhere to a memorandum of understanding by the coalition of parties that secured him the top job spilled out on the streets of Banjul on 16 December 2019.
Not long ago, speaking out against a president was dangerous business in The Gambia. Yet today many are determined to assert their right to hold Barrow accountable.
The Gambia was thrown into a constitutional crisis in December 2016 after Barrow unexpectedly defeated Yahya Jammeh in presidential elections but the long-term strong man leader refused to step down.
The dispute prompted the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), with the support of the United Nations, to prepare for a military intervention.
Barrow and the coalition of several political parties and civil society groups for which he had stood as an independent candidate made a deal to end the crisis, however, and on January 19, 2017, Barrow, with little political experience, was sworn in as president in neighboring Senegal. Days later, Jammeh fled into exile and Barrow returned home.
‘Changing the rules’
That coalition deal and Barrow’s refusal to adhere to its provision that he would serve three years as a transitional president before elections and not five years as afforded a president has led to a swelling civil backlash.
“The main concern is that Barrow is perceived to be changing the rules from within his coalition,” says Peter Penar, director of the Leaders of Africa institute and visiting assistant professor at Davidson College in North Carolina.
“The present constitution of The Gambia allows duly elected presidents to serve out their full term. Barrow emphasizes this fact and constitutionally he is on fairly firm ground.”
As the three-year deadline drew near and the legality versus morality debate over Barrow’s tenure deal gained traction, a new grassroots movement dawned: ‘Three years jotna’ which translates to ‘three years are up.’
“The premise of ‘Three years jotna’ is based on a promise made by then candidate Adama Barrow. It is of a moral rather than legal premise,” says Nyang Njie, an independent Banjul-based economist and political blogger. “The people behind ‘Three years jotna’ are saying that politicians in the new Gambia must be held to account.”
A handwritten letter to Barrow, in which the movement calls on him to leave office on 19 January, was handed over to authorities in Banjul at the 16 December protest according to DW Afrca.