The upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections will be the most consequential in The Gambia’s history.
Gambians will head to the polls on December 4 to pick the country’s president, in a race that will see five challengers seeking to unseat incumbent Adama Barrow.
The country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) this week disqualified 15 of the 21 hopefuls – including Marie Sock, the only female aspirant – for not meeting the constitutional requirements. About half of them were running on independent platforms.
The presidential vote will be the first since The Gambia’s longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh fled the country in early 2017 after a six-week deadlock following his decision to challenge the result of an election won by Barrow.
As the country prepares to hold its high-stakes presidential election, here is what you need to know about the main contenders.
In the December 2016 polls, a relatively unknown Barrow, acting as the arrowhead of an opposition coalition, defeated Jammeh against all odds.
With Jammeh refusing to concede, Barrow was sworn in as president in January 2017 in a ceremony held at The Gambian embassy in Dakar, the capital of neighbouring Senegal.
The incumbent president, 56, was meant to serve as a transitional leader for three years, but instead decided to finish his tenure.
In 2019, he broke ranks by registering a new party, the National People’s Party (NPP) in pursuit of a second term in office.
Just three months ago, the NPP signed a controversial alliance with Jammeh’s party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), to drum up more votes – a move purportedly rejected by Jammeh.
Now, Barrow’s critics fear that the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) instituted to address human rights violations by his predecessor, and which has yet to release its findings despite concluding hearings, may only be a charade.
For two decades, Darboe was Jammeh’s nemesis as leader of the United Democratic Party, the country’s largest opposition political force.
But his role in street protests against the death of an activist led to his detention by the Jammeh government and a three-year prison sentence.
In his absence but with his reported endorsement, the UDP nominated Barrow, who had resigned as the party’s treasurer to contest as an independent, to be the candidate of an opposition coalition.
Darboe, 73, served as foreign minister and one of the three vice presidents, but was sacked in March 2019 after falling out with Barrow for reportedly refusing to endorse his bid for a second presidential term.
Despite Barrow pledging to retire him, Darboe remains his strongest challenger. For his part, Darboe who was the first aspirant to declare his assets has challenged the president and others in the race to follow suit.
Mama Kandeh, who came third in the 2016 polls, was a former APRC lieutenant until his expulsion that year led to his formation of the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC).
Under the APRC umbrella, he had won a parliamentary seat by defeating Barrow in what was the latter’s first major political foray, back in 2007.
Kandeh hopes to capitalise on the grievances of supporters of the APRC No Alliance Movement, a splinter group within the former ruling party formed after the APRC’s partnership with the NPP that is gravitating towards his candidacy.
Three other candidates are vying for the highest office in The Gambia: Essa Mbye Faal, who resigned his position as the lead prosecutor of the TRRC to contest as an independent candidate; former aviation chief Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh, another independent; and Halifa Sallah, MP with the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS).