8 August 2018

Gambia: Most Gambians Approve of Their President, Gallup Poll Shows

Coming off more than two decades of authoritarian rule, roughly three-fourths of Gambians approve of new President Adama Barrow's leadership and express confidence in the election process, a new Gallup poll finds.

The poll was released Tuesday.

Barrow took office in January 2017, a month after he was elected to succeed Yahya Jammeh. The former president – who had led Gambia since 1994, including the first two years as head of a military ruling council – left under pressure from the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea.

Jammeh's 22-year dictatorship included arbitrary arrests, detention and extrajudicial killings. Barrow has begun reforming the judicial system, freeing political prisoners and, in February, declaring a moratorium on the death penalty. His government also has set up a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission looking into human rights violations that occurred during Jammeh's tenure.

Struggles with poverty

In Barrow's inaugural address, he said his administration had "inherited an economy in decline."

The tiny country – dependent on agriculture, tourism and remittances – has wrestled with high unemployment and high poverty rates. Almost half (48 percent) of Gambia's roughly 2 million people are poor, a proportion that climbs to almost 70 percent in rural areas, the World Bank reports.

Jammeh is believed to have looted hundreds of millions of dollars from Gambia's treasury.

In a news release on the poll, Gallup pointed out that Gambia's gross domestic product is less than $500 per capita, among the lowest of ECOWAS' 15 members – and less than half that of Senegal, which surrounds the country on three sides.

Yet Gambia's living conditions are improving, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents told Gallup. Gambians' optimism about the standard of living was the highest among the dozen ECOWAS countries surveyed.

But the polling indicates that Barrow and his administration "must not put too much stock in this goodwill," Gallup said in the release.

Gambian respondents acknowledged difficulties in obtaining the basics. Most have had trouble, at times in the past year, affording food (62 percent) or adequate lodging (54 percent). Senegal has lower rates of such hardship (51 percent and 41 percent, respectively).

A unifying gesture?

Independent journalist Omar Walley told VOA that Barrow built goodwill by sending his vice president to pay respects to the Jammeh family after the former president's mother died July 28. The body of Hajia Asombi Bojang was returned from Equatorial Guinea to Gambia for burial this weekend. The ex-president did not accompany the body.

Walley told VOA that the ex-president did not allow exiled Gambians to be buried in their homeland. He said Barrow's courteous gesture "has brought unity to the country."

Barrow also shuffled his cabinet in June, days after three people died in clashes with police during protests over sand mining and its environmental effects. The shift followed the resignation of the head of police, Reuters reported.

Barrow is the country's third president since it gained independence from the British in 1965.

VOA Africa Division's Peter Clottey contributed to this report.

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