The Gambia’s autocratic president, Yahya Jammeh, who once claimed a “billion-year” mandate to rule, has agreed to concede defeat after a shock election loss to a real-estate developer who once worked as a security guard in London.
Jammeh had kept the tiny west African nation under an iron grip for more than two decades, and there were fears that the eccentric 51-year-old would use violence or fraud to maintain power.
Instead he became a rare dictator to accept defeat in a democratic election, agreeing to hand power to challenger Adama Barrow, a softly spoken businessman who previously had little public profile. The father-of-five used his lack of political baggage to woo voters desperate for change, claiming 45.5% of the vote to Jammeh’s 36.7%. If Jammeh sticks to his word, Barrow will become only the third Gambian head of state since the country’s independence in 1965.
Even the head of the electoral commission, Alieu Momarr Njai, seemed stunned by Jammeh’s rapid concession.
“The president is magnanimous enough to accept that he had lost the election, and he will call the new president to congratulate him as well as to pray for peace and tranquility,” he said after announcing preliminary results. “It’s very rare that this present situation now, in Africa, that this happens.” .
Internet and international phone services cut off for “security” during the poll were restored soon after Njai’s announcement, and as news of the election result spread the country erupted into celebration.
The streets of the capital, Banjul, deserted until that point, began to fill with cars screeching their horns and blasting out music.
Children sang, men stripped off their shirts and punched the air, and others went online to celebrate using the hashtag GambiaDecides. Several said the historic change had moved them to tears.
“I couldn’t hold back the tears. I’m almost 30, and I’ve known only one president this whole time. Good time to be alive,” said Muhammad Sanu Jallow.