The Gambia was plunged into a protracted political crisis in late 2016 after the incumbent President Yahya Jammeh contested the election of Adama Barrow, the candidate of the Gambia Coalition 2016, in December 2016. Since early 2017, following the resolution of the political impasse and the swearing in of Adama Barrow as President, HD has been facilitating dialogue between the members of the Gambia Coalition 2016, who now form the incumbent government, as well as facilitating inter-party dialogue among the country’s nine registered political parties, under the auspices of the Inter-Party Committee (IPC).
President Yahya Jammeh took over power in a military coup d’état which removed the then incumbent Sir Dawda Jawara; he then remained in office until January 2017. Things came to a head in 2016 after Jammeh reversed his initial decision to accept the outcome of the 1st December 2016 Presidential election which had been adjudged by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to have been won by Adama Barrow, the consensus candidate of a hurriedly assembled coalition of opposition parties. Following President Jammeh’s exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017, President Barrow inherited a divided country with a fragile political coalition whose members share little in terms of ideology and vision for the future of the Gambia.
The opening up of the political space following President Barrow’s assumption of office has given the Gambia a rare opportunity to broaden the country’s political process and deepen democracy. In March 2017, all Gambian political parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under the auspices of the Gambian Inter-Party Committee (IPC) – an umbrella body for all registered political parties in the Gambia – to eschew political violence and intimidation, accept the outcome of transparent and credible elections, embrace dialogue and co-operation in their dealings with each other, and collaborate with the Gambian Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) towards the conduct of successful elections.
HD’s engagement in the Gambia, through the deployment of an assessment mission to the country, coincided with the 4 April 2017 parliamentary elections. HD was accredited as an election observer by the IEC and began holding consultations with political stakeholders on the overall political landscape.
In April 2017, HD began establishing initial contacts and holding discussions with relevant political stakeholders including members of the Gambia Coalition 2016, heads of political parties, leading civil society organisations, key government officials, and members of the diplomatic corps, with a view to sensitizing them to HD’s objectives and seeking their buy-in for its political dialogue project. The continued existence of the Gambia Coalition 2016 was clearly under threat because of fundamental ideological differences within the Coalition and the lack of a shared vision for the country. This had a negative effect on the country as the Coalition members, who have since February 2017 assumed office as cabinet members, have been at loggerheads. However in discussions with HD, all stakeholders reaffirmed the importance of sustaining the Coalition and facilitating means to learn from similar experiences in Africa.
In parallel, HD also engaged political parties in inter-party discussions to emphasize the need to develop dialogue mechanisms across political divides. This led key stakeholders to agree on the format of a dialogue process and the conduct of meetings by political parties within the framework of the Inter-Party Committee (IPC).
Drawing on these initial steps, HD then convened two roundtables on coalition management and interparty dialogue, in June and August 2017 respectively.
The June 2017 roundtable was held in Banjul and gathered members of the 2016 Coalition with coalition management experts drawn from Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. The purpose of this workshop was to learn from other African countries’ rich experiences of coalition arrangements and socio-political crises. As a result of the workshop discussions, members of the Coalition agreed to build bridges between all the political parties in the country by holding regular meetings within the IPC and undertaking a national dialogue to sustain national peace and stability.
The August 2017 roundtable brought together all Gambian political parties to reflect on the requirements that would help the IPC to perform its core function of fostering collaboration between political parties and generating proposals on key issues. As a result of these discussions, an action plan was put together as a follow up to the March 2017 MOU.
HD continues to follow up on the resolutions adopted during the two roundtables and the consultations that were held since then. In particular, HD continues to sustain dialogue between the members of the Gambia Coalition 2016 and to facilitate political dialogue with all parties in the Gambia and IPC members. It also provides capacity-building support to the IPC.
HD would like to express its gratitude to the European Union for its support to the organisation’s activities in the Gambia.