It is an election year in The Gambia … and protest is in the air. Protest has been in the air since last month, when leaders of the main opposition to the government of President Yahya Jammeh, the United Democratic Party (UDP), were jailed at the Westfield Junction in the Kanifing Municipality region of the country. I work at an office five minutes away from Westfield Junction where yesterday afternoon, the UDP staged another protest demanding that their leaders are released from prison. The protest unfortunately, turned violent. The police used aggressive force, and a number of protesters were killed.
My colleagues’ phones all rang at once with calls informing us of the protest and advising us not to leave the office until the situation had calmed. During my wait, a flurry of thoughts and questions came to my mind like: why are opposition leaders in danger and people dying for peacefully protesting in a democratic nation?
After some thought, I concluded that the aforementioned is the case because The Gambia is on brand or on trend with other African nations like Rwanda, that have started their own brand of democracy … democratic dictatorships.
Let us take a look at Rwanda. President Paul Kagame has been Rwanda’s de facto ruler since 1994, after his forces quelled the Rwandan genocide; but was elected into the presidency in 2000. Originally, Kagame was limited to two presidential terms, but Rwanda changed the constitution to effectively allow him to stay in power until 2034. Kagame plans to run for another seven-year term in 2017, and according to the constitutional changes, he can run for two more five-year terms. Are these consecutive terms a true democratic electoral process?
Now, let us take a look at The Gambia. President Jammeh was elected in 1996, and subsequently re-elected in 2001, 2006, and 2011. However, when you have elections that take place amidst a political environment where opposition leaders are threatened and jailed, and where Gambians in the country and within the diaspora are disenfranchised, has a true democratic electoral process occurred?
A democracy is defined as a system of government by the WHOLE population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives … and this entails conducting fair and transparent elections to choose political leaders. As Andrew Mendy of the Jollof Media Network so aptly put it, “The lack of confidence in the electoral process in most African countries is undermining democracy in Africa.” 
Mendy further aptly states that, “As elections approach in The Gambia, it is the duty of the government to ensure that transparent, free and fair elections are conducted where coercion is absent; all adults have the right to vote; the Gambian citizens possess civil and political rights; there is easy access to information not monopolized by the state or the ruling party. This is the political accountability the government of The Gambia owes to the citizens.”
I hope that political accountability becomes the new trend for these democratic dictatorships in Africa. If you agree with the political accountability trend, let’s spread the #politicalaccountability or #nodemocraticdictatorships hashtags within our social media networks and beyond!