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For a few days last month, the Gambia—a tiny sliver of less than two million people in West Africa—had the international spotlight. Yayha Jammeh, a delusional longtime dictator, lost an election on December 1 to the opposition coalition candidate, Adama Barrow. Jammeh first conceded, then changed his mind. But West African leaders—led in particular by Nigeria and Senegal—weren’t having it. They arranged for Barrow to be inaugurated at the Gambian embassy in Dakar on January 20 and then, after a midnight deadline expired, sent troops over the border to enforce the election result. Jammeh tried to obfuscate and delay, but in the end was forced into exile without a shot being fired. On January 21, he flew to Equatorial Guinea, reportedly along with suitcases of cash and his luxury car collection.
So now what? The Barrow administration has to rebuild the country which has been suffering repression and staggering corruption for 22 years. The Gambia is the only country in the region to have grown poorer over the past two decades. In Foreign Affairs, Jeff Smith of Vanguard Africa and I lay out ways outsiders can help the Gambia recover.
Quickly deploy funding and teams from the international financial institutions.
Help to locate and recover looted property and public money.
Support a truth and reconciliation commission, which President Barrow has identified as a national priority.
The Gambia’s experience also has lessons for others. A united political opposition, aggressive regional support, media attention, and a vocal diaspora all came together to bring down an entrenched autocrat. Democrats everywhere should take note.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.