Gambia Bans Internet Usage, International Calls Prior to Presidential Election
The West African country, The Gambia, banned international telephone calls and internet usage on Thursday, when four-term president Yahya Jammeh lost his re-election bid to businessman and property developer Adama Barrow.
The ban raised questions about the validity of the impending election results, as many feared that it was put in place in order to quell the increasingly popular opposition candidate’s chances, and even possibly be a pathway to a rigged election to keep Jammeh in power for a fifth term. Locals were also unable to track election results with WhatsApp, which furthered voter fraud fears.
According to Reuters, internet and international phone connections may not be reestablished until Sunday, even though the election is over and Jammeh has conceded defeat.
Gambia expects a peaceful transition of power – a stark contrast to the fear of violence and rebellion that was feared before the election results poured in. The fear of violence is a lot less likely due to an opposition party victory.
According to Gambia’s electoral commission, Barrow won 45% of the vote compared to Jammeh’s 36%. Jammeh rose to power in 1994 during a coup, and had vowed to rule for a “billion years.”
Jammeh is known for stretching his power – even going as far as to use his power to amend the constitution to remove term limits in an attempt to retain power.
The precedent for the country’s tampering with freedoms, especially in regards to speech and the press, has long existed before this point. The country’s constitution allows for freedom of speech and the press, but Gambia’s government has quashed some of these rights over the years in an attempt to silence public dissenters. Both ONI (OpenNet Initiative) and Freedom House – two organizations dedicating to monitor and report the state of free speech internationally, as well as promote free speech – have noted that Gambia is among many countries that suppresses speech of the press and individual citizens for political and social purposes. The country has silenced, tortured, and even killed members of the press and political opponents.
Barrow has never held public office before, and has said his goals are to revive the economy and stop human rights abuses in the country. He also suggested that he would step down with two years left in a five-year term in an attempt to progress the value of democracy.
Gambia is officially an English-speaking country, and used to be a British colony. The country is particularly small – only the size of a river and the surrounding land. Gambia is surrounded on all sides by the country of Senegal.
After achieving independence from Britain in 1965, the country stayed in poverty, mostly thanks to the leadership of The People’s Progressive Party until Jammeh took over.
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