Growing up in Gambia: The politics of playing marbles

Written by Staff Writer Marbles are rarely a staple of modern international politics. Not so in The Gambia, where this metal has become a divisive election issue. The campaign issues are seemingly everywhere, with…

Growing up in Gambia: The politics of playing marbles

Written by Staff Writer

Marbles are rarely a staple of modern international politics. Not so in The Gambia, where this metal has become a divisive election issue. The campaign issues are seemingly everywhere, with many characters twisting the candidates’ arguments for partisan advantage.

But one local proverb sums it up, giving us an example of the middle ground on how to vote.

An older relative of mine often tells me “One man’s treasure is another man’s burden,” which really sums up the sentiments of the many people I meet in The Gambia who have strong views about the current contest for the presidency.

How the elections could affect millions of Gambians

An estimated 1.9 million people are eligible to vote in the election that has been seen as the most important in The Gambia’s young history, as the ruling party embarks on its fourth term.

It’s been a tense few weeks and new presidential candidates joined the fray on Nov. 6 — the first fresh faces to enter The Gambia’s government since The Gambia gained independence from Britain in 1965.

Gambian presidential elections will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. Image credit: Al Jazeera

The election is even more important because it comes after a changing political landscape, and with unemployment at 32%, rising living costs and widespread migration to Europe, discontent has boiled over.

Change in power could be risky

If president Adama Barrow — who came to power in the ‘return to democracy’ transfer of power in 2016 — wins a second term, it would be seen as a breakthrough for a country historically regarded as the poorest in West Africa. But if opposition leader Jibril Jallow wins, it would present a political risk.

Even Barrow has admitted this election is more important than his first election and that it could “bust our constitution,” but he insists that even if his country’s democracy is not a “perfect” system, it is better than the system under which Gambians lived before he came to power.

The stakes are higher for both Jallow and Barrow than their opponents. With many Gambians considering this a chance to “make a difference,” the unrest that could follow defeat may unsettle citizens and perhaps even scare away investors.

And while President Barrow recently tweeted that “so far, this election is engaging.” Jallow’s supporters on Facebook were less optimistic, with Jallow’s supporters calling Barrow a “terrorist and an unbeliever.”

Even in The Gambia, politics has a kleptocratic edge, as many people see buying a vote as a legitimate method of influencing an election.

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