Protests Continue As Gambians Push For Electoral Reform

The demonstrations that kicked off earlier this month continued as citizens of Gambia maintained their push for electoral reforms as the small West African country prepares to head to the polls this year, with President Yahya Jammeh up for reelection after more than 21 years in power.

Jammeh has led the country with an iron fist often using hardline tactics such as shutting down independent media outlets, and surveilling communications to keep a lid on any dissention.

Rights groups and opposition groups claim security forces regularly employ torture tactics in custody and carry out forced disappearances of citizens.

The crackdown on protests, which heightened in mid-April, has resulted in dozens of opposition party members being detained and at least three people killed, according to an United Democratic Party (UDP) news release issued on the evening of April 16.

The reaction by the government drew a condemnation from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the African Union, and the U.S. State Department.

But if the UDP goes ahead with its plan for more protests, there is a risk that Jammeh’s paranoid government will respond with additional deadly force.

“The Gambian government should produce in court all protesters arrested April 14 and 16 or explain what happened to those who are missing,” Human Rights Watch’s West Africa researcher Jim Wormington told the International Business Times UK.

John Kirby, Assistant Secretary and State Department Spokesperson, issued a short statement calling for “an immediate end to violence” and urged all Gambians to “exercise restraint and remain calm.”

The Gambian leader was welcomed to the White House as recently as August 2014, when he attended the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

In February, Gambia became the second African nation to declare itself an Islamic state after President Jammeh issued a unilateral declaration that followed in the footsteps of Mauritania.

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