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Rule of LawThe Gambia

The Gambia thwarts alleged coup attempt

December 21, 2022

The government says some soldiers of the Gambian army "were plotting to overthrow the democratically elected government" of President Adama Barrow.

Gambian President Adama Barrow speaks to supporters
Barrow won a second term in elections last yearImage: Leo Correa/AP/picture alliance

Many Gambians have condemned Tuesday’s failed coup attempt as they demand for a more robust democratic system in the West African nation.

Four soldiers were arrested on Wednesday for trying to overthrow President Adama Barrow's administration and three alleged accomplices were said to be on the run.

The government has now named the four soldiers currently in custody and those on the run as it assures in a statement that the "situation is under total control and there is no need to panic."

One Gambian in the capital, Banjul, told DW that news about the coup attempt concerned him.

"My reaction when I first heard about this was scared, worried because I didn’t know what was going on," the Banjul resident said. "I thank God that it wasn’t successful. It is never right to attempt to overthrow a government through a coup because we all know how coups end."

Another Banjul resident told DW that citizens generally don’t support such moves by disgruntled soldiers.

"As a citizen, I totally condemn the actions of those military forces that planned to overthrow the government that is democratically elected. This is unconstitutional and it’s undemocratic, so we don’t support such," he said, adding that "the people who are most affected are the poor people" when coups succeed.

For some Gambians, although the coup is condemnable, more must be done to build a robust democratic system.

"It [the failed coup attempt] should serve as a wake-up call to the Gambian government to know that something is not going right," another Banjul resident told DW.

"Coups are usually triggered by either economic, political or oppression and we have seen almost all of these emerging because the cost of living is high, corruption is rampant. So, the Gambian government needs to put their house in order to avoid future occurrence of such coup attempts."

Is the coup attempt linked to the previous regime?

The government has said it is investigating the incident but hasn’t linked it to the previous regime, led by former President Yahya Jammeh.

African security analyst Adib Saani told DW that an investigation must probe whether the people behind the coup attempt have any links to Jammeh.

"We cannot run away from the fact that Yahya Jammeh still has a lot of influence in Gambian politics. What we need to do is to establish whether those behind the failed coup are connected either directly or indirectly to Jammeh," Saani said.

Jammeh still holds much influence in Gambian politics despite living in exile in Equatorial Guinea, according to the analyst.

President Barrow defeated former dictator Yahya Jammeh in presidential elections in December 2016 and won a second term in elections last year.

Jammeh was forced into exile after refusing to accept defeat. In a phone call to a rally in The Gambia on Saturday, he said he would return soon to lead the country once more.

Eight former soldiers led by one of Jammeh’s former military aides plotted to overthrow Barrow the year after he came to power. They were sentenced to jail in 2019 on treason and conspiracy charges they denied.

Entrenching democratic values

According to Saani, the Barrow government needs to work towards entrenching democratic principles to avoid such incidences in the future.

"They [the government] need to work more on the human security of the people, by so doing it would be extremely difficult for any group of soldiers to pick up arms against any democratically elected government," he said.

But he was quick to caution that the government doesn’t embark on unnecessary crackdowns that raise political tensions further.

"I am hoping that this also doesn’t give Adama Barrow an opportunity so to speak to go after his opponents because that would rather complicate matters and reduce the country to undemocratic regime," Saani said.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has condemned the failed coup attempt, saying in a statement that it rejects all unconstitutional change of government in any member state.

It said that it "stands by the democratically elected government of the Gambia," led by President Adama Barrow. 

Banjul remains peaceful, with people going on with their daily activities, as usual.

Sankulleh Janko in Gambia contributed to this article

Edited by: Keith Walker