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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 10 February 2017 > ONE DICTATOR DOWN


After 22 years, Gambia finally has a new leader. Why were so many voters thanking a couple of guys in D.C.?


GIVEN THE BOOT: A supporter of Gambia’s newly elected President Adama Barrow kicks a poster of the incumbent Yahya Jammeh in Serekunda, Gambia on December 2.

JEFFREY SMITH knew he wouldn’t get much sleep on December 1. The American human rights advocate sat up all night in front of his computer in Washington, D.C., with his dog Theo, watching as votes in the Gambian election trickled in. More than 4,000 miles away, in the West African country, volunteers in the capital city, Banjul, were emailing him results. Jammeh, Gambia’s eccentric, autocratic president of 22 years, was facing an unexpectedly strong challenge from Adama Barrow, 51, a mild-mannered real-estate agent.

Sometime around 5 a.m. the next day, it became clear that Barrow was going to pull of an astonishing win, ending decades of state-sponsored intimidation and human rights abuses that many Gambians had been fighting against for years. When all the votes were counted, Barrow had secured 43.3 percent of the total, compared with Jammeh’s 39.6 percent share.

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