Quiet estate agent a flagbearer for change in Gambia

2016-12-01 16:06
Adam Barrow. (AFP)

Adam Barrow. (AFP) (Jerome Delay)

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Banjul  - Adama Barrow, an unheard-of estate agent just six months ago, is now the flagbearer for The Gambia's opposition as it mounts an unprecedented threat to President Yahya Jammeh's 22-year rule.

A burly yet quietly-spoken man, Barrow was thrust into the limelight following the jailing of several top officials from the United Democratic Party (UDP) in July.

"Gambians have suffered for the past 22 years because we have somebody who wants to stay in power by all means," Barrow told AFP on Tuesday.

"That's why we came as a force to challenge him."

Seven Gambian political parties and an independent candidate have joined forces to field a single contender in Thursday's presidential election, opting for Barrow as a unifying figure.

He had to stand in for longtime UDP leader Ousainou Darboe, who is currently serving a three-year sentence for holding a peaceful protest in April over the death in custody of a party activist - and who is restricted by an age limit.

The two-week election campaign that ended Tuesday has triggered huge ... rallies across the country.

Jammeh however has said there is no possibility of an opposition victory and has made clear he will not tolerate protests over the result.

Workaholic Arsenal fan 

Barrow is an employee at The Gambia's largest property rental firm, and lived in Britain for three-and-a-half years when he was younger, working as a security guard in London.

Now 51, the husband to two wives and father of five is a self-confessed workaholic who finds time only for football in rare moments off, following his favourite team, Arsenal.

"I work 12, 13, 14 hours a day," he said.

A devout Muslim, Barrow said his faith guides every step of his life, as well as his politics.

"If you are a religious man it always influences you," he told AFP.

"Religion preaches about peace, it preaches discipline and respect for people, so you always have that in the back of your mind."

For the last two weeks Barrow's face has been plastered on car windows, brandished on campaign posters, and printed onto grey t-shirts most popular among Gambian youth.

A third candidate, former ruling party MP Mama Kandeh, is also standing and is expected to take a small number of votes from Jammeh supporters among the minority Fula people.

Barrow's popularity is all the more surprising given his total absence from public life until recently, but Banjul-based diplomats have indicated that his lack of experience and political baggage have worked in his favour.

 'There's a crisis' 

It is believed that if Barrow were to win - a tall order both in terms of votes and the likelihood of Jammeh giving up power - he would serve a three-year term as head of a transition reform government.

A memorandum signed by all the parties involved in the coalition would guide his presidency. "We will follow that document step by step," he said.

As a former economic migrant himself, Barrow understands the draw of Europe for young Gambians fleeing the country in huge numbers and taking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

"There is a crisis in the Gambia, that's why everyone is taking the Back Way (migrant route)," he said.

"You hear the name Europe, you think it's heaven. It's never like that," he added.

For now, Barrow is focused on catalysing the support demonstrated on the streets in recent weeks into votes at the ballot box.

"We believe in our support. If Jammeh wants advice, or, I'm giving him advice, if he loses, let him accept the will of the people and accept the value of the Gambian people," he said.

Read more on:    yahya jammeh  |  adama barrow  |  gambia  |  gambia 2016 elections  |  west africa

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