By Talibeh Hydara, Standard Newspaper
Adama Barrow’s dramatic drubbing of former eccentric dictator in the polls proved arguably an even bigger shock than that of fellow property mogul in the US, Donald Trump, who snatched the Oval Office from world’s favourite Hilary Clinton.
Adama Barrow was born on 15 February 1965 in Mankama Kunda near Basse, to an average Mandinka family. He had his early education at Koba Kunda Primary School in the Upper River Region and Crab Island Junior Secondary School in Banjul, from where he proceeded to Muslim High School, also in Banjul for his secondary education.
When he finished senior school, Barrow went into business and worked at Alhagie Musa & Sons where he sharpened his business acumen. He then moved to United Kingdom in the early 2000s, where he studied for a degree in real estate, while working as a security guard at Argos catalogue store in North London.
Six years later, Barrow returned home to set up his own real estate company—Majum House—and would flourish in the business, closing a lot of real estate deals.
Barrow’s return from England saw him get more influence in the United Democratic Party, the party he would lead in the most unpredictable circumstances. He was appointed deputy treasurer to the national executive committee that very year and then, acting treasurer of the party for almost six years.
Adama Barrow won the hearts of many people even as a businessman, especially as a father and husband. He has two wives—Fatoumatta Bah and Sarjo Mballow— and five children but unfortunately lost one of them during his temporary refuge in Senegal as Jammeh refused to vacate the seat of power.
His career in politics came on the spotlight in 2007 when he contested for parliamentary election in his native Jimara constituency against Mamma Kandeh, then candidate for the ruling APRC, who beat him hands-down to grab the seat in the National Assembly.
After his parliamentary election defeat, Barrow continued his real estate business until 2010 when he was appointed coordinator of the UDP URR Committee by the party’s national executive.
The United Democratic Party’s secretary general, Ousainou Darboe, had been the only presidential candidate for the party since its formation in 1996. But it appeared former dictator, Yahya Jammeh, found pleasure in beating him and any other presidential candidate for four consecutive elections, usually with landslides. However, Ousainou and 17 executive members of his party were arrested, tried and sent to jail for protesting against the death of their youth leader.
On hindsight, Ousainou’s jailing was described as a blessing in disguise as it gave a rare opportunity for a new face to lead the party. Darboe wouldn’t have necessarily run due to his age and Adama Barrow, who was probably the unlikeliest candidate, beat three others in September to be the UDP’s presidential candidate. That is where the journey restarted.
In his acceptance speech, Adama Barrow stood before party loyalists and promised to wipe their tears in a difficult year. And it might have been only him who was sure of ending Jammeh’s intended billion-year grip on the country.
“I stand before you, before the whole nation, in humility having been honoured by my party, by the members of my party, by the entire Gambian people in selecting me to carry the flag of the United Democratic Party to victory in the forthcoming presidential elections.
“This is a great responsibility, and I am accepting it with my unquestionable belief in Allah, the Almighty, and the confidence and trust I have in the Gambian people. I know the Gambian people are yearning for change. They have done so since 1996 and I believe that the time has come for that change.
“My nomination is the first step [towards that change] and I know that with the suffering that all Gambians irrespective of age, sex, religious or tribal background, have experienced, we will bring about change in December,” Barrow delivered amidst raucous claps and chants. This speech regained the party’s lost hopes and it resonated with majority of Gambians enduring hardship under Jammeh’s leadership.
Jammeh had never been more certain of victory in action. In fact, he vehemently said on election day that this time, his victory would be bigger than any other in the past elections probably because, for the first time, he was challenged by his age mates.
Mamma Kandeh, Jammeh’s former parliamentarian broke away from the APRC and formed a new party, Gambia Democratic Congress. This would become a nightmare for Jammeh’s club as the charismatic politician kept snatching APRC supporters and had already shown signs that he could cause upset in the race, probably because he was confident of beating Adama Barrow again.
Until November 2016, the Gambia opposition had an abysmal record of forming coalitions. All the previous attempts failed but the November convention was historic because seven political parties came together to challenge the incumbent.
Since his selection to lead the Coalition, Barrow gradually grew confident and the crowds were scary. From there on, people started believing that it is votes that matter not rhetoric. From village to village in the remotest parts of the country; wherever there were eligible voters, Barrow and his team stormed the settlement, sometimes holding meetings in wee hours of the morning. His message was clear: go out and vote! He overcame his quiet demeanour and made the people believe that the incumbent’s claims that jinns would vote for him were only meant to stop supporters of the other divide from going to the polls.
If there is one character of Barrow that the whole country fell in love with—or at least his followers—it is his enviable humility and people aren’t quiet about it. “He is the perfect candidate. He is humble, kind and industrious man who breaks the deal. He is down to the earth,” Mai Ceesay, a former female youth president of the UDP, was quoted saying after Barrow’s selection to lead the party.
Even though he contested in parliamentary election, many people were surprised when Barrow was selected because they simply didn’t know him. But for Pa Manneh, the APRC Nyambai Ward councillor, who was once a staunch supporter of UDP, President Barrow will lead this country to greatness.
“He is no stranger to me. He is a brother in the struggle. I once shared a room with him in Jarra during UDP convention before 2011 presidential election. We had a lengthy discussion throughout the night and I came to know his truthfulness and honesty. It wasn’t a mistake that the UDP and the Coalition chose him. With the support of Gambians, Barrow will be an excellent leader,” he said.
The Independent Electoral Commission, IEC, on Friday, 2nd December 2016 declared the Candidate of the Opposition Coalition, Mr Adama Barrow as the winner of the presidential election. The country went wild! All of a sudden, a relatively unknown real estate developer became a Hollywood star with scores of international journalists thronged the small country; all jostling one another to have an interview with him.
During the time of his predecessor, the spectre of tribalism was rearing its ugly head. President Barrow, fluent in at least three local languages—Mandinka, Fula and Serahule —each of them claimed he is theirs. But he immediately extinguished the burning fire of tribalism in the early stages of his election triumph.
“It would be an inclusive country where tribalism will not have a place. I am the least tribalist person you will ever see. I have mixed ethnic blood in me. I am a Sarahule, Mandinka and Fula. Two of my sisters from the same mum and dad are married to Jolas. So tribe is not important. What is important is that we are all Gambians and should unite and work for the progress of our country, President Barrow said after his election victory.
President Barrow might be taciturn but his love for travelling and watching football has been demonstrated. During his stay England in the early 2000, he fell in love with Arsenal—a top flight North London football team that has a huge fan base in The Gambia. After beating Jammeh and things started to normalise, Barrow was seen in Arsenal jersey on twitter with a broad smile and a loyal message to the Gunners.
“You can change your politics, but never can you change your favourite football team! Thank you — @Arsenal! #Gambia #Arsenal”
The Coalition members have agreed on a three-year transition and after which the country will return to the polls in 2020 to elect a new leader. If President Barrow steps down after this transition period, he will not have only made history by ending 22 years of dictatorship in The Gambia but will be the only president to have stepped down after just three years in office.