December 9 at 9:00 AM In the Congo, President Joseph Kabila has engineered artificial delays in the election process to extend his stay in power, and the opposition has called for massive protests on Dec. 19, when his mandate was supposed to end. Amid this turmoil, what do the Congolese people think? Over a period of four months this year, we conducted the first nationally representative political opinion poll in the Congo in more than a decade. And we found a sophisticated electorate, an overwhelming support for democracy and deep distrust of the government. Cracks in the new democracy Despite efforts to restore peace, the Congo has struggled with armed conflict since 1996. Millions of civiliansRead more
Banjul (Gambia) (AFP) - Gambian opposition leader Ousainou Darboe, who had been jailed for taking part in a protest, was freed on bail with 18 others Monday, days after a shock opposition election win.
The head of his defence team said the group's bail was a sign of The Gambia's new democratic maturity following its first transfer of power by the ballot box last week.
Judges handed down the much-awaited ruling three days after an opposition coalition took a surprise victory in a presidential election that will see businessman Adama Barrow take over from President Yahya Jammeh after 22 years in office.
Ousainou and the others took part or were picked up nearby a demonstration in April over the death in custody of Solo Sandeng, a fellow member of the United Democratic Party (UDP), who had taken to the streets to demand electoral reform.
"This ruling by the court is a vindication of the country's democratisation process, which has begun," defence lawyer Atoumane Gaye said.
The UDP is one of eight political organisations represented in the coalition.
The appeal of the 19 UDP members against their three-year sentences passed down in July continues, but Gaye said he hoped that by January -- the deadline for the coalition president to take power -- they would be definitively released.
Gaye further remarked that the decision could herald a new era for independent courts in the country, which have long been seen as an instrument of outgoing president Yahya Jammeh to prosecute his critics.
Speaking to journalists prior to the ruling, the slight and elderly Darboe said he bore no grudge against Jammeh.
"I think he is someone who has done his bit," Darboe said, referring to the leader's 22-year rule.
"I have respect for him as the president of this country and I would never address him as a crazy man and I would never address him as an evil man," he added.
He was defiant, however, saying that "what I did was not against the law."
Human Rights Watch hailed "an important first step in demonstrating improved respect for the rule of law", while Amnesty International said it hoped the ruling would lead to a full acquittal.
President-elect Barrow has pledged to rejoin the International Criminal Court and the Commonwealth, both institutions which Jammeh railed against and withdrew the country from, to the dismay of many.
His coalition will govern for three years with Barrow as its figurehead, after which elections will be held and he will step down in line with a memorandum signed by all the parties involved.
Banjul (Gambia) (AFP) - Opposition candidate Adama Barrow pulled off a stunning victory in The Gambia, comfortably winning a presidential election and putting an end to the 22-year rule of Yahya Jammeh, official results showed Friday.
Jammeh had conceded defeat, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said as Gambians began to take to the streets to celebrate the biggest upset in the west African nation since Jammeh seized power in a 1994 coup.
"It's really unique that someone who has been ruling this country for so long has accepted defeat," Alieu Momar Njie told reporters.
Barrow won 54.54 percent (263,515 votes) while Jammeh took 36.66 percent (212,099) and third party candidate Mama Kandeh 102,969 votes (17.80 percent) in the Thursday poll, the IEC said.
Turnout was around 65 percent.
Jammeh, who once said he would govern for a billion years if God willed it, was attempting to win a fifth term with his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).
On the streets of Bakau, a district on the outskirts of the capital Banjul, Gambians began an impromptu street party, drumming, dancing and honking car horns.
"This man (Jammeh) beat and oppressed us," a young man who gave his name as Jawara told AFP. "We didn't have our freedom but definitely Barrow will give it to us," he added, choking back tears.
Gambian state television told AFP that Jammeh would make a statement later in the day to congratulate opposition leader Barrow, 51.
A previously unknown estate agent and former economic migrant to Britain, Barrow was chosen as the opposition flag bearer by a group of political parties who had joined forces for the first time, whipping up unprecedented popular support.
Barrow told AFP before the vote was announced that he was "certain" he had won.
If Jammeh's concession is confirmed, Barrow will likely serve a three-year term at the head of a transition reform government in the tiny ex British colony that occupies a narrow sliver of land surrounded by French-speaking Senegal and pristine Atlantic ocean beaches beloved by tourists.
- Banjul success -
Jammeh campaign manager Yankuba Colley said he was not aware of the electoral commission chairman's statement but said he believed the president would step down if the Gambian people wanted it.
"When the Gambians make their verdict, he is someone who is faithful," he told AFP.
"It is a difficult result but the man I know will accept whatever comes."
Barrow's camp confirmed the IEC statement.
Thursday's election was marked by an internet blackout that sparked condemnation from rights groups and the United States.
But early results on Friday were positive for Barrow as he took the capital Banjul -- a traditional Jammeh stronghold.
He won nearly 50 percent of the vote in Banjul's three constituencies, according to the IEC, compared to 43 percent for Jammeh.
Security forces had deployed heavily in Banjul earlier Friday amid nervousness over whether Jammeh would accept a ballot box defeat.
Before dawn broke, military and police, some covering their faces, set up checkpoints every few hundred metres on the outskirts of the capital, while citizens were inside sleeping or watching the results come in.
"Power belongs to the people. You cannot stop us and you cannot stop them," Barrow said at his final rally this week.
Jammeh meanwhile had predicted the biggest landslide of his political career.
- 'Generally peaceful conditions' -
The United States said turnout appeared to be high and that the vote took place in "generally peaceful conditions", while the IEC hailed "a very successful election."
At his final campaign rally, Jammeh had warned that protests over the election result would not be tolerated, saying The Gambia "does not allow" demonstrations.
No professional international observers were on the ground for the vote, diplomats confirmed, but a small team of African Union experts monitored events along with Banjul-based US and European delegations already present in the country.
A Senegalese security source confirmed to AFP in Dakar that The Gambia had closed the borders on Thursday, a common occurrence during elections in west Africa.
Jammeh seized power in a 1994 coup and had until now survived multiple attempts to remove him from the presidency.
Some 60 percent of the population live in poverty in The Gambia, and a third survive on $1.25 (1.20 euro) or less a day, according to the UN.
BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia's president of more than two decades is warning that even peaceful protests will not be permitted after Thursday's election, a move that comes as people are for the first time speaking out more freely against President Yahya Jammeh's rule.
The 51-year-old, who took control of this small West African country in 1994, raised his hands in the air before thousands of singing and dancing supporters at his final campaign rally late Tuesday.
Jammeh has said his victory is all but assured with divine intervention, and warned the opposition against protesting.
"Our election system is fraud-proof, rig-proof, you cannot rig our elections," he said. "There is no reason that anybody should demonstrate."
Demonstrations will not be allowed "because those are the loopholes that are used to destabilize African governments," he said.
Jammeh's supporters praise his efforts to boost economic development in the tiny country that is dependent on tourism and agriculture.
"He has built the airport, schools, medical facilities and buildings," said 50-year-old Pinta Manneh, smiling with excitement for the man she was certain would be re-elected for a fifth term. She couldn't imagine an opposition victory. "He will be angry if he loses," she said.
Jammeh came to power in a coup in 1994, and then swept elections in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011, after a 2002 constitutional amendment removed presidential term limits. Critics, though, say those elections were not free and fair, and they accuse his regime of corruption and human rights abuses.
Gambia has seen a large exodus of its citizens trying to migrate to Europe on dangerous water routes in recent years. Jammeh says such migration is a matter of choice, and that Gambians do not leave because of poverty.
On Thursday, more than 880,000 registered voters will head to more than 1,400 polling stations around the country. The sliver of a country, surrounded by Senegal and a small Atlantic coastline, has a population of about 1.9 million.
Jammeh faces off against Adama Barrow, a former businessman and United Democratic Party leader, who emerged as the candidate for an alliance of eight opposition parties. Former ruling party deputy Mama Kandeh is running for the Gambia Democratic Congress, the only opposition party not in the coalition.
Voters will use marbles, placing them into green, silver and purple ballot drums, which will be counted on the spot using wooden tablets. Observers from the European Union and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS are not attending the vote, though the African Union will send a handful of observers.
Security forces arrested dozens in April and May after protests calling for electoral and political reforms. Two main opposition party members died in detention after the protests, and 15 opposition supporters are now serving three-year prison sentences.
That clampdown, however, has not stymied an excited opposition coalition.
"It's been impressive to see that there have been so many people willing to claim their rights, and to speak out and campaign, and do so freely during these two weeks," said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for West and Central Africa. "Our fear is the freedom that has been allowed, that has been claimed and used, will stop."
Isatou Jadama, 26, was among the thousands of opposition supporters lining the streets this week.
"We need change for our country, and a good leader," Jadama said.
Omar Amadou Jallow, an emblematic opposition leader for the People's Progressive Party, which joined the coalition, agreed that this is the year for change.
"For 22 years we have realized that Gambia has been turned into a prison; the arrests, the tensions, the torture and many of our people have gone into exile ... That shows the tyranny of the regime," he said. "We are going to give people their freedoms, their liberties. That is more important than anything else."
Sikasso (Mali) (AFP) - Amadou Sanogo, a former army captain who staged a military coup in Mali in 2012, went on trial Wednesday charged with murdering 21 soldiers whose bodies were found in a mass grave.
Sanogo, who faces the death penalty, toppled president Amadou Toumani Toure as the country grappled with a rebellion by Tuareg people that eventually led the way to a jihadist takeover in its vast arid north.
"I'm in fine spirits. I was waiting for this day," Sanogo told AFP at the opening of the trial, which was held in a packed concert hall in Sikasso, 370 kilometres (230 miles) southeast of the capital, Bamako. The trial was adjourned until Friday.
After the March 2012 coup he proclaimed himself leader, saying the former head of state had failed to restore order. But within days, the military lost control of the cities of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, where jihadists razed ancient shrines.
The trial began hours after a failed suicide attack against Gao airport later claimed by a group led by one-eyed Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who last week was reported by a US official to have been slain in a French air strike.
Sanogo and 16 others, all of them formerly in the military, are accused of the abduction and killing of 21 elite "Red Berets," who were detained and forcibly disappeared between April 30 and May 1, 2012.
The "Red Berets" were accused of involvement in an April 30 counter-coup against Sanogo and his loyalists.
Among those facing the charges of assassination and kidnapping are a former defence minister and a former chief of staff.
The bodies were found in December 2013 in a mass grave near Sanogo's headquarters.
Mali regained control of the northern cities from the jihadists after a French-led international military intervention in January 2013, but insurgents remain active across large parts of the region.