Gambia president Barrow clinches election win but opposition reject result

Preliminary results put incumbent 200,000 votes ahead of nearest rival

Women queue ahead of polls opening in the Gambia’s presidential election. Photograph: Sally Hayden

Incumbent Adama Barrow has won the Gambia's first presidential election since the end of a decades-long dictatorship, but opposition figures have rejected the results, saying there were delays with the announcements and problems at polling stations.

Mr Barrow (56) was facing off against five competitors, including long-time opposition leader Ousainou Darboe, the 73-year-old leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP). Though the vote was expected to be close, preliminary results brought Mr Barrow back with a margin of more than 200,000 votes on Mr Darboe. There were 962,157 registered voters.

The streets of the area around capital Banjul were almost empty for much of Sunday as Gambians watched the constituency tallies trickle in on TV stations or checked the new Marble phone app, where updates were being posted, from home. The app is so-called because Gambians vote with marbles, putting one each into a drum bearing the face of their preferred candidate.

An official counts the number of marbles for a presidential candidate after polls closed in Saturday’s presidential election. Photograph: Sally Hayden

Voting took place between 8am and 5pm on Saturday, with many people arriving early to cast their ballots.


"The last five years we have democracy. We can vote for change. I feel very excited about it," said Kasseh Samura (50), one of the first in the queue at a polling station in a market in Bakau. "It's very significant because it will change the livelihood of the people."

Kasseh Samura (50) one of the first in the queue to vote, said he was excited democracy had come back to the Gambia. Photograph: Sally Hayden

“Everything will go off peacefully,” said Genoba Macalo (64). “After I vote I will go home, eat, stay at home because I want peace.”

Mr Barrow came to power in 2017, after a shock election result saw him beat Yahya Jammeh, who had seized control in a 1994 military coup.

End of terror

Speaking to Gambians around the capital city over the past few days, they largely said they were grateful for increased freedom of speech and an end to the terror they felt under Mr Jammeh, but were concerned about rising commodity prices, corruption, and high levels of youth unemployment.

In a hall labelled the “situation room” at the upmarket Coco Ocean hotel on Sunday, various civil society organisations working with the West African Network for Peace-building monitored updates and collected reports from observers who had been deployed to polling stations across the country.

Gambians vote by placing marbles in drums with the presidential candidates’ faces on them. Photograph: Sally Hayden

Demba Kandeh, a journalism lecturer at the University of the Gambia, was one of nine people who worked eight-hour shifts for three days with the organisation Fact Check Gambia. They monitored suspicious claims or misinformation on social media, receiving tips through a designated WhatsApp line, and responding to them on Twitter or with audio notes that could be shared through WhatsApp messages.

Gambians were being extremely careful with their newfound democracy, Mr Kandeh said. “There’s a lot more enthusiasm in terms of participation, in terms of people nurturing the gains that have been made in the past five years and contributing to building something bigger and better.”

They counted 36 main suspicious claims or pieces of misleading information, including the wrong winners being declared or problems at polling stations, which they were quick to correct, he said.

“There has been a lot of fear; social media really has the potential to turn things up.”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa