THE GAMBIA: New president Adama Barrow must reconstruct the country and its sport
by Abdoulie Bah, AIPS Young Reporter, Gambia
BANJUL, January 27, 2017 - At last, Arsenal fan Adama Barrow has become the Head of State of The Republic of The Gambia.
After a chaotic past few weeks in The Gambia as tensions and frustrations over the fragile political situation manifested in almost every aspect of daily life, including sport.
Both players and administrators running various disciplines got caught in the impasse which began early December, after general elections which saw the country’s long serving leader Yahya Jammeh defeated by Adama Barrow. After initially conceding loss, Jammeh made a dramatic U-turn, citing irregularities in the process.
But regional body ECOWAS was prepared to have none of it as they quickly marshalled in troops in subsequent weeks to force Mr. Jammeh to accept the election results as confirmed by the Independent Electoral Commission. Following that military threat and a series of last ditch diplomatic efforts by mediators, bloodshed was averted, with Jammeh finally agreeing to step down peacefully. He left for Equatorial Guinea where he is now in exile, and the new President was sworn in earlier in neighboring Senegal and returned home to assume power on Thursday.
The state of sport
However, during the deadlock sports officials couldn’t predict what more could have happened as the former head of state refused to give up power while ECOWAS forces were closing in on Gambian soil for an imminent attack.
Over 45,000 out of Gambia’s 1.5 million population were reported to have deserted the country to seek refuge in neighboring countries, thus sports leagues came to a halt and the bureaus shut down amid fears of conflict.
“The league matches were suspended because the federation decided the climate wasn’t conducive. It affected the whole country and players are part of the population” says Bakary B Baldeh, publicity officer at the Gambia Football Federation.
“A number of us also stayed behind. It’s a sigh of relief now as there’s no longer that state of fear in us and we are resuming our division league matches next weekend”
Another challenge has been on the side of the sports - fans throughout the country who had little or no action for weeks. “I’m a sports lover and I really miss my games, and it was difficult to leave your family with all the instability to be a spectator. We had no peace of mind, I didn’t enjoy it all.” said a football fan during a conducted voxpop around the metropolitan city of Serekunda.
Despite the concerns the interviews also revealed that some people opted to take everything in stride. “Politics comes first, obviously. The political instability we should take care of first. The sports will always remain.”
For others, not even the ongoing African Cup of Nations could ease their worries. Prior to the tournament, the confederation of African Football crowned Gambian referee Bakary Papa Gassama as the best in Africa for the third consecutive year. Unlike his two previous awards not many Gambians celebrated his latest record-breaking feat as worries over the political crisis intensified.
There has not been much reaction so far from the National Sports Associations in the country except from the Gambia Handball Association who congratulated the new head of state shortly after his inauguration.
“On behalf of the Gambia Handball Association, I wish to congratulate HE Adama Barrow. All the best Mr President” wrote the President of the GHA Haruna Cham on social media.
Adama Barrow admitted to being big fan of wrestling and football.
A reversal in fortunes
The Gambia’s biggest achievements in sports was in 2005 and 2009 under former President Yahya Jammeh who dished out one million dalasis to each member the 2009 CAF African Under-17 football championship title winning team. However, success at the junior level never translated to the senior sides often blamed on mal administration, poor funding and age cheating.
Under new political dispensation many Gambians are hoping for a reversal in fortunes not just in football, by far the country’s number one sport, but in all other disciplines as well. There is great weight of expectation for the new president Adama Barrow, more so in the sports sector with much needed injection of efficiency in management and facilities to be brought up to present day standards.
The tasks ahead
For many years, concerns have been raised over crumbling infrastructure at the Chinese constructed Impendence stadium, the only one facility capable of hosting major international sports events was built in the 1980’s. A new stadium should be priority for the Barrow administration.
A new minister of sport will have a herculean task of unifying a divided sports movement. From dubious elections at the Gambia National Olympic Committee, to the lack of transparency of international funding at the Football Federation and even the lack of organized programs of some dormant national sports associations. It will be hard to resolve such a broken system in a few years but hopes are high. For now, the focus of the new government isn’t sport but the ruined economy, and internal security amongst others.