In December 2021, Gambians will head to the polls for their first presidential election since the
removal of longtime leader Yahya Jammeh in 2017. Amidst a proliferation of political parties
and an increasingly liberal media environment, the election is expected to be keenly
contested (Jaw & Jeng, 2021).
The election will also be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted
development challenges confronting the country. The Gambia ranks poorly on many
development indicators. The 2019 United Nations Development Programme’s Human
Development Index, for instance, ranks the country 172th out of 189 countries (UNDP, 2020).
The 2018 Gambia Labour Force Survey estimates that 41.5% of youth (aged 18-35) are
unemployed and that 69.4% of all unemployed Gambians live in rural areas (Gambia Bureau
of Statistics, 2018).
COVID-19 has negatively impacted economic growth, “taking the country off the sustained
growth path it has been on since 2017, with GDP growth recording a negative figure for the
first time in nine years,” according to Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Mambury Njie
(2020). While the government’s 2021 budget was touted as promoting recovery from the
pandemic, prominent human-rights activist Madi Jobarteh (2021) says it represents a
continuation of the past and fails to address the real problems of ordinary Gambians.
Ahead of the election, what do Gambians say about the direction of their country, their
personal well-being, and issues they want their government to address?
Findings from a recent Afrobarometer survey show that Gambians think their country is
heading in the wrong direction and want their government to prioritize the economy and
public service delivery. The survey also shows that lived poverty and personal living conditions
have worsened since 2018, as have popular assessments of the government’s performance
on economic management, infrastructure, and basic services.