The Gambia was ruled for over two decades by President Yahya Jammeh, who consistently violated political rights and civil liberties. The 2016 election resulted in a surprise victory for opposition candidate Adama Barrow, who was reelected in 2021. Respect for fundamental freedoms including the rights to free assembly, association, and expression have improved under the Barrow administration, but it has faced criticism for continued corruption. Among other ongoing concerns, LGBT+ people face severe discrimination, and violence against women remains a serious problem.
- In March, the conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal caused instability in southern Gambia, with over 5,600 Gambians forced to leave their homes.
- In April, legislative elections resulted in President Adama Barrow’s National People’s Party (NPP) winning 18 of the 53 elected seats in the National Assembly, making it the largest party but falling short of a majority.
- In May, the Barrow government released its white paper on the recommendations of the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that had been established to address the abuses of the Jammeh era. The government accepted most of the TRRC recommendations, including that the prosecution of Jammeh should be a goal.
- In late December, the government arrested several members of The Gambia’s armed forces over an alleged coup attempt.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is directly elected to a five-year term and faces no term limits. In December 2021, Adama Barrow won a second term with about 53 percent of the vote in a field of six candidates. Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party (UDP) placed second with 28 percent. Domestic and international observers found the results to be credible. However, some irregularities were reported, and a number of deficiencies in the legal framework affected the campaign environment. Two of the opposition candidates rejected the outcome and filed a legal suit that was subsequently dismissed by the Supreme Court on procedural grounds.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Of the 58 members of the unicameral National Assembly, 53 are elected by popular vote and the remainder are appointed by the president; members serve five-year terms. The April 2022 parliamentary elections, in which Barrow’s NPP won a plurality of seats, were deemed transparent, peaceful, and orderly by international observers. Weaknesses included low turnout and some confusion in the lead-up to the election over the number of constituencies. The NPP won 18 seats, with the UDP winning 15. Three smaller parties and twelve independent candidates also won seats.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) adequately managed the 2021 presidential election and the 2022 National Assembly elections. However, it faces chronic challenges related to its finances, training of personnel, and access to supplies. International observers have highlighted weaknesses in the electoral framework, including poor regulation of campaign financing and the use of state resources in campaigns, though they praised key aspects of the election-day polling processes. A nationwide registration campaign conducted by the IEC ahead of the presidential election was widely seen as a success despite significant financial and logistical obstacles; in all, over 960,000 Gambians were registered to vote when the presidential election occurred.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||2.002 4.004|
There were 20 political parties registered in The Gambia as of 2022. Organizers must pay a one million–dalasi ($15,000) registration fee and garner the signatures of 10,000 registered voters, with at least 1,000 from each of the country’s regions. Parties centered on a particular religion, ethnicity, or region are banned. Parties are required to submit annual audits to the IEC.
Candidate nomination requirements present an obstacle to party competition. Ruling parties have historically benefited from the advantages of incumbency, including misuse of state resources.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Despite Barrow winning the 2021 presidential election, his party is not as dominant in the legislature as previous ruling parties have been. The NPP only has a majority with the support of two smaller parties—the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), which was the ruling party under Jammeh, and the National Reconciliation Party (NRP)—and of the five nominated members of the National Assembly. The NPP has poached members from other parties’ leadership.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
Gambians have become more free from improper influences on their political choices since Jammeh’s 22-year rule ended in 2017, but abuses such as the politicized distribution of money and goods to benefit the ruling party continued to be reported ahead of the 2021 election. An alleged coup plot by members of the Gambian military was thwarted in December 2022.
A military mission of the Economic Community of Western African States’ (ECOWAS) initially deployed to enforce the 2016 election was extended in The Gambia until January 2024. In 2022, members of ECOWAS’ Mission in The Gambia (ECOMIG) clashed with rebels from Senegal’s Casamance region. The ECOMIG force has not had a discernible impact on the decisions of Gambian voters or politicians, though there are unproven allegations to the contrary.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
There is concern that Gambian politics are being defined by ethnic divisions, as major parties draw much of their support from particular ethnic groups. Women remain underrepresented in politics. Only five women held National Assembly seats after the 2022 legislative elections, unchanged from the number before the elections. A bill to reserve 16 National Assembly seats for women was introduced in 2021 but has stalled.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
The Barrow government does not appear to be subject to undue influence from nonstate actors, armed forces, or foreign governments. However, its critics have alleged that the government is under the influence of Senegal, citing the continued presence of the ECOWAS military mission and the preponderance of Senegalese commercial interests in the country. The parliament’s limited ability to check executive authority remains a concern.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Allegations of corruption are frequently lodged against officials at all levels of government, and both state and semiofficial agencies have been accused of improperly funneling money to private citizens. An anticorruption bill introduced in the National Assembly in 2019 has yet to be adopted, and a proposed anticorruption commission has not yet been established. Other anticorruption bodies, such as the Financial Intelligence Unit of The Gambia (FIU), have weak enforcement powers.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Government operations are generally opaque. Officials must make asset declarations to the ombudsman, but the declarations are not open to public and media scrutiny. There are widespread allegations of corruption in public procurement. Key licensing processes, especially for industries that rely on natural resources, are not transparent.
The National Assembly passed and President Barrow signed the Access to Information Act in 2021. Civil society groups had championed the legislation as a means to improve transparency and accountability, but its effects in practice remained unclear. In September 2022, the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) declined a request from the Public Petitions Committee of the National Assembly to release an internal report about alleged corruption among staff, despite significant pressure from civil society.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The media environment has improved under Barrow’s presidency. More people are entering the profession, exiled journalists have returned to the country, and there has been a proliferation of private media outlets. Nevertheless, a number of laws that restrict freedom of expression remain in effect. Media outlets have been subject to arbitrary suspensions and journalists have at times faced arrest or physical assault in the course of their work.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||2.002 4.004|
The Barrow government has maintained that The Gambia is a secular society in which adherents of all faiths can worship freely. In practice, non-Sunni Muslim groups experience discrimination. Traditional authorities have made disparaging comments about the Christian community—which comprises less than 5 percent of the population—in connection with the construction of churches and cemeteries.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2.002 4.004|
Academic freedom at the University of The Gambia has improved since Barrow took office, with a more open environment for the exchange of ideas among students and professors than under Jammeh. Lecturers still face political pressure, however, and other challenges persist. In 2021, university staff went on strike over pay and working conditions, but returned to work days later after the university agreed to meet several of their demands.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
Gambians have greater freedom to express political views under the Barrow administration. However, sedition laws that remain on the books could be used to criminalize criticism of the government, including on social media. In April 2021, a leader of the Three Years Jotna movement, which had called for Barrow to honor his earlier pledge to remain in office for only three years, was charged with sedition and violations of the Public Order Act (POA) after allegedly insulting the president and the judiciary. He was eventually cleared of the charges. In December 2022, a few days after the alleged coup attempt, the UDP’s campaign manager was arrested over a video in which he claimed Barrow would be unseated prior to the next election. He was subsequently released.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but the POA requires event organizers to obtain police permits for public assemblies. In the white paper it released in May 2022 on the findings of the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC), the government accepted the commission’s recommendation to review the POA to ensure that it aligned with international human rights standards. During 2022, protests over deteriorating environmental conditions were denied permits, ostensibly over security concerns. When the protests proceeded without permits, they were met with an armed police presence. In September 2022, commercial drivers protesting bridge-crossing fees were arrested.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
There are several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in The Gambia that focus on human rights and governance issues. NGO workers faced detention and other reprisals under Jammeh, and restrictive legislation remains on the books, but since 2017 NGOs have operated with less interference in practice, and some groups have successfully challenged the government on policy and legal matters without repercussion. International NGOs have also increased their presence in the country and are able to operate without interference.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Workers—except for civil servants, household workers, and security forces—may form unions, strike, and bargain for wages, but the labor minister has the discretion to exclude other categories of workers. The Gambia has multiple trade unions that operate without government restrictions, though several lack organization and funds.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The Barrow government has taken steps to improve the judiciary, which was hampered by corruption and inefficiency under Jammeh. These steps include ending the use of contract judges, establishing additional courts to address case backlogs, and giving courts greater budgetary autonomy. The government also reconstituted the Judicial Service Commission, which appoints lower-court magistrates and advises the president on higher-level appointments, court efficiency, and operations. While executive dominance remains a concern, the judiciary has shown some independence from the other branches of government in recent years.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Constitutional due process guarantees remain unevenly upheld, though political dissidents face less risk of persecution than during the Jammeh era. The government has pledged to arrest and prosecute security officers responsible for past human rights abuses. In 2022, five former officers from Jammeh’s National Intelligence Agency were sentenced to death for the murder of political activist Ebrima Solo Sandeng in 2016, while two other defendants were acquitted.
Other Jammeh-era officials accused of human rights violations and abuses have been suspended in accordance with TRRC recommendations. In the white paper it released in May 2022, the government pledged to prosecute Jammeh in accordance with TRRC recommendations, but did not offer a timeline for doing so. The announcement of a special investigative panel to examine the December 2022 alleged coup attempt has been criticized by some members of civil society for potentially undermining the rule of law.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because the government has begun investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of rights abuses during the Jammeh era, including former president Jammeh himself.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
The use of illegitimate physical force by security agents has been less frequent under the Barrow administration. There have been some attempts to improve prison conditions, which remain dire. The recommendations of the TRRC have yielded several prosecutions and suspensions of security officials for using illegitimate force, and the government has acknowledged the need to strengthen laws protecting individuals from abuse by security services. In March 2022, the escalating conflict in Senegal’s Casamance region displaced around 5,600 Gambians.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
Several groups in Gambian society encounter serious difficulties in exercising their human rights. Women enjoy less access to higher education, justice, and employment than men. Legal protections for people with disabilities require strengthening and enforcement. LGBT+ people face severe societal discrimination, and same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The constitution prohibits discrimination, but this “does not apply in respect to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and devolution of property upon death.” Caste-based discrimination remains an issue in parts of the country.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
There are no legal restrictions on the freedom to change one’s place of residence or employment. In practice, the endurance of strong kinship networks, unclear land-ownership rules, and economic speculation affect Gambians’ ability to change residence. In September 2022, the government suspended all unofficial checkpoints across the country, citing a desire to improve freedom of movement.
As of August 2022, coronavirus-related restrictions imposed on internal and external travel during 2020 have been lifted, though face masks remain mandatory in some public spaces.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Gambian law provides formal protections for property rights, but enforcement is weak. Sharia (Islamic law) provisions on family law and inheritance can facilitate discrimination against women. Corruption hampers legitimate business activity. Land ownership is a contentious issue, with disputes sometimes escalating into violence. The problem is exacerbated by unclear division of responsibilities between traditional and state authorities.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Rape and domestic violence are illegal but common. There are no laws prohibiting polygamy or levirate marriage, in which a widow is married off to the younger brother of her spouse. Female genital mutilation is still practiced despite a legal ban. The Barrow government has undertaken steps to address child marriage and gender-based violence. In 2021, it advocated repealing a ban on skin bleaching, originally enacted under Jammeh, arguing that it discriminated against women; however, a bill to repeal the ban failed to pass the National Assembly.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
Enforcement of labor laws is inconsistent but has seen modest improvement in the last two years. Some women and children are subject to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging. In the 2022 edition of its Trafficking in Persons Report, the US State Department noted that the government had taken steps to support trafficking victims and that there had been an increase in prosecutions.
On The Gambia
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Global Freedom Score48 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score56 100 partly free