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Key findings
  • Two-thirds (68%) of Gambians say democracy is preferable to other regime types, although support for democracy is weaker among 18- to 35-year-olds (62%). Large majorities reject one-man rule (91%), one-party rule (86%), and military rule (78%).
  • Six out of 10 Gambians see their country as a functioning democracy (61%) and say they are “fairly” or “very” satisfied (59%) with the way it is working.
  • Gambians strongly affirm support for the rule of law. More than three-fourths say that courts have the right to make binding decisions (82%) and that the police have the right to make people obey the law (76%). Likewise, seven out of 10 (71%) say the president must always obey the laws and courts, even if he thinks they are wrong.

In December 2017, the National Assembly of the Gambia established a Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) to draft the country’s third Constitution (Freedom Newspaper, 2018).
The Gambia’s founding Constitution (1970) was replaced in 1997, three years after a military coup led by Yahya Jammeh. For more than two decades, Jammeh and his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) dominated the Gambia’s political landscape, often using constitutional amendments to manipulate the political process “with largely anti-human rights and undemocratic provisions” (Nabaneh, 2018). For instance, presidential term limits were removed to enable Jammeh to run for re-election (Jobarteh, 2018), and in 2001 the electoral system was changed to require only a plurality, rather than an absolute majority, to win a presidential election. In 2016, seven opposition parties and an independent presidential candidate united under Coalition 2016 to defeat Jammeh.

The CRC is part of an extensive transitional-justice process instituted by President Adama Barrow, aimed at addressing past injustices and building a stable democratic future. According to prominent human-rights activist Madi Jobarteh (2018), “Both the current government and citizens appear to agree that, given the numerous amendments to the Constitution and the several undemocratic provisions, the need for a new Constitution cannot be over-emphasized.”

After soliciting input from Gambians both at home and abroad, the 11-member CRC in November 2019 released its first draft of the new Constitution and invited the public to provide comments on the draft (Jawo, 2019).

In its national survey in Gambia in mid-2018, Afrobarometer asked citizens for their views on a number of possible constitutional changes. Based on survey findings, the draft Constitution largely aligns with citizens’ preferences on these issues, including popular support for presidential term limits, a quota system for women’s representation in the National Assembly, and political independence for members of the national electoral commission.

Thomas Isbell

Thomas Isbell is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa, University of Cape Town.

Sait Matty Jaw

Sait Matty Jaw is the national investigator for Gambia.