By Joe Moresky
Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of Inauguration Day were Senator Roy Blunt’s opening remarks. Looking back at the observations President Ronald Reagan made at his own inaugural ceremony in 1981, Blunt reminded spectators and viewers alike that what America has witnessed was nothing short of a routine wonder. Reagan had christened our nation’s quadrennial display of the peaceful transition of power a “commonplace miracle:” commonplace in that Americans have become accustomed to this transition, miraculous in that it consistently occurs.
This isn’t always the case. Even in our modern age, the kind of democratic moment witnessed last Friday is still a rarity in some parts of the globe.
In what BBC News christened “one of the biggest election upsets West Africa has ever seen”, Adama Barrow emerged victorious in The Islamic Republic of The Gambia’s presidential election. He had defeated longtime incumbent Yahya Jammeh, who had been ruling The Gambia since a coup d’etat in 1994, by a popular vote margin of 3.7 percentage points. Jammeh consequently conceded electoral defeat on Dec. 2, 2016. It was the first time the transfer of power in The Gambia had been decided by a democratic election since the nation’s 1965 referendum for independence from the United Kingdom.
But then something changed.
Several days after the election had concluded, Jammeh began asserting that there had been an unacceptable amount of electoral irregularities. Rejecting the outcome of the contest, he called for a renewed vote. This decision to desperately cling onto power was widely decried by both internal Gambian institutions and external entities.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) began applying diplomatic pressure in an attempt to convince Jammeh to recognize the results of the election. After those efforts failed, ECOWAS and the African Union petitioned the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to authorize a military intervention in support of the legitimacy of Adama Barrow’s victory. Gambian citizens began fleeing the country, seeking safety in neighboring Senegal. By Jan. 19, Jammeh remained defiant and unwilling to step down. The UNSC authorized intervention, and Senegalese troops entered Gambian territory.
Finally, on Jan. 21, Jammeh relinquished power and pledged to abide by an ECOWAS-arranged exile. The Gambia’s national nightmare was not quite over. As Jammeh left the beleaguered country, he took with him over 11 million dollars—virtually draining state coffers.
As we reflect on our own country’s tumultuous presidential election, we must take pride in the fact that our electoral institutions remain stalwart. Even in the face of division and protest, we can revel in our shared ownership of the strongest bastion of liberty to ever grace this Earth.
We can look past our differences to find solidarity in being American.