Majority of Gambians Say their Country is Heading in the Wrong Direction

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. 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. 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. 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.