A few days ago a new president was sworn into office. He is a wealthy property developer with no previous political experience. He has been married several times and has five children. He was elected on a slate of goals that will bring changes to the nation over which he aspired to preside. His election was a surprise result for the people who elected him.
The similarity with President Donald Trump ends there, for I am not speaking of an American inauguration, but of a Gambian inauguration. Unfortunately for Adama Barrow, his transition to power in West Africa failed to live up to the promise of a smooth transition expected in the days immediately following the December election.
Once again an African leader clings to power despite the democratic process. Yahya Jammeh, the defeated incumbent, had held power since leading a military coup against his predecessor, Dawda Jawara, in 1994. Serving as only the second President in Gambia’s history, he had taken power from a man who, like many post-independence African leaders had led the nation for more than thirty years. In Jammeh’s case, it was not a coup that deposed him, but a democratic election resulting in fewer people voting for him than his main opponent. Although he initially conceded defeat, on December 9th, he rejected the result citing “unacceptable abnormalities”.
A few years ago our family visited Pope’s Creek on Virginia’s Northern Neck, the birthplace of George Washington. The National Parks guide who narrated the story of the plantation and its famous son told us that the greatness of George Washington established a principle that has been fundamental to the American republic from the inception of the presidency. At the end of the War of Independence, after the British had been finally defeated at Yorktown, Washington surrendered his military command. Professor Gordon Wood in his essay on the example of George Washington states: It was extraordinary, it was unprecedented in modern times—a victorious general surrendering his arms and returning to his farm. Furthermore, George Washington did not do this once, he did it a second time when he stepped down from the presidency after his second term. Many expected him to serve for life, but he inaugurated the smooth transition of power to his successor John Adams. That the chief executive of a state should willingly relinquish his office was an object lesson in republicanism at a time when the republican experiment throughout the Atlantic world was very much in doubt.
The character and the resolve of one founding father laid a foundation for an unbroken chain of four-year terms in office, which recently inaugurated its fifty-eighth term as Donald John Trump raised his right hand and solemnly swore to uphold the constitution of the United States of America
As President Ronald Reagan stated in his first inaugural address: The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.
Contrast that with post-colonial Africa, a continent now made up of more than fifty nations. By the end of the 1980s Africa was known for its enduring presidencies. In the words of Martin Meredith, they were: dictators who strutted the stage, tolerating neither opposition nor dissent, rigging elections, emasculating the courts, cowing the press, stifling the universities, demanding abject servility and making themselves exceedingly rich … By the end of the 1980s not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office.  Leaders cling to power until they either die, or are replaced in violent circumstances. At the end of the millennium of one hundred and fifty Heads of State who had led in Africa since independence, only six had voluntarily relinquished power.
Zimbabwe has become an economic disaster in recent years. Once a major food-producer in the southern part of the continent, much farmland now lies underutilized and drought hinders the fruitfulness of active land. Yet Robert Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, stated early last year that he would remain until God says ‘come’, when former U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged African leaders not to cling to power.
Fortunately Yahya Jammeh eventually agreed to leave Gambia, opening the way for his successor to return on January 26th. Meanwhile, as Europe continues to deal with fleeing African flotsam, rejected by a conceited continental oligarchy and washed up on its shores, the American experiment will survive the Trump presidency, however long it lasts.
As Bobby Clinton states: A leader ought to want to finish well.
 “Gambia leader Yahya Jammeh rejects election result”. BBC News. 10 December 2016. Retrieved 2017-1-20
 The Greatness of George Washington – Gordon Wood – Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1992 p.3
 Ibid p.5
 The Fate of Africa – Martin Meredith – Public Affairs, New York 2005 – pg. 378
 Until God Says Come – http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-zimbabwe-mugabe-idUKKCN0VR0L6. Retrieved 2017-1-25
 Finishing Well – Dr. J. Robert Clinton, 2007