Elections are easy to rig, and they give authoritarian leaders a veneer of legitimacy they badly need.
Gambia became a symbol for democratic change earlier this year when former dictator Yahya Jammeh was peacefully ousted through the ballot box. Now Europe wants its Gambian immigrants to return home.
With frequent irregularities, it's easy to become cynical about elections in Africa. But polls are an essential component of the continent's growing democracy.
The adoption of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance five years ago raised hopes for a new democratic Africa. But its ideals remain elusive for many parts of the continent.
The end of Yahya Jammeh should be celebrated, but his democratic neighbours had the strongest of hands to play.
Regional power Ecowas, which has just seen off yet another dictator in Yahya Jammeh, started off with a tame agenda 42 years ago. But it was soon shaped by civil wars, military coups and despots
Although Ecowas and the AU made sure that Yahya Jammeh stepped down after losing the elections in The Gambia, caution is warranted in assuming this heralds a trend against African dictatorships.
SADC's credibility is at stake. Its lack of political will in acting decisively against despots is at odds with the African Union's goal of promoting legitimate governance on the continent.
Yahya Jammeh will certainly be removed if West Africa decides to use force. But that will come at a heavy price for The Gambia, the neighbouring states and the world as a whole
The Gambian election dispute is not the first that ECOWAS has confronted. Côte d’Ivoire’s 2010 presidential election is a case in point. There it resorted to military action to enforce the outcome.
There is a real sense of optimism in The Gambia: for the first time since Yahya Jammeh came to power, there has been open dissent of the regime and a feeling of ownership of the country’s future.
A peaceful transition in the Gambia, taken together with hints of change in Angola and Zimbabwe, will portend hope that Africa’s democratic renewal is still alive.
Gambia's president of 22 years has been defeated in a shock election victory for opposition leader Adama Barrow.
President Jammeh has ruled Gambia with an iron fist since he seized power more than two decades years ago. He is responsible for gross human rights abuses, yet he hosts Africa's human rights watchdog.