Written by Staff Writer by Daina Beth Solomon, CNN
With the current price of a 10-gram (0.33-ounce) box of marbles running at around 15.94 Gambian dalasi ($1.21), the 40-year annus horribilis for Gambian polo has begun with stability in mind.
Voting in the country’s 99th presidential election is taking place Tuesday, and a declaration is expected later this week.
For long-time Gambian polo enthusiast Hirut Jokbar, vote tallies and predictions might be taking the U-turn in Gambia’s ruling coalition for granted.
“If I had the information available today to go on, I think it would be very difficult to ask one particular individual,” she said, referring to Jibril Jallow, an opposition candidate leading in the polls.
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The chasm that divides Jallow and incumbent Yahya Jammeh’s increasingly paranoid political camp is immense.
It is no accident that tension between the two leaders has risen steadily throughout the year, says Jokbar.
“The whole situation is just unfortunate,” she says. “We have expected the election to take place in February, but everybody in Gambia was expecting today.”
Jammeh and Jallow were arrested by the police on October 24, the day before the election campaign officially opened, but both leaders were granted house arrest as the Supreme Court is deliberating whether it has jurisdiction to rule on whether Jammeh’s candidacy should be scrapped altogether.
It’s been a battle for dignity in Gambia, an unpredictable nation split between civilian and military rule since the fall of the white nationalist Jammeh’s predecessor, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
“Yahya Jammeh really eliminated the shame of Gambian history,” says Jokbar. “It’s been a long time.”
But it is not the “deplorable” human rights record that Jammeh has brought to Gambia that has worried Jokbar the most.
Like his predecessor, Jammeh’s legendary hatred of homosexuality has gained him a reputation for homophobia and crackdowns on LGBT rights.
“I never remember them being accused of doing something against our human rights,” she says. “Gay men were arrested and sent to jail.”
What has made Gambia different from previous regimes, Jokbar says, is the government’s recent bid to stop the game of polo from taking place.
“When he was president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah tried to ban it as it is a British import to Gambia, which is forbidden,” she says.
She remembers a similar ban by the government on men wearing trousers for at least five years.
Protests prevented the ban from being implemented, and Jokbar says the change in government has changed her thoughts on the issue.
“There is no point crying over spilled milk,” she says. “Now it is football and politics that are fighting.”
A representative of Jammeh’s campaign, however, was more blunt when asked about the relationship between politics and polo.
“People should stop boasting about playing polo, because the people of Gambia is very little for a grand party,” said Amadou Jah.
“Polo is not a sport that can be easily added to a number of things that can make a nation prosper.”