Magazine article New African

Sixteen Years of Yahya Jammeh

Magazine article New African

Sixteen Years of Yahya Jammeh

Article excerpt

The Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, has been in power for 16 years now. He came to power through a bloodless coup d'etat on 22 July 1994 and was elected as president two years later in September 1996. He has since been re-elected twice. Only 29 and a lieutenant at the time of the 1994 coup, Jammeh is now the only remaining member of the original coupists who brought ex-President Sir Dawda Jawara's 32-year rule to an end. Bubaccar Sowe looks back on Yahya Jammeh's 16-year reign, and counts the pluses and minuses of a man who appears not yet ready to give up power.

ON 22 July 1994, a fresh-faced Lieutenant Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Diliu Jammeh led a group of young soldiers to overthrow the government of President Sir Dawda Jawara, who had been in power for 32 years, first as prime minister from 1962-1970, and then as president from 1970-1994.

Jammeh and his young colleagues, now grouped in what they called the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AF-PRC), denounced Jawara's government, alleging mass corruption, nepotism and mismanagement of public resources. The coup was popular among most Gambians who, truth be told, had had enough of Jawara's then inept government.

As chairman of the AFPRC, Jammeh and his government ruled by decree. They suspended the national constitution, banned all political parties, and promised to return the country to civilian rule after four years. But following a controversial consultation process, which led to the drafting of a new constitution, Gambians were given the choice to accept or reject the draft constitution in a referendum which recorded a turnout of 87%. As widely expected, a good 70% of the people voted for the adoption of the new constitution.

That brought an end to Jammeh's military rule as he retired from the army, and together with his junta colleagues, formed a political party, the Alliance For Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).

With Jammeh as its presidential candidate, the APRC went on to win the presidential election of September 1996, garnering 57% of the votes. Jammeh has since then won two more elections and is likely to stand again for a fourth term next year.

Jammeh's achievements

With a population of 1.3 million, The Gambia has since Jammeh's emergence seen a revolution in its national development. Jammeh's government established the country's first university (even though it still has no campus and students attend lectures in other tertiary institutions).

Jammeh's government has also built not only secondary schools, both junior and senior, but most primary schools have also been upgraded to a system called the basic cycle school to cater for junior secondary-level education.

The health sector has also been improved compared to Jawara's days. Hospitals and major health centres have been built, and though basic medical supplies remain in short supply, it is a far cry from the pre-1994 days.

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But Jammeh's government has built a swanky new airport outside Banjul which has earned the president immense esteem among the people. There has also been a major road network construction project, which has vastly improved transportation and communication in the country as compared to Jawara's days.

Immense work has also been done on the electricity supply, and currently many rural areas are being linked to the national grid. This project has made it possible for a number of roads in urban areas to have streetlights. In January this year, finance minister Momodou Foon told the National Assembly that The Gambia's total debt stood at 16.84 billion dalasis ($675m). On the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Foon said the country was on track but would, however, miss some of the targets.

Another of Jammeh's major plus points has been his decision to allow former President Jawara to return home from exile in Britain and enjoy his retirement at the nation's expense. …

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