Magazine article New Internationalist

Yahya Jammeh

Magazine article New Internationalist

Yahya Jammeh

Article excerpt

Job: President of the Gambia.

Reputation: Paranoid homophobic kleptocrat.

Jammeh's official title -

His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh - should give a sense of the kind of ego at play in the former Gambian National Army lieutenant. He came to power in 1994, via the sadly time-honoured path of a military coup. Like so many other military dictators, he trained at the infamous School of the Americas at the US military base in Fort Benning, Georgia. After the coup, he formed the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction. The party has 'won' four subsequent elections, although international monitoring groups have become increasingly sceptical about the results. Jammeh embodies the worst of African political culture: jocular, paranoid, arrogant, moralistic and intolerant of even the slightest dissent. These are traits that are all too familiar in Africa's political class, particularly those with their roots in the military. In Jammeh, they have reached a perfect storm and created a nightmare for Gambians.

The Gambia is a small West African riverine state nestled into the coast of Senegal. It has done fairly well out of re-exporting agricultural products from other African countries and package tourism, presenting itself as 'the smiling coast of Africa'. In a continent of limited economic success, the Jammeh regime has been given a pass until recently, despite a third of Gambians living on less than $1.50 a day. However, Jammeh's increasing brutality against opponents and, most recently, gay people, has shifted the ground. In 2012, he renewed the death penalty (which had been de facto suspended) with the execution of nine prisoners. Amnesty International reports that arbitrary arrest (if you are lucky) and simple disappearance (if you are not) have become commonplace. Political dissidents, such as a former information minister given life for printing anti-dictatorship t-shirts, end up in the infamous Mile Two Central Prison. A chill on active citizenship and a climate of dread prevails when the four-wheel-drive Nissan of the notorious 'Green Boys' militia, with its tinted glass and numberless plates, pulls up, or the security police drop by to let you know that 'the big man wants to see you'. Gambia's brave but struggling independent media have been targeted, with an official policy that 'there is no news but good news'. Where the heavy-handed new libel laws and onerous fees for registering new media have not been enough, outright murder, such as that of Deyda Hydara, editor of Point newspaper, is used. …

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