Yahya Jammeh today July 22 2014 celebrates the 20th anniversary of the coup that toppled Dawda Jawara who was president of the West African state for 24 years but few Gambians will have anything to celebrate. The country is still poor, Jammeh has been ruling with an iron fist while his opponents are simply killed, or disappear, never to be seen again
On July 22 1994, a fresh faced and skinny army officer in the Gambian army and a band of equally young friends carried out a bloodless coup and kicked out long serving president Dawda Jawara from power. Yahya Abdul Aziz Jemus Junkung (Yahya Jammeh for short) joined the Gambian army 10 years earlier and was commander of the Gambian military police at the time he seized power. First elected a civilian president in 1996, he has managed o get re-elected again in 20011, 2006 and 2011.
At 49, Yahya Jammeh is not in a quick hurry to leave power and has gradually transformed himself into the kind of “big men” presidents creating a personality cult around himself and making sure his opponents are either killed, imprisoned or forced into exile. 20 years after he first seized power, few of the close friends who helped him are still around. Most are death, some have fled abroad while a handful are still loyal supporters aware he is very ruthless against any real or perceived enemies.
Demonstrations have been planned around the world today on the 20th anniversary of the ascension to power of Jammeh. Article 19, West Africa and RADDHO (Rencontre Africaine pour La Defence des Droits de L’homme) will join Amnesty International today in a Day of Action in protest against human rights violations in the small West African state sandwiched near Senegal.
“Today marks 20 years of the rule of fear in The Gambia where the list of victims of human rights violations grows ever longer…Journalists, human rights defenders, political activists and other Gambians are frequently targeted for exercising their rights to freedom of expressions”, Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa said to mark the anniversary. The London based human rights organization called on the Gambian government to investigate the abuses but few people are expecting any change in tactics from the Gambian strongman.
Jammeh, Like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, appears to like poking his fingers at international opinion. In 2013, he ordered the execution of nine people without notification 30 years after the last executions took place in the Gambia. Some of the executed people, eight men and one woman, had not exhausted their appeals. Gamike Zimbabwe, Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth in October 2013. A statement read on state Tv said the government had “decided that The Gambia will never be a member of a neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism. The withdrawal follows UK government criticism of The Gambian government human rights record including illegal detentions, closure of newspapers and discrimination against minority groups including gays and lesbians. Robert Mugabe withdrew Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth in 2003.
“After fighting for our freedom and liberating our continent, we are being prescribed a new religion, democracy, human rights and good governance by descendants of the same colonial powers. Present day Africans, cannot be hoodwinked by anyone anymore and we are determined to defend our independence and dignity and take control of our natural resources at any cause and by any means necessary” Jammeh told the Un General Assembly in a speech in New York.
Celebrating anniversary in Fear
Official celebrations of what the Gambian government describes as “The July 22 revolution” will be limited to some close friends and associates at the presidency and marked with a day of prayer in all mosques and churches across the country. There are no plans for a public celebrations.
An online newspaper/radio critical of the Gambian president described tody as “Jammeh’s 20 years of Lies, murder, economic crime, rape and terrorism…”
Jammehs biggest claim to his own brand of “fame” is possibly his claims he could cure AIDS in a couple of days with a herbal remedy. AIDS activists condemned the claims saying they were the rantings of a delusionary leader.
The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa with less than 2 million people. It is a favourite tourist destination for British and other foreign tourists. It is a stable but relatively poor country depending on foreign aid to fill gaps in its GDP.