Yahya Jammeh

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Yahya Jammeh
Yahya Jammeh.png
2nd President of the Gambia
Assumed office
22 July 1994
Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy
Preceded by Dawda Jawara
Succeeded by Adama Barrow (Elect)
Personal details
Born Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jammeh
(1965-05-25) 25 May 1965 (age 51)
Kanilai, Gambia
Political party Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction
Spouse(s) Zeinab Soumah
Alima Sallah (possibly divorced)[1][2]
Children 2
Alma mater Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
Religion Islam
Military service
Allegiance  Gambia
Service/branch Gambian National Army
Years of service 1984–1996
Rank Colonel

Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh (born 25 May 1965)[3] is the outgoing President of the Gambia. As a young army officer, he took power in a 1994 military coup.

He was elected as President in 1996; he was re-elected in 2001, 2006, and 2011. He was defeated by Adama Barrow in the 2016 election.[4] Although he initially conceded defeat, on 9 December 2016, he later refused to recognise the results.[5]


President Jammeh joined the Gambian National Army in 1984, was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1989,[6] and in August 1992 became commanding officer of the Military Police of Yundum Barracks.[7] He received extensive military training in neighboring Senegal,[8] and military police training at Fort McClellan, Alabama.[9]

Rise to power[edit]

On 22 July 1994, Lt. Yahya Jammeh with a group of young officers in the Gambian National Army seized power from President Sir Dawda Jawara in a military coup by taking control of key facilities in the capital city, Banjul.[10] The coup took place without bloodshed and met with very little resistance.[10] The group identified itself as the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC), with the 29-year-old Jammeh as its chairman.[10]

The AFPRC then suspended the constitution, sealed the borders, and implemented a curfew. While Jammeh's new government justified the coup by decrying corruption and lack of democracy under the Jawara regime, army personnel had also been dissatisfied with their salaries, living conditions, and prospects for promotion.[10]


Jammeh founded the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction as his political party. He was elected as president in September 1996.[11] Foreign observers did not deem these elections free and fair.[11] He was re-elected on 18 October 2001 with about 53% of the vote; this election was generally deemed free and fair by observers,[12] despite some very serious shortcomings ranging from overt government intimidation of voters to technical innovations (such as raising the required deposit to stand for election by a factor of 25) to distort the process in favour of the incumbent regime.[13]

A coup attempt against Jammeh was reported to have been thwarted on 21 March 2006; Jammeh, who was in Mauritania at the time, quickly returned home. Army chief of staff Col. Ndure Cham, the alleged leader of the plot,[14] reportedly fled to neighboring Senegal, while other alleged conspirators were arrested[15] and were put on trial for treason.[16] In April 2007, ten former officers accused of involvement were convicted and given prison sentences; four of them were sentenced to life in prison.[17]

Jammeh ran for a third term in the presidential election held on 22 September 2006; the election was initially planned for October but was moved forward because of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.[18] He was re-elected with 67.3% of the vote and was declared the winner of the election; the opposition candidate Ousainou Darboe finished second, as in 2001.[19]

In November 2011, Jammeh was again re-elected as president for a fourth term in office, reportedly having received 72% of the popular vote.

Ahead of the 2016 presidential election a number of opposition members, including United Democratic Party leader Ousainou Darboe, were sentenced to three years in jail for staging pro-democracy protests. In a public address, Jammeh called members of the opposition "opportunistic people supported by the West," adding that "I will bow to only Allah and my mother. I will never tolerate opposition to destabilize this country."[20] The election itself took place on 1 December 2016 and, in a surprise[to whom?] result, Jammeh was defeated by Adama Barrow leading a coalition of opposition parties.[21] Jammeh stated that he would not contest the result.[22] Although he initially conceded defeat, on 9 December 2016, he rejected the result citing "unacceptable abnormalities".[5] He subsequently announced he had annulled the result, pending a new vote.[23] He then filed a petition with the Supreme Court of the Gambia to contest the result.[24] The court began hearing the case on 21 December.[25] ECOWAS warned on 23 December that it would militarily intervene to uphold the results of the election if Yahya didn't resign by 19 January.[26] He has recently appointed six new judges to the Supreme Court, having sacked all but one in 2015. The hearing was to be heard be on January 10th[27], but is now being heard in May. [28]He has stated he will only relinquish the presidency, if the court upholds the election result. The African Union has additionally stated that it would stop recognizing Jammeh as president as of 19 January 2017.[29] He attempted to have Barlow's inauguration blocked, but the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court refused to rule on the matter.[30]


Senegal peace talks[edit]

According to The Daily Observer, on 10 December 2012, Jammeh secured the release of Senegalese soldiers who had been held as hostages by rebels in Senegal.[31] He sent a delegation to meet with Senegalese President Macky Sall in early December 2012. The delegation's goal was to discuss a resolution to the ongoing civil unrest in Senegal's southern region of Cassamance.[32] Members of the delegation included the Minister of Presidential Affairs, the U.S. Ambassador to the Gambia, and members from the Red Cross and Red Crescent.[32]

Jammeh Foundation for Peace[edit]

The Jammeh Foundation for Peace (JFP) was created by Jammeh to help eradicate poverty among Gambians, improve agricultural production, and sponsor educational opportunities for needy students. The foundation has a hospital that is sponsored by the president and provides medical services to the general public.[33]

Charitable giving[edit]

Donations in 2012 included $2,563,138 to the National Youths Conference and Festival (NAYCONF),[34] and "two truckloads of turkey" to the Gambia Christian Council for delivery to the Christian community. Jammeh also bankrolled the university of education for less privileged Gambians and non-Gambians alike both home and abroad.[35]


Yahya Jammeh.

Women's rights[edit]

Jammeh has banned female genital mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia, labeling the practice of FGM as having "no place in Islam or in modern society". After the end of Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr in July 2016, Jammeh further announced a ban on child marriages. In The Gambia, 46% of women are married while under the age of 18, and the majority have undergone FGM.[36]


Further information: LGBT rights in the Gambia

On 15 May 2008, Jammeh announced that his government would introduce legislation that would set laws against homosexuals that would be "stricter than those in Iran", and that he would "cut off the head" of any gay or lesbian person discovered in the country.[37] News reports indicated his government intended to execute all homosexuals in the country.[37] In a speech given in Tallinding, Jammeh gave a "final ultimatum" to any gays or lesbians in the Gambia, warning them to leave the country.[37]

In a speech to the United Nations on 27 September 2013, Jammeh said "[h]omosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers," who "want to put an end to human existence."[38]

On 18 February 2014, Jammeh called homosexuals "vermins" by saying that "We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively,". He also went on to disparage the LGBT by saying that "As far as I am concerned, LGBT can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhoea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis, all of which are detrimental to human existence".[39][40]

Claims of medical treatments and cures[edit]

In January 2007, Jammeh claimed he could cure HIV/AIDS and asthma with natural herbs.[41][42] His claimed treatment program includes instructing patients to cease taking their anti-retroviral drugs.[43][44] His claims have been criticized for promoting unscientific treatment that could have dangerous results, including the infection of others by those who thought they had been cured by the method.[41][42] In December 2011, he restated during an interview that the alleged cure for HIV/AIDS was "going very well".[45]

Fadzai Gwaradzimba, the country representative of the United Nations Development Programme in the Gambia, was told to leave the country after she expressed doubts about the claims and said the remedy might encourage risky behaviour.[46] In August 2007, Jammeh claimed to have developed a single dose herbal infusion that could treat high blood pressure.[47] Jammeh has also claimed to develop a treatment for infertility in women as part of what is called the President's Alternative Treatment Program (PATP).[48][49][50]

Historical claims[edit]

According to the Daily Observer newspaper, Jammeh claimed on 26 July 2010, that Gambia had played an important role in the aviation industry, specifically, "that the first Atlantic flight and the first flight from Eastern Europe landed in the Gambia."[51] At the same time Jammeh also stated that "this country is one of the oldest and biggest countries in Africa that was reduced to a small snake by the British government who sold all our lands to the French."[51]

In 1996, Jammeh institutionalized the International Roots Festival. Since then, the festival has attracted hundreds of Africans from the Diaspora to the Gambia to reconnect with their African Ancestry and to immerse themselves in the culture of Africa and to come back to their roots.[52] In 2011, Jammeh renamed James Island to Kunta Kinte Island at the request of American Artist Chaz Guest.


Jammeh, like the majority of Gambians,[3] practices Islam.[53]

In July 2010, Jammeh stressed that people should believe in God: "If you don't believe in God, you can never be grateful to humanity and you are even below a pig."[54]

In 2011 he told the BBC, "I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so."[55]

On 12 December 2015, Jammeh declared the Muslim-majority country to be an Islamic republic, saying the move marked a break with the Gambia's colonial past. Jammeh told state TV that the proclamation was in line with Gambia's "religious identity and values." He added that no dress code would be imposed and citizens of other faiths would be allowed to practice freely.[56]


An electoral sign supporting Yahya Jammeh.

Restrictions to press freedom[edit]

Jammeh has been accused of restricting freedom of the press. Harsh new press laws were followed by the unsolved killing of Deyda Hydara, editor of The Point tabloid. Hydara, who had been mildly critical of the Jammeh regime, was brutally gunned down in December 2004.[57]

Alhagie Martin, one of Jammeh's closest military aides, has been named in connection with Hydara's killing. It has, however, not been possible to verify the allegation linking Martin with Hydara's slaying. It is widely believed that Jammeh is responsible for Hydara's murder.[57] Jammeh has denied that security agents were involved in the killing.[58]

In April 2004 he called on journalists to obey his government "or go to hell". In June 2005 he stated on radio and television that he has allowed "too much expression" in the country.[59]

In July 2006, journalist Ebrima Manneh of The Daily Observer was reportedly arrested by state security after attempting to republish a BBC report criticizing Jammeh shortly before an African Union meeting in Banjul; his arrest was witnessed by coworkers.[60] Though ordered to release Manneh by an Economic Community of West African States court, the Gambian government denied that Manneh was imprisoned.[61]

According to AFP, an unnamed police source confirmed Manneh's arrest in April 2009, but added he believed Manneh "is no longer alive".[61] Amnesty International named Manneh a prisoner of conscience and a 2011 "priority case".[62] The Committee to Protect Journalists has also called for his release.[60]

Alleged human rights abuses[edit]

Shooting of students[edit]

On 10 and 11 April 2000, the government was accused of the killing of 12 students and a journalist during a student demonstration to protest the death of a student in the Gambia. Jammeh was accused of ordering the shooting of the students, but the government denied the allegations. A government commission of inquiry reportedly concluded that the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) officers were "largely responsible" for many of the deaths and other injuries.[63]

The commission also said that five soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Battalion were responsible for the deaths of two students at Brikama. The government stated that the report implicated several PIU officers in the students' deaths and injuries, but those responsible were not prosecuted.[63]

Disappearances and imprisonments[edit]

Newspaper reports list dozens of individuals who have disappeared after being picked up by men in plain-clothes, and others who have languished under indefinite detention for months or years without charge or trial.[64] The regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court ordered the Gambia government to produce one journalist who was disappeared.[65][66][67] In April 2016, at least 50 people were arrested during a demonstration, and there were fears that Solo Sandeng, an opposition politician, died alongside two others while being held in detention. In July 2016, a Gambian opposition leader and another 18 people were sentenced to three years in jail for participation in the April demonstration. A Gambian diplomat publicly denied that Solo Sandeng had died in custody.[20]

Witch hunting campaign[edit]

In March 2009 Amnesty International reported that up to 1,000 Gambians had been abducted by government-sponsored "witch doctors" on charges of witchcraft, and taken to detention centers where they were forced to drink poisonous concoctions.[68] On 21 May 2009, The New York Times reported that the alleged witch-hunting campaign had been sparked by the President Yahya Jammeh, who believed that the death of his aunt earlier that year could be attributed to witchcraft.[69]

Massacre of migrants[edit]

Jammeh has also been linked with the 2004 massacre of 44 Ghanaian migrants and 10 other ECOWAS nationals. The information was relayed to Mr. Jammeh, who was then celebrating the coup that brought him to power. Without any proper investigation, the coup maker allegedly ordered his men to kill the Ghanaians.

The soldiers, acting upon the instructions of their Commander in Chief, handcuffed the Ghanaian immigrants and took them to a location, which was later identified as the President's family home, and were subjected to severe torture.

During this time, two of the Ghanaians managed to escape, but one of the escapees was later arrested and slashed into pieces with a machete by one of the soldiers. The soldiers then collected the pieces of human flesh and put them in a sack, apparently as evidence to show to Yahya Jammeh that the job had been successfully executed.

The rest of the so-called Ghanaian mercenaries were transported into a forest and killed. One of them, however, managed to escape to Senegal, and later returned to Ghana to break the news about the killings.

President Jammeh, initially, denied knowledge of the massacre, but after intense diplomatic pressure, admitted that his soldiers were behind it, but failed to tell the international community that he himself ordered the killings.

He offered to pay $500,000 as compensation to the family of the victims. He would, however, not accept claims that the victims numbered 44, and insisted that only six Ghanaians were massacred.

The bodies of the six were subsequently brought home for burial. Six years after the slaughter of the Ghanaians, information filtering in indicates that the number of people that were actually killed was 44, and not six, as indicated by President Jammeh.

A soldier currently serving in the Gambian Army has come out to make a chilling confession that it was President Jammeh who ordered the killing of the Ghanaians.

He also told the local media, on condition of anonymity, that President Jammeh also ordered the killing of the Associated Press (AP) correspondent in Banjul, Deyda Hydara, some years ago.

Below is the confession made by the soldier about the killing of the journalist and Ghanaians. In an interview he granted the local media, he pleaded for anonymity:

"I have been sitting on this information for a while now. Since you have proven to be a credible and dependable journalist, I'm comfortable to relate to you about the people, who were responsible for the killings of the Ghanaians.

Ghanaian Killers Named

While the 22 July 2005 Anniversary (Jammeh's Coup) was in progress in Banjul, we received word that some mercenaries, who plotted to attack the country, were captured and detained by the Navy in Banjul.

The suspects were transported to the late Baba Jobe's residence in Kotu for further processing. This is the residence where the President's Mom lives.

The first batch of suspected Ghanaian mercenaries was later taken to Kanili. On arrival at the President's home, two of the suspects escaped, while the third suspect was shot by WO 2 Malick Jatta, during his struggle to escape from custody.

One of the escapees was later apprehended at a village called Bambara in Foni, behind Kanilai. The village is situated near Allah-Kunda. The suspect was cut into pieces with a cutlass by Sana Manjang, before putting his remains into a bag locally known as 'SAKO'. The bag, containing the murdered foreign national, was dumped near the outskirts of Buiam Santangba.

Pa, if you can recall, there was a time an unidentified dead body was found in the said locality. The body was wrapped in a bag. The body in question was part of the suspected murdered mercenaries. The man was killed by Sana Manjang. He was cut into pieces and wrapped in a bag by Manjang.

The story about the unidentified dead body found in the area was reported by the Daily Observer and GRTS. It was our men who perpetrated the killing.

The remaining suspects were shot and killed at close range at a place in Kanilai (location withheld for now). WO2 Malick Jatta and Sana Manjang carried out the killings, with the help of others named herein.

Both Malick and Sana were armed with MAB PISTOLS during the execution of the detainees. The suspects have been buried in Kanilai (location withheld for now), due to national security issues.

No one here dares disobey his orders. We normally act on instructions given to us by our superiors. He (the President) delegates authority, and we execute the secret killings, tortures and burning of media houses" .[70][71][72]

Death penalty[edit]

Though previously regarded by Amnesty International as "abolitionist in practice", having had no executions since 1985,[73] on 27 August 2012, the Gambian government confirmed that nine prisoners were executed by firing squad.[74] This followed President Jammeh's stated intention to carry out all death penalties before mid-September amid protests from the European Union countries and others.[75]

Calls for anti-gay violence[edit]

In May 2015, in defiance of western criticism Jammeh intensified his anti-gay rhetoric, telling a crowd during an agricultural tour: "If you do it [in the Gambia] I will slit your throat – if you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it."[76]

This prompted a fresh round of condemnation from international human rights leaders. US National Security Advisor Susan Rice released a statement of condemnation on 16 May 2015: "We condemn his comments, and note these threats come amid an alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation in The Gambia," said Rice. "We are deeply concerned about credible reports of torture, suspicious disappearances – including of two American citizens – and arbitrary detention at the government's hands."[77]

Personal life[edit]

Colonel Yahya Jammeh and Mrs. Zeinab Jammeh with US persons Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House, USA, August 2014.

Jammeh is a member of the Jola people.[78] His first marriage ended in divorce.[79] Jammeh married his second wife Zeinab Suma Jammeh, in 1999.[79] They have two children as of 2007, a daughter, Mariam Jammeh, and a son, Muhammed Yahya Jammeh. The latter was born in late 2007, when his daughter was eight years old.[80]

On 30 September 2010, Jammeh announced his marriage to a 21-year-old (or possibly 18-year-old[1]) additional wife by the name Alima Sallah, daughter of Omar Gibril Sallah, Gambia's current Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and Zahra Sallah.[79][81] It was announced that his new wife would officially be referred to as Lady Alima Yahya Jammeh, and would not be referred to as a "first lady", since Zeinab Suma Jammeh is the official "first lady".[81]

According to at least one source, his marriage to Ms. Sallah was a shock to his other wife Zeinab Suma Jammeh, and the additional marriage led to strains in their relationship and even plans for their divorce.[82] Zeinab Jammeh had reportedly already been living in the U.S. separately from her husband for some time.[82] Ms. Sallah reportedly also left Gambia for the U.S. in June 2010.[82] According to the same publication, he then divorced Ms. Sallah in early 2011.[1][2]

Titles and styles[edit]

The official title used is His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Awal Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen Babili Mansa.[83] He is Commander in Chief of The Armed Forces and Chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of the Gambia.[84]

On 16 June 2015, a statement from the State House stated that President Jammeh should be addressed as "His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babili Mansa".[85] The title Babili Mansa, which the President decided to drop in December 2014, is a phrase in the Mandinka language that could be translated as either "Chief Bridge Builder" or "Conqueror of Rivers".[86][87] Two months before, he had already removed the title Nasirul Deen[disambiguation needed] ("Defender of the Faith"), which had been conferred to him by the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council.[88] Unofficially in the Gambia Jammeh is referred to as "Papa Don't Take No Mess".[89]

Awards and honours[edit]

Jammeh has received honorary doctorates from St. Mary's College of Maryland in 2004,[90][91] Universidad Empresarial de Costa Rica, Norman Academy,[92] and National Taipei University of Technology.[93]

He has received awards through the unrecognised higher education accreditation organisation the International Parliament for Safety and Peace, including a peace award,[94] the honorary title of Kentucky colonel[95] and the tongue-in-cheek award of Nebraska Admiral.[96][97][98][99] Jennifer Rae Hein, a spokeswoman for the Governor of Nebraska, acknowledged that Jammeh was granted an admiralship in the Nebraska Navy,[100] but later stated "We regret that this individual has attempted to embellish a certificate for a Nebraska admiralship, claiming that it was a high honor bestowed upon him by the governor, when to the best of our knowledge, this person has no relationship with or ties to Nebraska."[101]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Hughes, Arnold (2000). "'Democratisation' under the military in The Gambia: 1994–2000". Commonwealth & Comparative Politics. 38 (3): 35–52. doi:10.1080/14662040008447825. 
  • Perfect, David (2010). "The Gambia under Yahya Jammeh: An Assessment". The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs. 99 (406): 53–63. doi:10.1080/00358530903513681. 
  • Saine, Abdoulaye (2008). "The Gambia's 'Elected Autocrat Poverty, Peripherality, and Political Instability,' 1994–2006". Armed Forces & Society. 34 (3): 450–473. doi:10.1177/0095327X07312081. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Dawda Jawara
President of the Gambia
Succeeded by
Adama Barrow