Yahya Jammeh

Yahya Jammeh is the U.S.-designated former president of The Gambia who ruled for 22 years after seizing power in a 1994 coup. Jammeh’s regime was accused of several human-rights violations, particularly against journalists and political opponents.“Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh,” BBC News, January 22, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24383225; “United States Sanctions Human Rights Abusers and Corrupt Actors Across the Globe,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 21, 2017, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm0243. As ruler of the Muslim-majority country, Jammeh used Islamic fundamentalism as a political tool.Jessica Moody: “Leaving Islamism Aside: The Gambia Under Adama Barrow,” Jamestown Foundation, May 5, 2017, https://jamestown.org/program/leaving-islamism-aside-gambia-adama-barrow/. He also sought to portray himself as a “devout Muslim with miraculous powers,” such as the ability to cure AIDS, according to BBC News.“Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh,” BBC News, January 22, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24383225. Jammeh also vehemently opposed homosexuality, and threatened gay people in the country.“Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh,” BBC News, January 22, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24383225. After a shock electoral defeat in December 2016, Jammeh refused to cede power until he was forced out of the country by a foreign military incursion the following month.“Gambia political crisis: What happens next?” BBC News, January 20, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38650266. He remains in exile in Equatorial Guinea, where he was granted sanctuary.Tim Cocks and Lamin Jahateh, “Gambia’s former leader Jammeh flies into exile in Equatorial Guinea,” Reuters, January 20, 2017, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-gambia-politics/gambias-former-leader-jammeh-flies-into-exile-in-equatorial-guinea-idUKKBN1540S3; Ruth Maclean, “Equatorial Guinea says it will protect former Gambian leader,” Guardian (London), January 27, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/27/equatorial-guinea-says-it-will-protect-yahya-jammeh-former-gambian-leader.

Jammeh grew up in The Gambia and joined the country’s National Gendarmerie after completing high school.“President Jammeh takes nomination turn at IEC today,” Point (Bakau), November 10, 2016, http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/president-jammeh-takes-nomination-turn-at-iec-today. He rose through the ranks of the country’s National Army until July 1994. That year, as a lieutenant, Jammeh launched a bloodless coup and seized power from the country’s elected president, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara.“President Jammeh takes nomination turn at IEC today,” Point (Bakau), November 10, 2016, http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/president-jammeh-takes-nomination-turn-at-iec-today; Howard W. French, “New Coup Follows Old Pattern,” New York Times, August 28, 1994, https://www.nytimes.com/1994/08/28/world/in-gambia-new-coup-follows-old-pattern.html. Though Jammeh promised to “set things right” and return The Gambia to democracy, he would go on to be accused of several human-rights violations during his 22-year authoritarian rule of the country, which he maintained by winning four subsequent elections until his ultimate defeat in 2016.Howard W. French, “New Coup Follows Old Pattern,” New York Times, August 28, 1994, https://www.nytimes.com/1994/08/28/world/in-gambia-new-coup-follows-old-pattern.html; “The Gambia country profile,” BBC News, February 14, 2018, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13376517: “Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh,” BBC News, January 22, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24383225.

Jammeh’s regime, assisted by the Gambian army and National Intelligence Agency, regularly carried out arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture, and executions.“Gambia: Events of 2016,” Human Rights Watch, accessed April 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/gambia; Jessica Moody: “Leaving Islamism Aside: The Gambia Under Adama Barrow,” Jamestown Foundation, May 5, 2017, https://jamestown.org/program/leaving-islamism-aside-gambia-adama-barrow/. Jammeh also created a terror-and-assassination squad called the Junglers, which terrorized, interrogated, and killed individuals that Jammeh deemed to be threats, which were usually religious leaders, journalists, political opponents and former government members.“United States Sanctions Human Rights Abusers and Corrupt Actors Across the Globe,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 21, 2017, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm0243. According to the international media group Reporters Without Borders, there was an “absolute intolerance of any form of criticism” in the country under Jammeh’s rule.“Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh,” BBC News, January 22, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24383225. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned Jammeh’s 2011 election victory, alleging that voters and the opposition had been “cowed by repression and intimidation.”“Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh,” BBC News, January 22, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24383225. Nonetheless, Jammeh stated in an interview with the BBC later that year that he was unfazed by criticism of his human rights abuses, and that he would “rule [The Gambia] for one billion years…if Allah says so.”“Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh,” BBC News, January 22, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24383225.

Jammeh also made several bizarre and false claims during his rule. For example, in 2007, he claimed that he had invented a miracle cure for AIDS/HIV consisting of an herbal concoction and spiritual healing techniques. An unknown number of individuals died after he forced approximately 9,000 people with the disease to undergo the treatment for six months.“The president who made people take his bogus HIV cure,” BBC News, January 22, 2018, http://www.bbc.com/news/stories-42754150. He also claimed that he could cure female infertility.“Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh,” BBC News, January 22, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24383225. According to Amnesty International, in 2009, Jammeh launched a witch-hunting campaign during which approximately 1,000 Gambians were abducted and forced to drink hallucinogenic poisons on charges of witchcraft. At least six people reportedly died as a result.Adam Nossiter, “Witch Hunts and Foul Potions Heighten Fear of Leader in Gambia,” New York Times, May 20, 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/world/africa/21gambia.html; “Rights group: 1,000 seized in Gambia ‘witch-hunt,’” CNN, March 18, 2009, http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/03/18/gambia.amnesty.witchcraft/.

Jammeh also vehemently opposed homosexuality. In 2008, he advised gay people to leave the country under threat of decapitation. In 2014, Jammeh signed a bill into law that punished some homosexual acts with life imprisonment.Associated Press, “Gambian leader approves anti-gay law,” Guardian (London), November 21, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/21/gambian-leader-approves-anti-gay-law. The same year, in an address on state television, he declared that “we will fight these vermins [sic] called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.”Associated Press, “The Gambia passes bill imposing life sentences for some homosexual acts,” Guardian (London), September 8, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/09/gambia-passes-bill-life-imprisonment-homosexual-acts. In a 2013 address to the U.N. General Assembly, he stated that “homosexuality…[is] very evil, anti-human as well as anti-Allah,” and criticized its status as a human right in other nations.Michelle Nichols, “Gambian president says gays a threat to human existence,” Reuters, September 27, 2013, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-assembly-gays/gambian-president-says-gays-a-threat-to-human-existence-idUSBRE98Q19K20130927. In 2015, he threatened to slit the throats of gay men in The Gambia.Kayla Ruble, “Gambian President Says He Will Slit Gay Men’s Throats in Public Speech,” Vice News, May 11, 2015, https://news.vice.com/article/gambian-president-says-he-will-slit-gay-mens-throats-in-public-speech.

Jammeh used Islamic fundamentalism as a political tool during his rule. He sought to extract political support from Gambian Muslims who were influenced by radical Wahhabi Islam at universities in the Middle East, as well as financial support from Middle Eastern donor nations such as Qatar and Kuwait.Jessica Moody: “Leaving Islamism Aside: The Gambia Under Adama Barrow,” Jamestown Foundation, May 5, 2017, https://jamestown.org/program/leaving-islamism-aside-gambia-adama-barrow/; Abdoulaye Saine, Culture and Customs of Gambia, Santa Barbara: Greenwood (2012), 52, https://books.google.com/books?id=ikWccsfwZJAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false; Misha Hussein, “Middle East funds Gambia as EU cuts aid over human rights concerns,” Reuters, December 10, 2014, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-gambia-rights-donors/middle-east-funds-gambia-as-eu-cuts-aid-over-human-rights-concerns-idUSKBN0JO19520141210. In December 2015, Jammeh declared The Gambia to be an Islamic republic––making it the second Islamic republic in Africa after Mauritania. He stated that “accepting Allah’s religion as your religion and as your way of life is not negotiable” and cited a desire to break from the country’s colonial past.Alex Vines, “The Gambia: Africa’s new Islamic republic,” BBC News, January 22, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35359593; “Gambia: Jammeh Proclaims Gambia Islamic State,” AllAfrica, December 14, 2015, http://allafrica.com/stories/201512142140.html. In a 2016 speech to The Gambia’s parliament, Jammeh criticized the West’s stance toward ISIS, stating that “it is hypocritical for the West to designate ISIS as a terrorism organization, when the KKK in the United States of America is being treated differently,” and pledged to introduce the rule of sharia (Islamic law) into the country.“Gambia: Breaking News: Gambia’s Jammeh Defends the Terrorist Group ISIS; Says The West Is Being Hypocritical For Refusing To Designate The KKK As A Christian Terrorist Organization!” Freedom Newspaper, March 31, 2016, https://freedomnewspaper.com/2016/03/31/gambia-breaking-news-gambias-jammeh-defends-terrorist-group-isis-says-west-hypocritical-refusing-designate-kkk-christian-terrorist-organization/. Additionally, Jammeh invited Zakir Naik––an Islamic extremist preacher and televangelist wanted in his home country of India for alleged involvement in terrorist acts––to visit The Gambia as a special guest on at least two occasions, and presented him with the country’s highest honorary award––“The Insignia of the Commander of the National Order of the Republic of The Gambia.”“Gambia: Renowned Scholar Dr. Zakir Naik Arrives Gambia Today,” AllAfrica, October 8, 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201410081498.html; “Dr Zakir Naik,” PeaceTV, accessed April 6, 2018, http://www.peacetv.tv/en-gb/speakers/dr-zakir-naik; “Gambia: Open Letter to Dr Zakir Naik about Yahya Jammeh’s Crimes Against Muslims and Non-Muslims in The Gambia,” Freedom Newspaper, August 1, 2016, https://freedomnewspaper.com/2016/08/01/gambia-open-letter-to-dr-zakir-naik-about-yahya-jammehs-crimes-against-muslims-and-non-muslims-in-the-gambia/. Naik praised Jammeh during his second visit in July 2016, stating, “there are very few [leaders of Islamic countries] who have the passion, the courage, and the Taqwa [consciousness of Allah] like the President of the Gambia.”“Gambia: Open Letter to Dr Zakir Naik about Yahya Jammeh’s Crimes Against Muslims and Non-Muslims in The Gambia,” Freedom Newspaper, August 1, 2016, https://freedomnewspaper.com/2016/08/01/gambia-open-letter-to-dr-zakir-naik-about-yahya-jammehs-crimes-against-muslims-and-non-muslims-in-the-gambia/.

On December 1, 2016, Jammeh lost the presidency to opposition candidate Adama Barrow. Though Jammeh initially congratulated Barrow and accepted the election results, he reversed his decision a week later and called for new elections, citing voter fraud. Several African leaders and regional bodies, including the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS, unsuccessfully encouraged Jammeh to relinquish power.“Gambia leader Yahya Jammeh rejects election result,” BBC News, December 10, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38271480; “West African leaders arrive in Gambia to convince Yahya Jammeh to step down, as soldiers ‘take over election building,’” Telegraph (London), December 13, 2016, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/13/west-african-leaders-arrive-gambia-convince-yahya-jammeh-step/; “Gambia crisis: Everything you need to know about the battle to remove Yahya Jammeh,” Telegraph (London), January 20, 2017, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/18/gambia-crisis-everything-need-know-battle-remove-president-yahya/. In January 2017, a day after The Gambian parliament voted to extend Jammeh’s term by three months, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution backing Barrow and calling on Jammeh to step down.Edith M. Lederer, “U.N. adopts resolution backing Gambia’s new President Barrow,” Washington Post, January 19, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170119225520/https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/un-adopts-resolution-backing-gambias-new-president-barrow/2017/01/19/df6a7166-de76-11e6-8902-610fe486791c_story.html; “Gambia: Security Council backs regional efforts to ensure peaceful transfer of power to Barrow,” UN News, January 19, 2017, https://news.un.org/en/story/2017/01/549832-gambia-security-council-backs-regional-efforts-ensure-peaceful-transfer-power. On January 19, 2017, Barrow was sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal.“Gambia crisis: Everything you need to know about the battle to remove Yahya Jammeh,” Telegraph (London), January 20, 2017, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/18/gambia-crisis-everything-need-know-battle-remove-president-yahya/. The same day, Senegalese, Nigerian, and other ECOWAS troops invaded The Gambia as part of a U.N.-backed military intervention to force Jammeh to cede power.“Gambia political crisis: What happens next?” BBC News, January 20, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38650266. Jammeh finally agreed to leave the country following the initial military incursion, and subsequently fled to Equatorial Guinea, where he was granted sanctuary.Tim Cocks and Lamin Jahateh, “Gambia’s former leader Jammeh flies into exile in Equatorial Guinea,” Reuters, January 20, 2017, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-gambia-politics/gambias-former-leader-jammeh-flies-into-exile-in-equatorial-guinea-idUKKBN1540S3.

On December 21, 2017, the U.S. government sanctioned Jammeh for his record of human rights abuses and corruption. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Jammeh extracted at least $50 million of state funds for personal use during his rule.“United States Sanctions Human Rights Abusers and Corrupt Actors Across the Globe,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 21, 2017, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm0243. Though Equatoguinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo briefly expressed in January 2018 the possibility of allowing Jammeh to be extradited back to The Gambia, he quickly rescinded his statement, stating, “We are in full agreement that Yahya Jammeh must be protected. He must be respected as a former African leader.”Colin Freeman, “Gambia’s former dictator ‘could be extradited,’” Telegraph (London), January 19, 2018, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/19/gambias-former-dictator-could-extradited/; Ruth Maclean, “Equatorial Guinea says it will protect former Gambian leader,” Guardian (London), January 27, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/27/equatorial-guinea-says-it-will-protect-yahya-jammeh-former-gambian-leader. Barrow has since strived to reform The Gambia’s military and NIA, which remained loyal to Jammeh following his departure.Jessica Moody: “Leaving Islamism Aside: The Gambia Under Adama Barrow,” Jamestown Foundation, May 5, 2017, https://jamestown.org/program/leaving-islamism-aside-gambia-adama-barrow/. In February 2018, The Gambia’s intelligence authorities released a list of the country’s most-wanted criminals, but did not include Jammeh.“Jammeh excluded from 36 ‘Most Wanted List,’” Point (Bakau), February 8, 2018, http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/jammeh-excluded-from-36-most-wanted-list.

United States

The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated “Yahya Jammeh” as a Specially Designated National pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818.“United States Sanctions Human Rights Abusers and Corrupt Actors Across the Globe,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 21, 2017, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm0243.

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