Former Gambian President Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh seized power from the country’s first President Dawda Jawara as a young army officer in a bloodless military coup in 1994.
29-year-old Lieutenant Jammeh rose to the self-selected official title “His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Awal Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen Babili Mansa” before his exile 22 years after his first election in 1996.
His defeat by opposition coalition leader and real estate developer Adama Barrow in the December 1 election came as a shock to many who witnessed his disputed election victories in 2001, 2006, and 2011.
The surprise stemmed from the fact that Jammeh had lost despite his very stern and controversial character feared by many in the country due to his influence and use of the military and state to execute his wishes.
The surprise waned when he backtracked on his acceptance of defeat to annul the election results and called for a rerun as a result of suspicions of electoral malpractice “realised after his investigation”.
The Gambian army quickly supported him while fearful citizens and officials fled the country to avoid any possible danger. Jammeh further proclaimed a state of emergency after the courts failed to hear his election petition and inauguration injunction cases due to unavailability of judges.
It took series of unsuccessful mediation by leaders of the ECOWAS bloc and threats of military intervention to come to an agreement brokered by Guinean President Alpha Conde and Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Adama Barrow was strategically taken out of the country by ECOWAS leaders and later sworn-in as president at the Gambian embassy in Senegal when the agreement was at its peak.
The father of two children and husband of two wives, who came to power as a hero to many in the fight against corruption and lack of democracy, left the country as an exiled former head of state and a hero to a few who thronged the airport to see him leave alongside dozens of luxury vehicles and property.
He will be revered for the banning and criminalizing female genital mutilation (FGM) in 2015 and subsequently child marriage in 2016.
Jammeh will be remembered for his claims that he could cure HIV/AIDS and asthma, and treat high blood pressure and infertility in women using natural herbs.
Gambian victims, families of victims and the world will however, never forget Jammeh’s strict laws and abuses against the media and press freedom, opposition figures, demonstrators, workers, officials and all those who go against him.
The new Gambian President Adama Barrow has pledged to launch a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate possible crimes committed by his predecessor Yahya Jammeh.
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