From military fatigues to traditional robe, Gambia’s longtime leader Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in a coup in 1994, announced he was stepping down under pressure from West African armies which entered the country following his refusal to concede an election defeat to President Adama Barrow.
BANJUL, GAMBIA (REUTERS) – Yahya Jammeh seized power in a coup in 1994 and went on to win four elections that were criticised by rights monitors.
On July 22, 1994, he deposed the regime of Dawda Jawara, who had ruled since independence from Britain in 1960.
It was a sudden rise for a quiet man with little education who once grew tomatoes and lettuce in rural Gambia.
Old footage showed him, a junior army officer in military fatigues, saying: “We have no plans to stay long. All we are here for is to set a just system and to put up structures that can show that what happened in the past 30 years would never happen again.”
“As soon as those structures are in place we will return back to the barracks,” he added.
But for 22 years, Jammeh mixed charm and generosity with the threat of violence to maintain a firm grip on power.
Over time, the latter took centre stage as Gambia morphed into a police state that tortured opponents, rights groups say.
International human rights group accused him of torturing and killing perceived opponents.
Jammeh’s supporters deny such claims, and he frequently rails against the Western interference in Africa.
In 2013, he announced Gambia would withdraw from the Commonwealth, the 54-member grouping including Britain and most of its former colonies, branding it a “neo-colonial institution”.
He declared Gambia an Islamic Republic in 2015 and announced its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court in October last year.
Gambia’s long, sandy beaches have made Gambia a prime destination for tourists, and Jammeh promoted the stability of the country to foreign investors.
Jammeh’s quirkier traits, such as his strong belief in supernatural powers, often made international headlines.
He claimed to have a herbal cure for AIDS that only worked on Thursdays. He invited hundreds of women to State House where he administered another herbal remedy for infertility.
In 2009 he arrested hundreds of people for witchcraft.
Gradually, terrified citizens became bolder in expressing dissent, even after hundreds were arrested for protesting in April to May this year.
On December 1, 2016, he lost the election to Adama Barrow.
He first accepted his defeat, a sharp turnaround for a man who had vowed to rule the tiny West African nation of 1.8 million people for “a billion years”. But a few days later he rejected the outcome of the election.
Barrow took refuge in neighbouring country Senegal and was sworn-in on Thursday (January 19).