Yahya Jammeh: The Story Behind His Metoric Rise To Power


Defeated Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, has graced the pages of the newspapers – (both print and online) for quite some time following the country’s general elections which for the first time in 22 years, saw the defeat of the authoritarian ruler.

For many, the name Yahya Jammeh would still be relatively unknown safe for the crisis that trailed the aftermath of Gambian’s presidential election, when Mr. Jameeh refused to hand over power. This has made many seek to know more about this African leader.

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It is true that from the crisis which got the attention of the International community, many have learnt that Yahya Jammeh had ruled Gambia since 1994 but not many know about how he rose to power 22 years ago. So here is all you need to know about Yahya and his rise to power.

A little Biography

Yahya Jammeh was born Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh born 25 May 1965,  joined the Gambian National Army in 1984, was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1989, and became a commanding officer of the Military Police of Yundum Barracks in August 1992.

Yahya Jammeh
Young Yahya Jammeh

He received extensive military training in neighboring Senegal, and military police training at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

His Rise to Power

Yahya Jammeh who is Gambia’s second president became the country’s head of state on 22 July 1994 at the age of 29 after a bloodless military coup.

Young Jammeh with a group of young officers in the Gambian National Army, who called themselves Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC), had seized power from President Sir Dawda Jawara in a military coup. Interestingly, the coup took place without bloodshed as it was met with very little resistance.

The 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.

Yahya was later elected as a democratic President in 1996; he was re-elected in 2001, 2006, and 2011 but was defeated by Mr. Adama Barrow in the 2016 election.

Official results of the votes cast on December 1 as released by the country’s electoral commission declare that Mr. Barrow polled 222,708 votes (43.3%), to win the elections while Jammeh polled 208,487 (39.6%), and a third-party candidate, Mama Kandeh, polled 89,768 (17.1%)

I Concede…No, I no longer concede!

Yahya initially conceded defeat, on 9 December 2016, but later made a u-turn refusing to accept the results which he claimed were trailed by irregularities and demanded for “fresh and transparent” elections, which he said will be officiated by a God fearing and independent electoral commission.

“I no longer concede”

A delegation of African Leaders had headed to the Gambian to convince the veteran ruler to accept the election results and hand over power to the president-elect, Adama Barrow. He had appeared at the country’s national televison to announce he would not step down, condemning the mediation by West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, he said:

“I am not a coward. My right cannot be intimidated and violated. This is my position. Nobody can deprive me of that victory except the Almighty Allah.”

After Yahya ignored multiple deadlines issued him by ECOWAS to quit, ECOWAS troop moved into the nation’s capital threatening to unseat him by force. Jammeh immediately became isolated as several of his cabinet ministers resigned and his security forces abandoned him.

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The International community was not amused, and the U.N. Secretary-General, the head of the African Union continental body and others announced their support for Gambia’s new leader, Barrow, who was in neighboring Senegal for his safety.

Jammeh’s claim to the presidency became disputed on 19 January 2017 when Adama Barrow was sworn in as president of The Gambia at a ceremony held at the Gambian embassy in Dakar.

The Shameful bow and Exit

Jammeh who has ruled the tiny West African country for more than two decades and once vowed to rule for a billion years finally had to take back his word when on January 21, he announced he would step down after hours of talks with West African mediators.

He agreed to step down from power after regional leaders flew in for last-ditch negotiations and a regional military force was poised to swoop in and force him out.

The often startlingly outspoken, Jammeh was more diplomatic when he said he would leave power, and Gambia, in a statement early Saturday.

Yayha Jammeh leaving for Equitorial Guinea on Exile

He said:

“I believe in the importance of dialogue … I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of this great nation.

“All the issues we currently face can be resolved peacefully. I believe in the capacity of Africans to decide for themselves all the issues on the way to democracy, social and economic development.

“My prayer and desire [is] that peace and security continue to reign in The Gambia.” The country ‘must jealously guard and defend’ peace.”

Jammeh has headed for Equitorial Guinea on exile. There was celebrations and sounds of joy on the strrets of Banjul as news of his departure spread, people said they felt relieved after years of fear.

More on Yahya Jammeh’s reign…

Human rights groups have long accused Yahya Jammeh of arresting, jailing and killing political opponents, and fears for Barrow’s safety have kept the newly inaugurated president in neighboring Senegal for now. Jammeh also issued increasingly virulent statements against sexual minorities, vowing to slit the throats of gay men and saying the LGBT acronym should stand for “leprosy, gonorrhea, bacteria and tuberculosis.”

Jammeh has a history of making startling declarations. In 2007, he claimed to have developed a cure for AIDS that involved an herbal body rub and bananas. Alarming public health experts, he insisted AIDS sufferers stop taking antiretroviral medications and try his cure instead.

Two years later, his government rounded up nearly 1,000 people it accused of being witches, forcing them to drink a hallucinogen that caused diarrhea and vomiting. Two people died, according to Amnesty International.

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More recently, Jammeh seemed bent on increasing Gambia’s isolation. In 2013, he exited the Commonwealth, a group made up mostly of former British colonies, dismissing it as a “neo-colonial institution.” And last year, he announced that the country would leave the International Criminal Court, calling it the “International Caucasian Court.”

Jammeh who had insisted that his rule was ordained by Allah, after his election loss, declared that “only Allah” could make him leave. He represented one of a dwindling number of West African leaders staying in office without apparent term-limit.

As other longterm West African strongmen have died or been forced to step down in recent years, Yahya Jammeh has remained a rare exception — even launching a campaign to anoint himself ‘King of Gambia’ at some point.