The Gambia: 20 years of fear and impunity

The Gambia:  20 years of fear and impunity - Protection

This 22nd July, Gambians are “celebrating” President Yahya Jammeh’s 20 years in power. However, is there really anything worth “celebrating”, if we consider the real meaning of the word that refers foremost to partying and joy?

It is difficult to answer in the affirmative, as the last two decades have seen the Gambia sink slowly into an intolerable situation. At best, most Gambians will simply mark a date that has become for many synonymous with democratic backsliding, infringement on liberties, and impunity.

From the “one man show” of the young soldier who came to power through a coup, which was accompanied with a temporary excitement for the prospective of a fresh start for The Gambia, the situation has deteriorated into a sort of uncontrolled paranoia that has locked all freedoms, stifled any attempt at opposition, silenced any dissenting voice, made Gambian notables leave the country, led to several forced disappearances and suffocated all independent media in the country.

In a statement more forceful than any NGO statement and report, a large number of journalists, civil society activists and opponents now chose exile rather than live under Jammeh’s oppression. This says a lot about the “draconian” nature of the Gambian regime, which marks its 20 years in power on 22nd July 2014.

Apart from the small clique of people surrounding the Banjul strongman, all Gambians are in a state of disarray and live in fear; they are unable to tell their misfortune to the world, at the risk of ending up in prison or on the gallows. This is unacceptable.

The Banjul government must understand this and lift this lead weight on citizens who no longer dare give their opinion on their government, their own fate, or the way their country functions. This is intolerable.

The last two reports of the U.S. State Department on human rights in the Gambia (2012 and 2013) provide a comprehensive overview of all the abuses and violations of the most elementary rights of citizens. The contents of these reports are more than revolting.

The “arbitrary deprivation” of life in The Gambia can be evidenced by the execution of nine prisoners in 2012. This is in addition to the “disappearances”, torture and other degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests, invasion of privacy, and breach of private correspondence that have become all too common. The list is long, which proves that the Banjul government does nothing to comply first with its own laws and with the international conventions to which it has acceded.

It is an insult to the brave Gambian people who deserve better than this pretence of democracy, which has seen six out of seven opposition parties refuse to participate in the last election—knowing that the deck is stacked against them. This is a clear provocation to all African citizens who love justice and freedom. This is especially a snub to African and international organizations that—in statement after statement—cite all major principles on the sanctity of human life, the need for good governance and a deeper anchoring of democracy in Africa. They are left to watch and do nothing for the Gambian case.

So should we continue such behaviour? Should we let President Yahya Jammeh, his government and his security services trample with impunity all international treaties to which the Gambia has subscribed? The verdicts of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of the West African States that Banjul refuses to implement are a sign that the Gambian president does as he pleases. Should his peers and sub-regional organisations let him continue his actions with arrogance and impunity, without ever publicly calling him to order?

We could continue to list what looks well like a state’s “I-couldn’t-care-less” attitude to better inform the public about the surreal and sometimes autocratic nature of the regime in Banjul, but never mind.

Let’s rather ask what can we do? Everyone has an answer of course, but then it is urgent to bring it out and put it on the table so that tomorrow, The Gambia and Gambians are finally free and can “celebrate” with dignity key dates in their history, in their discretion, freely and without fear of reprisal.


Hamadou Tidiane Sy, Ouestaf (Senegal)

Madiambal Diagne le Quotidien (Senegal)

Pape Amadou Fall, la Gazette, Senegal

Mamoudou Ibra Kane, Group Futur Médias

Demba Jawo (Gambie)

Cherif Sy Brendré (Burkina Faso)

Boukary Daou le Républicain (Mali),

Alexis Kalambry, Les Echos