How Gambia is grappling with gruesome past under Yahya Jammeh

Image copyrightAFP

Photo caption Fatou Jallow testified before a committee in 2019 that she was sexually abused by President Yahya Jammeh.

(1) The president’s five-star hotels did not have comfortable rooms.

Mr. Jammeh liked to joke that anyone who stood in his way would end up in one of his five-star hotels – his nickname for prisons.

Witnesses, ex-prisoners and guards, told the TRC that torture of prisoners is guaranteed if the alleged crime is linked to the president.

A former senior National Intelligence Agency (NIA) official admitted to the committee that after Mr Jammeh’s overthrow he had tried to cover up the violence by asking construction workers to renovate the prison to get rid of the torture chamber and most of the equipment.

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Legend. It is hoped that the evidence will help to prevent further offences.

Many ex-prisoners have told the TCRI how they were imprisoned on mock evidence.

One person admitted to testifying as a state witness in several high-profile cases (including alleged coups leading to executions), while knowing nothing about these events. He had filed a total of 32 paid claims against 12 individuals.

2) Informants were everywhere

Several witnesses told how they were arrested after someone mentioned their name.

Omar Jatta was the victim of special treatment by the NOA. He told the committee he was arrested in 1995, taken to the CIA, stripped naked and electrocuted.

with the right that I refused to marry Yahya Jamma – then he raped me.

He was arrested for being seen with a former opposition politician at a baptism ceremony.

I learned about the fear of whistleblowers after attending a dance in 1998. The comedian made a good impression on President Jammeh, but I was the only one in the audience of 300 people having fun.

Everyone else just stared at the ground. Later, someone said: You never know who’s watching.

3) Jammeh’s paranoia led to the murder of.

A group of soldiers has confessed to capturing and killing more than 50 African migrants, including 44 Ghanaians, who had made the mistake of trying to pass through the country on their way to Europe in July 2005.

They were arrested by security forces when their boat docked, and without any evidence or trial, they were accused of being mercenaries hired for a possible coup attempt.

Image copyrightAFP

Photo caption The former president was worried about possible coups.

Over the next 10 days, almost all of the prisoners in The Gambia were killed or taken across the border to Senegal and shot, and their bodies dumped in wells.

One of the soldiers described how, just before he was shot, one of the migrants asked if he could put his hand in his pocket and pick something up. Turns out it was a $100 bill he gave to the soldier: Obviously I can’t spend it, you can have it.

The soldier admitted to taking it and spending it.

  • A Ghanaian shoe salesman attacked a former dictator.

4) HIV positive patient Jammeh naked

In one of his strangest statements in 2007, President Jammeh claimed to have a cure for HIV, asthma and diabetes.

He then withdrew patients from conventional antiretroviral therapy and enrolled them in his presidential alternative treatment program.

One of the witnesses, who was HIV-positive, testified that he had to undress. She was then given lotion and drink.

Patients who have not died are still HIV positive and are currently receiving conventional treatment.

5) The presidential column has been deadly

When the president was on his way, all traffic had to give way. So far so good, but the consequences are severe for those who cannot move.

The LRRC heard from several witnesses who were blocked after being prevented from removing themselves from the presidential convoy on short notice. Others have died.

Sometimes soldiers would move away from the flow of vehicles to hit drivers or pedestrians who didn’t move in time.

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Ade Darami

Ade Darami

While the truth about some of what happened is now known, the place of reconciliation is still unknown.

Journalist Ade Darami

Mr Jammeh’s former waiter was one of many who commented on his habit of throwing biscuits into the crowd as the convoy passed.

People gathered around a snack bar and then got into other cars at high speed with an escort. The witness estimated that 20 people were killed in this way between 2001 and 2008.


The accounts of both the witnesses and the authors made Gambians reflect on their knowledge of the country and of themselves.

For KIRP, it was common to hear that foreigners must be behind alleged atrocities. But no self-proclaimed killer or executioner ended up outside the country.

Although the truth about what happened is now known, the place of reconciliation is still unclear.

The commission still has at least six months ahead of it and only after the publication of its report will Gambia’s violent and troubled past be definitively addressed.

Additional letters from Africa


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