President Jammeh stays in power despite Gambian coup attempt

President Jammeh stays in power despite Gambian coup attempt

President Jammeh came to power through a military coup in 1994 and has maintained control of Gambia through state coercion and force, thus engendering a culture of silence among its citizens. In spite of this silence, the Gambian government has reported approximately four attempts by military personnel to oust President Jammeh from power since 2000.

This time around, the fifth and most recent attempt on December 30, 2014 was led by Diasporic Gambians while President Jammeh was out of the country in either France or Dubai (conflicting reports). This foiled putsch has magnified the systemic political and economic dysfunction of President Yahya Jammeh’s regime.

Hours after the attempted coup, President Jammeh appeared on TV wearing his pristine whites from head to toe along with the Koran and prayer beads in one hand and sceptre in the other, explaining the plot to journalists and showcasing a confiscated cache of weapons belonging to the dissidents. During the interview President Jammeh projected an air of deep confidence in the loyalty Gambians have for him amid the solidarity march in Banjul.

President Jammeh promptly embarked on a witch-hunt to track down and arrest potential co-conspirators of the coup plot. Thus far suspects associated with the dissidents have been arrested, three major posts in his cabinet have been reshuffled, and the popular independent radio station Teranga was shut down.

If President Jammeh feels insecure, Gambia itself becomes insecure. Gambians were quickly reminded that Gambia is a “Big Man” state. The framing of this failed coup as a terrorist attack by President Jammeh can also serve as an opportunity to weaken opposition by clamping down on political dissidents ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Gambia is one of the smallest and resource scarce countries in sub-Saharan Africa with 48.4% of its 1.9 million citizens in poverty accompanied by a high rate of youth unemployment. The two main drivers of the economy are groundnut and tourism – the latter makes up one-fifth of the country’s GDP. It was in 1996 that the government unveiled its Vision 2020 initiative to catapult Gambia to middle income country status by 2020.

Nineteen years later, it has failed to achieve the objectives of Vision 2020. The mandate has now been incorporated into the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment. President Jammeh’s new vision is now Vision 2016 , an initiative to make Gambia self-sufficient in rice production by 2016.

Meanwhile, access to international aid and funding took a battering when Jammeh signed an act in to law that could imprison homosexuals for life, forcing the EU to withhold millions of dollars in aid. The US recently removed Gambia from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which would have provided Gambia with duty free trade partnerships. Jammeh also broke away from the commonwealth, referring to it as an “outdated colonial institution” and straining relations with the United Kingdom.

Condemnation poured in over the recent coup from the international community. Both regional and international organizations support upholding the rule of law and democratic values. Unfortunately this sentiment has not influenced President Jammeh in a post-coup Gambia, as no adjustments have been made towards relieving the political pressure he has placed upon the people he was elected to serve. The only adjustments appear to be ones to maintain his cult of personality.

About Author

Adolphus Washington

Adolphus Washington is a political researcher and writer with specific expertise in sub-Saharan African Affairs. Previously he has worked with GIABA, International Alert and a number of other international organizations. He holds an MSc in African Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies.