‘Hope for change’: Gambian voters oust anti-gay strongman

Yahya Jammeh, defeated Gambian leader. (Photo courtesy of iTele)
Yahya Jammeh, defeated Gambian leader. (Photo courtesy of iTele)

Yahya Jammeh, one of the world’s most outspokenly homophobic leaders, has agreed to step down as president — and repressive strongman — of the Gambia after losing Thursday’s presidential election in that West African country.

[Dec. 10 update: “Defeated anti-gay strongman demands Gambian revote.”]

Property developer Adama Barrow, who has never held political office, won with 45.5 percent of the vote to Jammeh’s 36.7 percent.

Map of Africa shows the West African location of The Gambia
Map of Africa shows the West African location of The Gambia

In the past, Jammeh called homosexuals “vermin” and said the government would exterminate them like malaria-carrying mosquitoes. He threatened to slit gay men’s throats and declared that the letters LGBT must stand for “leprosy, gonorrhea, bacteria and tuberculosis.”

Recent victims of torture under his regime have included LGBT people, journalists, human rights defenders, student leaders, political opposition members and religious leaders, Human Rights Watch reported last year. In 2014, the regime arrested 16 allegedly LGBT people in an anti-gay crackdown.

The O-blog-dee blog reported:

“African Human Right’s Coalition received a report from the AHRC LGBT Ambassador in The Gambia, noting  that Barrow is apt to be pro human rights and that it is likely he will not persecute and target LGBT in the manner employed by Jammeh and his police force.

“With Jammeh as president, it was no surprise that Police were often deployed to arrest gays under the anti-homosexuality laws, which provide for life in prison. LGBTI people have been subjected to torture from police and populace, alike. There is now hope for measured change.”

Jammeh’s nephew, Alagie Jammeh, was granted asylum in the United States after he spoke out in favor of equal rights for LGBTI people.

“I never thought I would see a day like today,” he told the Washington Blade in a telephone interview on Friday.  “I am really proud of Gambia today.”

In 2007, Jammeh declared that he could cure AIDS with a concoction of herbs and bananas.

President-elect Adama Barrow of the Gambia (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail)
President-elect Adama Barrow of the Gambia (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail)

Jammeh has asked Barrow to meet him and organize the transfer of power, the BBC reported. That will end his 22-year regime, which began with a coup in 1994.

Jammeh’s whereabouts were unknown after he gave a concession speech on Friday. Some speculated that he had left the country. One possibility is that he would move to a $3.5 million home that he owns in the Washington, D.C., area.

Joint congratulations for “a peaceful, free, fair and transparent presidential election” came from the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union Commission and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel. The U.S. State Department and many others concurred.

Jammeh said he will return to his home village of Kanilaio, according to the Fatu Network, a U.S.-based opposition website run by Fatou Camara, who served as Jammeh’s press secretary until 2013, when she fled abroad after Gambian authorities accused her of seeking to undermine the government.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, she called the election results are “the best news for every Gambian.”

“Many Gambians only know Jammeh. He oppressed us, intimidated us and abused us. We are a free people from today,” Camara said.

Opposition blogger Sidi Sanneh said that Jammeh needs to leave the country. He proposed neighboring Senegal or Morocco as destinations.

Sanneh also called for a South Africa-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would allow “citizens to confront their tormentors of 22 years to speak the truth about their victims and to admit guilt by taking full responsibility for their actions.”

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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  1. Delighted that the Gambia could achieve a peaceful election and transition, and get rid of this tyrant, all at the same time. The smallest nation in Africa now has an opportunity to emerge from the shadows, It has already announced it will rejoin humanity through renewing membership with the International Criminal Court and the Commonwealth. Let’s hope for full Human Rights for all Gambians.

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