Gambians and international observers held their breath on Wednesday May 25 when President Adama Barrow made his position clear on the crimes against humanity perpetrated by his predecessor, Yahya Jammeh. A country of 1.8 million people on the west coast of Africa and largely surrounded by Senegal, The Gambia is the continent’s smallest continental country. Named after the river that releases it, The Gambia received full independence from Britain as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth in 1965. Dawda Jawara, a British-trained vet with a strong base of support rural, was subsequently re-elected five times. Jawara was ousted in a bloodless military coup in 1994 when Yayha Jammeh took control of the presidency and ruled dictatorially. Jammeh’s rule has been marred by violence against students and journalists, and a muzzling of civil society and political discourse. A feared death squad known as the “Junglers”, suspected of committing despicable acts of violence on behalf of Jammeh’s regime, has since been linked directly to the dictator himself.
Jammeh initially only agreed to step down from power after losing the December 2016 elections, but a shift in his position led a West African coalition (ECOWAS) to intervene and force his expulsion, paving the way for democracy to take its course and to the Leader of the Opposition. Adama Barrow takes the reins of government. On November 25, 2021, the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), which in 2017 announced it was investigating human rights abuses related to the Jammeh era, delivered its final report to President Barrow.
Since its inception, the TRRC has collected testimonies from victims and witnesses of the misdeeds of the Jammeh government, including the murder of high-profile journalists like Deyda Hydara and the 2005 massacre of fifty-six West African migrants. Jammeh and his henchmen have been personally implicated in charges of rape, torture and murder. The ‘Junglers’ have also been linked to a so-called ‘witch hunt’, in which hundreds of people have been arbitrarily arrested. According to the TRRC, some 250 people in total (Gambians and non-Gambians) were killed by Jammeh’s regime. According to Human Rights Watch, Jammeh was even quoted by his former aide-de-camp, Lalo Jaiteh, telling his vice-president Isatou Njie-Saidy in April 2000 to “take care of the bastards of in any way” — an order that resulted in the murder of fourteen student protesters in Banjul, the country’s capital. The TRRC has been criticized for not consulting victims enough, as has the Barrow government for allegedly harboring Jammeh-era criminals.