Jammeh, Yahya (The Gambia)

Reference work entry


Former army colonel Yahya Jammeh came to power in a military coup in July 1994. Leading the APRC, he was elected to office in 1996 and re-elected in 2001, 2006 and 2011, amid allegations that he maintains his authority through patronage and repression.

Early Life

Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh was born in the Foni Kansala district on 25 May 1965. He joined the army in 1984, rising to captain by 1992, and on 22 July 1994 led a successful coup against Sir Dawda Jawara, the president since 1970.

Career Peak

In 1996 a new constitution was approved by referendum. Jammeh was confirmed as president that year and his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) secured a parliamentary majority in Jan. 1997. He was re-elected president in Oct. 2001. The 2002 parliamentary elections, in which the APRC won nearly all the seats, were boycotted by the main opposition party. Jammeh’s re-election in Sept. 2006 was considered free and fair on the day by observers, but the Commonwealth Secretariat noted ‘abuses of incumbency’ before the vote.

Alleged coup attempts led to the imposition of death sentences on six military officials and two businessmen in July 2010 and of long prison terms on former army and navy chiefs in May 2011. Jammeh was overwhelmingly re-elected in Nov. 2011 and his APRC again won almost all seats at the March 2012 parliamentary elections, which the opposition once more boycotted.

In Jan. 2013 the government suspended political dialogue with the European Union in response to EU criticism of The Gambia’s human rights record, and in Oct. that year the regime announced the country’s withdrawal from membership of the Commonwealth.

In Dec. 2014, while Jammeh was out of the country and amid increasing signs of domestic opposition, a group of disaffected soldiers and expatriate Gambians launched a further unsuccessful attempt to overthrow him, prompting a wave of arrests into the following year.

In Dec. 2015 Jammeh declared The Gambia an Islamic republic. In Jan. 2017, however, the term ‘Islamic’ was removed from the country’s official name by his successor, Adama Barrow.

In the 2016 presidential elections Jammeh lost to Adama Barrow, but rejected the results and attempted to cling to power. On 18 Jan. 2017 he forced parliament to extend his term, which was scheduled to end the next day. President-elect Barrow was sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar on 19 Jan., and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) launched a military intervention on the Gambian territory in order to prepare for Barrow’s return. In support of the intervention, several ministers resigned, forcing Jammeh to dissolve his cabinet on 20 Jan. On 21 Jan., under the pressure of the ECOWAS troops, Jammeh fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea where he was granted asylum.

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