President Yahya Jammeh: The Predictability of an Unpredictable Ruler

Ayodele Ameen champions human rights in Africa. He was Amnesty International’s Campaigner for Gambia!

By Ayodele Ameen 

President Yahya Jammeh has been in office for the past 22 years, he joined the Gambian national Army in 1984, and became an officer in 1989. On Friday 22 July 1994 he led young officers in a military coup that ousted the government of President Dawda Jawara and became the new President of the Gambia.


Many of the African  civil society activists, myself included, would have at a period in time attended the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights sessions in Banjul, we always breez in and out of Serekunda, a tourist area and we believed all is well with the Gambia. That time was 2005 when I joined Amnesty International at the International secretariat,  with a responsibility to campaign on the Gambia.  My early desk research revealed a totally different country than the one I had visited in the past.


My first official mission to the Gambia was very revealing  and mostly fruitful in a way because I was a able to come back to London with a precious souvenir, a small portrait of President Jammeh which I placed in my office. For the next few years I studied this picture everyday to get some insight about the character of President Jammeh and what made him to do what he was doing in terms of the widespread human rights violations and abuses.


Most Gambians in Diaspora believe that jammeh is unpredictable, in my subsequent missions to the Gambia, I met with United Nations Development experts who were minding their business rather than raising  fundamental human rights concerns with the Gambian Government. I have met international organisations whose approach was to use seductive strategic approach to mainstream human rights concerns to government policy. I have met the Chief Justice of the Gambia who confirmed that orders come from above. I have seen a Bar Association powerless to act. I met with a press association that accept that sword is powerful than their pen. I met civil society communities that have been so cripple and  resorted to faith rather than make effort to stand up and act.  You now come to the civil service that trend carefully in the discharge of their duty.  I  met politicians that individually they are very articulate, but collectively that are divided and inefffective.  All these because of the strong convinction that President Jammeh is not predictable, hence all directives will have to come from HIM or his office.


Examining all these scenarios resonates that there must be a key that will open the door of opportunities for the  needed CHANGE in the Gambia, then the picture in my office provided the answer,  which is the fact that we can predict President  Jammeh in an  unpredictable way, this entails that for every campaign plans we have to predict possible outcomes not one outcome. There is need to be two steps ahead of Jammeh and it becomes easy to set him on a path or propel him to respond in a way, this practically means that his unpredictability character is a tool for us to predict him.


The whole Gambia change agenda is a multifaceted and independent approach. The human rights approach focus more on generating interest on the Gambia by the International community. Of course we knew what Jammeh would  think, his thought would hover around the fact that  the strategy  aim was to embarrass him internationally, once that is established we can predict his response. This approach provided some  protection for our campaign. In actual fact the whole internationalisation of the Gambia human rights campaign  was for the Gambian people, it was to connect the international community with the plight of the Gambian people given the fact that it was clear from the beginning that only Gambians could save their country.


When we went for the most important mission in the Gambia, the possibility of arrest was on the table, so we were not surprise, when it happened  because we could predict him. He was happy when we left the country, but we went back few months after to complete our research, but this time we were only being followed by the NIA, we knew that would  happen because we could predict him.  It is being patient for his intimidation to run out of fuel that always break him. Of course, some would say, it is not mere intimidation, some have lost their lives and freedom, yes I know that, but in change agenda, the theory still stands.


I have had the opportunity to meet gallant Gambians in Diaspora; they are intelligent, strategic and extremely patriotic to their country. I met family of those who have sacrificed their lives, I have met those who sacrificed their freedom, Ihave met those who sacrificed their proximity to their families and loved ones and went on exile, I met them in Dakar, New York, Geneva, Amsterdam, Stockholm, etc.  There will be other opportunities to name the heroes of this freedom, but I am extremely moved by the  patrionalism of two Gambians that we work closely with, a former president of the Gambia press Union, who now lives in Mali and a former reporter for Foroyya Newspaper who now lives in Sweden. Most importantly is the formerAmnesty International Gambia researcher whom we  both carried the touch of the campaign to various stakeholders in various cities of the world.


This freedom has been lined with blood and sweat of many  Gambians activists, they did all these because they are sure that the change would come, but unsure of WHEN. I was once confronted at one of the  Regional meetings in Africa on the Gambian Issues that  the Gambian are cowards. My response was emphantic, No they  are not,  The Gambians are capalble of  fightng for change in their country, but they are not just ready yet and we all  need to be patient with them. The reason is not far fetched, Gambians throughtoout their history has only witnessed two governments, Government of Jawara (1970-1994) and that of Jameeh (1994 till now).


The Icing on the cake for the change struggle was Lawyer Darboe the leader of the main opposition party (UDP) decision to embarked on a suicide mission with most of his party executives when they decided on that fateful day of 14th of April 2016  to demand accountability for the death of Solo Sandeng a UDP Youth leader tortured to death by the National Intelligent Agency. The mission started with one clear message for his party executives,  we may either be shot and killed or sent to prison, that means that they could predict Jammeh in an unpredicable way in terms of the options. Darboe knows that activating the masses and the political class to act demand extreme sacrifice and he knows what to do to put Jammeh where he wanted him. To send him to prison. No political strategist would advise a president to send the leader of the main opposition to prison few months to the presidential election, but Jammeh play to their hand and he did.  Darboes team imprisonment serves two purpose, one it helps the Gambian people to get angry and two it makes the political parties to form a coalition. The results of the election is not majorly different from other presidential elections apart from the fact that opposing political parties pull all their votes together to defeat a common enemy.


The country international calls, data and election observers  lock down may have been done on the day of the election to wave off external influence. Jammeh may have been of the view that change can only come from the outside, but change came from the inside. To give him some credit may be Jammeh is making a pro Africanisation point that Gambia can handle their affairs themselves, or put in a subtle way that expected change in the Gambia,  is CHANGE OF  the Gambians, BY Gambians and FOR Gambians.

Ayodele Ameen

Executive Director




  1. He miscalculated our resolve when it really matters. The action of Solo Sandeng and Darboe’s courage that followed totally left him with no option but the option of confrontation. From there the anger and unity among the people he victimised in seclusion spilled into the outside because that is the only way he knows how to react to threat. This mistake, I agree with the author, was predictable. This predictability ultimately led to his downfall.

  2. Good old friend of the forums, Mr. Michael Scales had a fear the country’s political resolve was vulnerable to be reduced to a mere ‘journalistic marathon’. My personal thanks to you for that insipring concern of yours.
    There is abondant predictabilty of the fate of a state that supports and operates by terrorising citizens upon claims of restoring national peace and security…… In other words, I want to say, there is nothing to predict about a proven state of terror.
    May God Allah fill our hearts with understanding and blessed love.

  3. Excellent perspective Ameen! Another lesson for all of Africa: An incumbent can be unseated when the people decide it’s time and unite to act. Best wishes for the future to our Gambian sisters and brothers