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Project February 5, 2016

Gambia's Dictator and the Failed Coup


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Image by Stuart A. Reid. Gambia, 2015.

Yahya Jammeh took power in Gambia in a 1994 coup, and he quickly led the country downhill. Even in a region still struggling to cast off its authoritarian past, his regime stands out as extreme. It harasses gays, arbitrarily executes accused criminals, tortures dissidents, and murders rivals.

With little space for political dissent at home, most of the opposition to Jammeh is based outside the country. But the diaspora's peaceful efforts to unseat him have never been able to gain traction inside the country. For one group of Gambian expatriates—based in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom—the only way to get rid of Jammeh was the traditional method in Gambia: a coup.

In December 2014, the group traveled to Gambia and launched the operation. Their plan was to storm the president's compound, win over the military, and install their civilian leader. By New Year's Day, they hoped to control the entire country, replacing its cruel dictatorship with an enlightened democracy. But by dawn, the attempted coup had failed. Half of the conspirators had fled the country. The rest had been shot dead or captured by presidential guards.