Gambia yesterday accused the former head of the presidential guard of leading a small coup attempt that two U.S. citizens were also involved in. In an email interview, Jeffrey Smith, an advocacy officer at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, discussed Gambian politics and the recent attempted coup.
WPR: What is the nature of President Yahya Jammeh’s regime, and how strong is his support among the general public and military?
Jeffrey Smith: Yahya Jammeh is a retrograde dictator, one of the last remaining strongmen in power on the African continent. For West Africa, a region that has made tremendous progress both economically and socially over the past several years, Jammeh’s regime is no doubt a black eye. After ascending to the presidency by means of a military coup two decades ago, Jammeh has presided over a brutal regime in which torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and absolute disregard for human dignity are the norm. Jammeh’s support among the citizenry is weak at best. He primarily rules through fear and intimidation. There is also discontent within the military. It is rumored that senior military officials participated in the planning of the recent coup attempt, and several men have reportedly been arrested.