The heroes who stood up to the Gambia’s dictator are telling their stories

Now it can be told.
Now it can be told.
Image: Jason Florio / Amnesty International
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Yahya Jammeh once promised to rule the Gambia for “one billion years.”

Yet after a mere 22 years as one of Africa’s most volatile autocrats, Jammeh conceded defeat live on television following the presidential election of December 2016. He retracted his concession days later but—threatened with military action from neighboring states—he left and went into exile in mid-January 2017.

It was a hopeful moment for many Gambians. For decades, opposition members were detained, journalists abducted, and human-rights activists tortured. As the country’s economy became mired in debt, Gambians left in droves, risking their lives to reach Europe.

The story of those who stayed and defied Jammeh’s rule is now the subject of a compelling documentary titled We Never Gave Up. Produced by Louise Hunt and Jason Florio for Amnesty International, it documents the unsung heroes who suffered emotional, physical, and mental trauma to defend human rights in mainland Africa’s smallest country. In interviews with journalists, lawyers, religious leaders, and digital media campaigners, the filmmakers show how these individuals’ collective work finally brought their nation foroyaa—freedom.

The profiles in courage include Emil Touray, president of the country’s press union, who despairingly described critical journalists in Jammeh’s era as “endangered species.” When confronted by authorities, he said, “Your throat becomes dry. Your heart is beating faster. You’re perspiring. You are scared. You are worried the worst could happen.”

Other defiant characters include prominent attorney Antouman Gaye and his daughter Combeh, both of whom took on many cases involving Jammeh’s targets. The documentary also features the young men and women who came together to create Gambia Has Decided, a grassroots digital movement that aimed to ensure democracy remained intact.

The film showcases how a nation under duress came together to agitate for change, protest injustices, and push young people to vote out a brutal dictatorship. At times difficult to watch, the documentary is ultimately a story of hope that captures the liberating feeling of new beginnings.