The Gambia’s brutal autocrat of 22 years will face prosecution within a year

Staying put.
Staying put.
Image: AP Photo/Jerome Delay
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The Gambia’s outgoing president of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, will be charged and prosecuted for crimes against the state within a year of handing over power, according to the country’s new ruling coalition.

As Adama Barrow, the real estate agent and political newcomer who defeated one of Africa’s longest-ruling autocrats, begins to lay out his vision for the small West African country, Gambians have begun to wonder what will become of Jammeh. An erratic autocrat whose policies included striking English from the country’s official languages, Jammeh claimed to have cured AIDS with herbal medicine and threatened to decapitate homosexuals. He has been accused of kidnapping, torture, murder, and the theft of state assets.

Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang, who is leading the new coalition, told the Guardian that it is working to prevent the outgoing president from leaving the country before charges can be brought. Although Jammeh conceded the election graciously on live television, observers worry he may mobilize an insurgency from outside the country to take back his position. “He can’t leave. If he leaves, he’s going to escape us,” Jallow-Tambajang told the paper.

If Jammeh is prosecuted, this election will not only mark the Gambia’s first democratic transition since gaining independence in 1965, but one of the few times a long-time African autocrat has been held accountable for his crimes by his own country.

According to Jallow-Tambajang, the new coalition hasn’t decided whether it will try to prosecute Jammeh at home or in an international court. Barrow has promised to remain part of the International Criminal Court, reversing Jammeh’s decision earlier this year to leave the tribunal.