Born in May 1965, he came to power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army lieutenant. Now, he is a portly president who portrays himself as a devout Muslim with miraculous powers, such as the power to cure people of Aids and infertility. He also believes that homosexuality threatens human existence. Mr Jammeh divorced his first wife Tuti Faal and subsequently married two other women, though his official website refers only to Zineb Yahya Jammeh, who holds the title of First Lady.
Mr Jammeh, claiming that he has the support of most Gambians, nearly all of whom are Muslims, has won four multi-party elections – his latest victory was in 2011 when he obtained 72% of the vote. But in a sign that his credibility among African leaders had plummeted, the regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), refused to endorse his victory, saying voters and the opposition had been “cowed by repression and intimidation”.
The Gambia, portrayed in tourist brochures as an idyllic holiday destination, is the second African country to pull out of the Commonwealth in the past decade – Zimbabwe took a similar decision in 2003 after the body extended sanctions against President Robert Mugabe’s government because of its human rights record.
In an interview in 2011 with the BBC’s Focus on Africa radio programme, Mr Jammeh said he did not fear a fate similar to Libya’s killed leader Muammar Gaddafi or Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak. “My fate is in the hands of almighty Allah,” he told the BBC. “I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so.” Mr Jammeh said he was not bothered by the criticism of human rights groups.
Mr Jammeh is known for expressing bizarre views. In 2007, he claimed that he could cure Aids with a herbal concoction – a view condemned by health experts. Later, he also claimed that he could cure infertility among women. Mr Jammeh is also known for his virulent opposition to gay rights, having once threatened to behead gay people. During an address to the UN General Assembly last month, Mr Jammeh lamented that Western governments were pushing for homosexuality to be legalised.
He runs one of the most feared intelligence agencies in Africa, with its tentacles spread across the country – so much so that people in cities and villages fear speaking ill of the man who is officially referred to as his “His Excellency Sheikh, Professor, Alhaji, Doctor Yahya AJJ Jammeh”.
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