Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junking Jammeh (1965- )

Yahya Jammeh during White House visit, August 28, 2014
Public Domain Image
Yahya Jammeh during White House visit, August 28, 2014
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Yahya Jammeh is a Gambian politician and former military officer who was the second president of Gambia from 1994 to 2017. Jammeh ruled Gambia for 23 years after rising to power as a young army officer in a bloodless military coup in 1994 that ousted Dawda Jawara who had been the first president of Gambia. He was officially elected the second president of The Gambia in 1996 and reelected in 2001, 2006, and 2011. He was defeated in the 2016 Gambian presidential election by Adama Barrow and was subsequently forced to step down from power in 2017.

Jammeh was born on May 25, 1965, in Kanilai, Gambia, three months after the country gained its independence from Great Britain. Jammeh joined the Gambian National Army in 1984 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1989. In August 1992, he became commanding officer of the Military Police of Yundum Barracks. He received extensive military training from neighboring Senegal and military police training at Fort McClellan, Alabama.  Jammeh’s rise to power began on July 22, 1994, when he and a group of young officers in the Gambian National Army seized power from President Sir Dawda Jawara in a military coup by taking control of key facilities in the capital city of Banjul. The coup was known to be a bloodless coup that was met with little resistance. Jammeh’s group identified itself as the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) with Jammeh acting as chairman.

Soon after seizing power, the Jammeh-led AFPRC suspended the constitution, sealed the borders, and implemented a nationwide curfew. Jammeh’s new government justified the coup by decrying corruption and the absence of democracy under the Jawara regime. Army personnel were also dissatisfied with their salaries, living conditions, and prospects for promotions.

In 1994 Jammeh founded the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction as his political party. He was narrowly elected president in September 1996 in a national election which foreign observers declared was neither free nor fair.  He was reelected in October 2001 with 53 percent of the vote. A coup attempt against Jammeh was thwarted on March 21, 2006. While Jammeh visited Mauritania, Army Chief of Staff Colonel Ndure Cham, attempted to seize power. When the coup attempt failed, he fled to Senegal along with other alleged conspirators most of whom were arrested, returned to Gambia, and put on trial for treason.

Jammeh ran for a third term as president in September 2006 where he won 67 percent of the vote. In 2011 Jammeh was reelected as president for a fourth term, receiving 72 percent of the vote. On December 1, 2016, Jammeh was defeated by Adama Barrow. After initially rejecting the election results, Jammeh on January 21, 2017, announced that he was stepping down as president. He left the country the same day for Guinea and then proceeded to Equatorial Guinea.

Yaha Jammeh, a Muslim, was married to his first wife, Tuti Faal, from 1994 to 1998 when the couple divorced. Jammeh married his second wife, Zeinab Suma, in 1999 and the couple had two children, a daughter named Mariam Jammeh, and a son, Muhammad Yahya Jammeh. In 2010 Jammeh announced his marriage to a second wife, Alima Sallah, who was daughter of Omar Gibril Sallah, then Gambia’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The couple divorced a year later.