For 22 years as Gambia’s strongman the art of tough-talking as a means of conjuring up personal bravado was his style but there may be another less romanticized side to Yahya Jammeh than him putting on a mask of bravery.If last week’s testimony at Gambia’s truth commission by Edward Singhateh, his former deputy in the military junta which overthrew the civilian government in 1994 is anything to by, Mr. Jammeh was more of a coward than a brave soldier.
Singhateh, painted a mocking picture of his ex-boss as a scaredy-cat who literally wanted to run away at a decisive stage of the coup.
He said Jammeh had suggested staying behind when it came to marching on and seizing State House in the capital Banjul and removing the 32-year government of late Sir Dawda Jawara, suggesting that the now exiled former Gambian leader was a coward.
Although the soldier-cum lawyer was reluctant to suggest this when pressed by the lead counsel, Singhateh, 51, said he had literally took Jammeh’s hand and practically forced him into boarding the military vehicle which sped to Banjul to spearhead and execute the coup.
On the way to Banjul, Jammeh was sandwiched by soldiers on the vehicle, leaving him with no chance to disappear from the fast-paced scene, tickling members of the audience watching from the truth commission’s public gallery.
His testimony continues on Monday,
Singhateh who played a decisive role in the success of the coup and went on to become Defence minister later handpicked Jammeh to head the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC), a decision he regretted on hindsight in view of two decades of egregious human rights violations.
Singhateh said Jammeh was also ‘petrified’ of the vice chairman of the military junta Sana Sabally who effectively led the coup but with whom relations became strained in the weeks and months following the takeover.
Sabally who himself testified at the commission in August was eventually removed from the military government with the aid of the England-born Singhateh and jailed for nine years over an alleged plot to kill Jammeh.
Singhateh who eventually studied law and became a magistrate in The Gambia explained how in the days leading up to the 1994 coup the amulet-wearing Jammeh boasted of his supposed prowess as a soldier.
This was the ‘make-believe’ though seemingly real side to Jammeh Gambians were made to see during his time in power.
He dared Gambians who wanted to remove him by force, warning them that he was prepared to die if it meant defending the country.
His reputation as a ruthless human rights transgressor helped mask this ‘cowardice’ about him.