Dotted on the sides of the tarred road leading to a huge black gate are mud huts, a sign of poverty in a village that was referred to as the second political capital of The Gambia.
Kanilai in southern Gambia near the border with Senegal is home to former dictator Yahya Jammeh. It became home to a presidential palace, a luxury hotel, a zoo and the center of wrestling and parties sponsored by Jammeh.
Huge billboards with images of the former ruler are everywhere, praising his development projects and pledging loyalty to him.
President Yahya Jammeh was born in this village, 118 miles from Banjul, in 1965 just three months after the former British colony gained independence.
The atmosphere in the village was not as friendly as when Mr. Jammeh was there. Around an arena, you would often see drummer simultaneously beating the hides tightened to a hallowed wood and men and women cheering in joy.
“God put him in power, and God removed him,” shrugged a young man in the village who refused to give his to the AFP.
Many of the villagers were thankful to Jammeh for building schools and two roads leading to the once unknown village.
West African troops forced Jammeh to cede power and flee the country. He is now in exile in Equatorial Guinea. Jammeh wants he assets protected including his mega mansions that stand out among the thatched huts and mud line houses that surround it.
The village was the first target of the regional forces.
“They shot at Kanilai,” said a villager who was one of the rare local critics of Jammeh’s rule, and who was angry that the whole of Kanilai was made to pay.
“There are only poor people’s houses. Yahya Jammeh did nothing here,” he said, pointing to the ramshackle mud shacks lining the road to the palace.
Jammeh said he was going back to Kanilai to farm. In his farm, he has camels, cattle, goats, and sheep. Soldiers loyal to the former ruler and his family that remains there vowed to take care of them.
That would, however, not be long. Family members will scramble for what is left.
What would really be left of Jammeh in Kanilai is the reminiscence of his reign. The nostalgia is real and has left the people of this small community of farmers deeply divided like the nation that the new government must unite.