Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh and Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo are neighbors in the Falconhurst Subdivision in Potomac, Maryland, a suburb outside the U.S. capital, Washington, DC.
They both own homes on Bentcross Drive just a short walk from each other. They are dictators and one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.
They have so much in common. They are dictators, brutal ones for that matter, who should very well be the epic example of tyrants in any dictionary. They ruled their nations of fewer than two million, Africa’s smallest for that matter, with more than just an iron-fist. They are thugs.
Now they are neighbors not only in Washington but in Malabo, the capital Equatorial Guinea as well, where Jammeh is in exile after losing elections and militarily forced to flee.
Corruption, poverty, and repression continue to plague Equatorial Guinea under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979 after a military coup.
Vast oil revenues fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while a large proportion of the population continues to live in poverty. Mismanagement of public funds and credible allegations of high-level corruption persist, as do other serious abuses, including torture, arbitrary detention, and unfair trials.
Obiang’s eldest son and possible successor, Teodorin, was indicted in France on money-laundering charges. The United States agreed to settle with Teodorin in a separate case, stating the seized assets would be used to benefit Equatorial Guinea’s people.
Under President Yahya Jammeh’s rule in the Gambia, forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and other human rights violations were a trademark. Jammeh came to power in a military coup in 1994.
Gambian authorities routinely target voices of dissent, including journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents, and critics, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Two UN special rapporteurs, who in 2014 gained access to the country for the first time, concluded that “torture is a consistent practice” by authorities and “avoiding arrest is a necessary preoccupation” for ordinary Gambians.
Corruption in Gambia is pervasive throughout all levels of institutions. Airlifted out of the Gambia with Jammeh to Equatorial Guinea are luxury goods and cars. Just like the Obiang’s, the Jammeh’s have Bentleys and Rolls-Royce Phantoms, mansions and businesses stretched across the world. All stolen from the people while their people living in poverty.
The pot cannot tell the kettle you are black. So Jammeh does not want to suffer a Charles Taylor. He rejected asylum offers from Nigeria and Morocco. Equatorial Guinea is not a member of the ICC and being a key oil player and a dictatorship that Western governments tend to turn a blind eye to, he feels more assured that he can stay there without being extradited.
The irony is that Jammeh will be living under a dictatorship, not as the dictator but arguably a subject. He may want to do things differently from Obiang but he better keep those thoughts to himself if he does not want to spend some nights in one of Obiang’s “free hotels” and end up in his very own “free hotel rooms” in the Gambia’s Mile II prisons.
(Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Reporting from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International)