Gambia’s army for the first time has apologized to Gambians for the coup that brought former dictator, Yahya Jammeh to power.
The army’s overthrow of the government of Sir Dawda Jawara was not seen as a subversion of the will of the people at the time.
But with Jawara’s ouster came the end of democracy and freedoms for Gambians. The constitution was scrapped and decrees were enforced.
Yahya Jammeh attempt to hold on to power since 1994 led to arbitrary arrests, threats, enforced disappearance, tortures, and killings to silence opposition voices, journalists, rights defenders and his perceived foes.
The Gambia’s military, filled with Jammeh’s loyalists have backed the autocratic ruler and helped him oppress citizens for more than two decades.
It is accused of committing serious human rights violations against perceived critics and political opponents, perpetuating a climate of fear.
A special paramilitary hit squad was the most frequently implicated and the elite presidential guard thwarted nearly a dozen coups plotted to end Jammeh’s repressive rule.
Jammeh was shockingly defeated in the December 2016 presidential election by President Adama Barrow, a change that brought hope for improved respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Jammeh swindled billions from Gambian tax payers and after month’s of refusing to cede power, the threat of West African forces sent him packing to Equatorial Guinea.
The Gambian army now says the July 22 coup brought Gambians “untold terror and mayhem” and remorsefully apologized for the events that led to the planting of dictatorship, and decades of misrule and financial mismanagement.
It is an apology long overdue and it will give hope to victims and their families that impunity has ended and assures there will be justice.
Mass graves have been uncovered, some soldiers that committed human rights abuses have been arrested, a mutiny has been foiled and external threats are being neutralized as the army rebuilds its battered relations with the community.
Barrow’s government faces enormous challenges to rebuild the country’s army, broken economy, and long-neglected institutions.
With Jammeh farming in Equatorial Guinea -and his loyalists being weeded out, the army has vowed to distance itself from the politics of the New Gambia and ensure that the will of the people is never subverted again.