Yahya Jammeh, the Gambian president, known for his virulent homophobia and vicious anti-gay threats, has been ousted in this week’s presidential election in The Gambia.
Jammeh, an authoritarian president for 22 years, suffered this surprise defeat in the country’s general election. He will be replaced by a property developer, Adama Barrow, who won more than 45% of the vote.
Mr Jammeh, who came to power in a coup in 1994, and who once vowed to ‘rule forever’, conceded to Barrow.
The Gambia has not had a smooth transfer of power since independence in 1965. Before announcing the final result, election officials appealed for calm as the country entered this unfamiliar territory.
Jammeh is known for threatening to slit the throats of all gays in his country. The tiny African nation has been a cesspool for anti-LGBT persecution, causing many gay men to flee to neighboring Senegal and beyond, seeking asylum or resettlement through UNHCR.
In 2015 Vice News received a translation of Jammeh’s speech, delivered in the region’s Wolof language:
“If you do it [in Gambia] I will slit your throat,” Jammeh said. “If you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it.”
The Gambian leader is notorious for his homophobic views and, judging from his comments here, seems undeterred by recent condemnation from the international community. Last year, the European Union cut aid to the West African nation over its human rights record, which included the country’s introduction in October of a tough anti-homosexuality law that could lead to life sentences in prison.
During his campaign the President elect promised to revive the country’s economy, which also forced thousands of Gambians to attempt the perilous journey to Europe.
A source in Gambia expressed that it is believed Barrow will “allow for much more liberality” for the people.
African Human Right’s Coalition received a report from the AHRC LGBT Ambassador in The Gambia, noting that Barrow is apt to be pro human rights and that it is likely he will not persecute and target LGBT in the manner employed by Jammeh and his police force.
With Jammeh as president, it was no surprise that Police were often deployed to arrest gays under the anti homosexuality laws, which provide for life in prison. LGBTI people have been subjected to torture from police and populace, alike. There is now hope for measured change.