Over the course of the past year, the West African nation of The Gambia has attracted an outsized volume of media attention, including a recent front-page story in the Washington Post. The lion’s share of international scrutiny has rightly focused on the country’s highly erratic and brutal dictator, Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled the country with callous and brazen impunity since a July 1994 military coup. At the time, then interim President Jammeh announced to the world: “We will never introduce dictatorship in this country.”
More than two decades later, the human rights situation in The Gambia has increasingly deteriorated to the point that the country is now referred to as the North Korea of Africa due to Jammeh’s violent intolerance for dissent and legitimate criticism of his abusive regime.
Unsurprisingly, Yahya Jammeh has registered the newfound and rising interest in his country by noticeably ramping up efforts to counteract the negative, and well-deserved, spotlight. Indeed, in recent weeks Jammeh has been honored by African Leadership Magazine – a widely recognized “award mill” that bestows faux honors to undeserving leaders – for his “extraordinary leadership” and for “the love he has for his people and entire humanity in general.” This “award,” which has been shamelessly publicized in Gambian state media, has coincided with a concerted social media campaign led by a shadowy new propaganda outlet called Kora Broadcasting that has been seemingly collaborating with the First Lady of Gambia Zineb Jammeh and a so-called “son of President Jammeh,” Prince Ebrahim— each have become quite active on various social media platforms, espousing the fabricated virtues of their beloved dictator and his myriad “successes.”
What’s more, I’ve been targeted myself – repeatedly – by Jammeh’s propaganda apparatus for helping to raise the level of awareness and for serving as a platform for citizens to voice their long-silenced concerns regarding missing and detained family members, as well the ongoing human rights violations that are routinely committed in the country. (As an aside, the outpouring of support from ordinary Gambians, as well as from activists in the diaspora, has been tremendous and will no doubt serve as additional motivation moving forward).
The new public relations campaign by Jammeh should come as no surprise— it is undoubtedly an indication that efforts to expose his illegitimate and wholly unaccountable rule are having an effect and have positively rattled the foundations of his regime. In the meantime, Jammeh and his cohorts may continue to shroud themselves in faux awards and phony accolades all they want. For it stands to reason that the world is now onto their charade.