Mustapha K Darboe
Until now, most people remember Gambia’s former president Yahya Jammeh as a very religious man. In 2014, the former ruler was conferred a title Nasirudeen, meaning the leader of people of faith. Jammeh is known for walking about with a prayer beads and what looks like a Quran.
However, revelations after his downfall shows a completely different character. Since his fall, a number of women have accused Jammeh of raping them. Their stories were contested by supporters of Jammeh.
But the testimonies at the Truth Commission investigating the rights violations of the former ruler reaffirms the allegation against him.
Alagie Ousman Ceesay served Jammeh as a chief protocol officer for many years. In this capacity, he was responsible for, among other things, president’s daily activities.
Working under him were a number of women who were referred to as the ‘Special Girls’ who were usually brought to the presidency for Jammeh’s sexual desire.
Ceesay said the usual procedure of recruiting these girls would require his involvement and the Public Service Commission. But instead, these women were recruited based on Jammeh’s directive.
“It was an executive directive that select these protocol officers. You don’t have a choice. There were lot of them who came, mostly girls,” said Ceesay.
“You have a lot of them who were academically limited… I would find some of them to be good but others, not… It was an open secret. Some of them are Special Ladies…”
He said even the officials working at the State House at the time knew that the issue of protocol officer is a coverup. The girls were being used for something else.
In front of Ceesay as he testified was a paper containing names of protected witnesses of the Truth Commission. He did not reveal names but he counted up to 8 people he believed were having an affairs with Jammeh.
Playing a leading role in this was Jimbeh Jammeh, a protocol officer who was, by Ceesay’s account, very close to Jammeh. Jimbeh was also named by Human Rights Watch as one of the people in the middle of Jammeh alleged sexual exploitation of young women.
On June 26 2019, the Human Right Watch published an investigation into Jammeh’s alleged sexual misconduct. At the center of that horrific tale was Fatou Toufah Jallow, a beauty queen who contested and won Jammeh’s Miss July 22 Beauty Pageant.
Toufah said Jammeh exploited the relationship she had with him to rape her. But Jammeh’s sexual advances did not end with Gambians.
According to Ousman Ceesay, Jammeh was import prostitutes from America, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
“I don’t know how Number 2 (referring to names on TRRC’s protected witness sheet) managed to bring these girls from oversees. They will be in the country for a week or two,” said Ceesay.
Ceesay worked with Jammeh for long. Given how he treated people close to him and his temperament, among others, Ceesay concludes that the former ruler was not mentally stable.
After the allegations from Toufah Jallow, there were several counter claims that she was lying against the former ruler. However, similar allegations of Jammeh’s sexual misconduct came up thereafter.
In HRW’s publication in June this year, 3 other women accused Jammeh of rape, attempted rape or unwarranted advances.
And Alagie Ceesay’s testimony draws a mental picture of a situation where such sexual misconducts by Jammeh were possible. Ceesay said some of the girls who came to the Presidency were not protocol officers.
“I think they were there for the President’s pleasure,” he said. There were other witnesses who corroborated the kind of environment painted by Alagie.
On October 24, Yusupha Sanneh, a former soldier who served as orderly to Jammeh for 10 years, said they have received many protocol girls at his house in Kanilai. According to Yusupha, the girls were often roasting meat or brewing China Green Tea for Jammeh.
But official protocol demands that they accompany them whenever they are going to see the President. He however noticed that whenever the ladies were going to see Jammeh, they would receive an instruction from him that they should not be escorted.
And inside, the ladies would spend from 30 to 40 minutes sometimes, said Yusupha. On Monday, another piece to the puzzle had added up. An anonymous witness before the Truth said Jammeh attempted to force himself on her.
This lady was seeing Jammeh. She said she trusted him as a father and sees him as a pan-Africanist. But the former leader exploited that trust.
First, he offered to bath her with a spiritual concoction. She agreed and did what she thought was meant to protect her.
After that test, as it were, Jammeh pushed the limits. He invited her another day and this happened.
“He asked me to undress and this time, this was something different. He (Jammeh) looked at me and told me that I look like a primary school student. He started to touch my breast and body. I remembered pushing back and I started to resist him. He was angry and he said ‘take her out of here,” she said.
The lady said after resisting Jammeh’s advances, things changed.
“He stopped offering me any kind of support. He stopped seeing me,” she said.
“He did not want to talk about the scholarship again. He did not want to see me again.”
The witness also recalled that Jimbeh collects numbers of girls for Jammeh. The session investigating the sexual misconduct of Jammeh ends on October 24.
The session is expected to indict not just Jammeh but people accused of having played the role of a pimp to satisfy Jammeh’s desires.