Thursday, September 13, 2012

Africa's Forgotten Despot

The Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries. One third of the Gambia's 1.8 million population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. As a result, the country has increasingly depended on foreign aid, while vanity projects continue. According to 2010 World Bank figures, the nation's gross national income per capita was $450. Much of the soil is unsuitable for farming, and only about a sixth of the land is arable. Farming relies heavily on peanuts, which are grown mainly for export, and farmers are therefore vulnerable to price variations on international markets.

The Gambia's president, Yahya Jammeh, announced last month that all 47 death row inmates would be put to death by mid-September – the nation's first executions since 1985 but you won't hear the West protesting. On 23 August, the killings began. Three days later, nine prisoners had been shot by firing squad. None of those killed were allowed to say goodbye to their families.

The army lieutenant illegally seized power in 1994 and has never considered giving it back. Critics say his iron-fisted regime's mismanagement of the economy has wasted millions, much of it thrown away on a search for oil that has so far proved fruitless. The Gambia has held three elections in the last 18 years under conditions that ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, said were not conducive for the conduct of "free, fair and transparent polls". In the 2006 election Jammeh said: "I will develop the areas that vote for me, but if you don't vote for me, don't expect anything." In a country where many villages do not have clean running water, electricity, or easy access to health care – and where a good monthly wage is less than £15 – this statement could have been a matter of life and death to some. Jammeh's made a messianic claim in 2007, that he could cure AIDS with the mere touch of his hand and has called for the beheading of all homosexuals

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