Military coups are a common feature in the political history of a lot of African countries. As a Ghanaian, this story reminds me of our very own J.J. Rawlings’ coup of 1979. Both of these young officers came into power with the aim of purging their countries of corruption and poor governance which was killing their countries.

Gambia gained political independence from Britain in February 1965 amidst much doubt about her viability as an economic and political unit. As Africa’s smallest insular nation, it is surrounded except for a small sea coast by its larger neighbour Senegal.

In 1981 after an abortive coup against the government of the sitting president Dawda, he together with the president of Senegal announced the establishment of SeneGambia. The failed coup was staged by elements in the military force in alliance with civilians led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang.

The coup of 1994 caught many by surprise, not because it could not happen in Gambia but because many Gambians had become resigned to PPP leadership. The coup was also a reminder of the failed takeover in 1981 but it was quite different because the 1994 coup was bloodless and was executed by young and well trained junior officers.

The soldiers took advantage of the fact that on Friday morning, 22 August, Gambian army officers were due to participate in joint training exercises with the marines on board a U.S. tank landing ship, La Mourie County, which was docked off the coast for that purpose. As the coup progressed, many Gambians assumed it was the joint training exercise going on. Dawda, together with his family members and various government officials escaped with the assistance of the U.S. ambassador to the La Mourie County and then to Senegal where he and his entourage were granted asylum. The Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) was then established and headed by Lt. Yahya Jammeh, who was just 29 years old.

The AFPRC deposed the Dawda Jawara government and banned opposition political activity. Lt. Yahya Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state. A few months later, Captain Sadibou Hydara, who was the spokesperson of the AFPRC, and Captain Sabali, deputy leader of the AFPRC, were accused by Jammeh of plotting a coup. Both men were arrested and detained at the maximum prison. Captain Hydara was tortured and killed in prison. It was believed that Captain Hydara who was the most educated among the original members of the AFPRC was in favour of returning the country to civilian rule, and strongly objected to Jammeh’s candidacy.

The AFPRC announced a transition plan for return to democratic civilian rule. The Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) was established in 1996 to conduct national elections. The transition process included the compilation of a new electoral register; adoption of a new constitution by referendum in August of that year; presidential elections in September of that year and legislative elections in January 1997, respectively.

Colonel Jammeh retired from the Army to run for president. He won the elections and was sworn into office as President of the Gambia on November 6, 1996.

The PIEC was transformed into the Independent Electoral Commission on April 17, 1997; this commission deals with voter registration and the holding of elections and referendums.



Arch 22 in Gambia

Arch 22 is a commemorative arch on the road into Banjul in the Gambia. It was built in 1996 to mark the military coup d’état of July 22, 1994, through which Yahya Jammeh and his Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) overthrew the democratically elected Gambian government.

The Arch stands on the Banjul-Serrekunda Highway, near the traffic island at the intersection with Box Bar Road, Independence Drive, and Marina Parade. A statue of the “unknown soldier” can be seen near the base of the arch: the soldier has a rifle strapped to his back and carries a baby in one hand while signalling victory (making a V-sign) with the other.  Arch 22 is depicted on the back of the 100-dalasis banknote.