Gambia's truth commission unravels extent of the brutalities in Yahya Jammeh's reign

The deliberations of the commission which began in January have been dominated by testimonies about the 22-year reign of terror perpetrated by Yahya Jammeh’s personal death squad and the clamour for reparations by surviving victims.

The first year of hearings ended last week, capping months of harrowing accounts about how Jammeh's so-called “Junglers” or secret police carried out a campaign of kidnapping, torture, murder, rape and witch hunting.

The expectations are huge as people want to know the masterminds of a string of high profile murders committed during Jammeh’s rule, including that of journalist Deyda Hydara in 2004, claims Mustapha Darbo, a respected Gambian journalist based in Banjul.

Hit squads

Darbo said he recalls a confession by Jungler member Amadou Badjie who said he personally took part in the murder of two US-Gambian businessmen suspected of planning a coup.

This is while other agents of Jammeh’s ultra-loyal paramilitary unit admitted their role in the execution of some 50 African migrants who were rounded up on a beach and mistaken for rebels as they were trying to make their way to Europe.

A key moment at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) hearings occurred in October when the former Gambian beauty queen, Toufah Jallow, accused Jammeh of raping her, after she refused to marry him.

Witch hunters

The commission is still to understand the ousted president’s superstitious ways which saw him hire hundreds of so-called witch hunters around the country to treat people suspected of possessing evil powers, with a concoction.

“Alaji Cisse, Jammeh’s chief of protocol for many years actually described him as somebody who wasn’t very stable," said Darbo.

“He used to organise festivals for magicians from neighbouring countries like Sierra Leone and Mali to come and display their various talents.

“A guy going around with a Koran and a mirror on it. That’s basically the kind of guy Jammeh was,” recalls the blogger.

Some 190 witnesses who have so far appeared before the TRRC, accuse Jammeh of direct involvement in the crimes.

Also an organised crime and reporting project accused the dictator of stealing up to one billion US dollars from state coffers, as he fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea in 2017.

But the TRRC still has a full year of hearings to go before submitting its report.

According to Darbo, the commission still needs to call more witnesses to complete its findings about some cases of Jammeh's alleged abuses.

The commission could then decide whether to summon Jammeh to testify or recommend the filing, by the government, of official charges against the former president at the International Criminal Court.