Jammeh: Only God can remove me from power

2011-11-21 14:43
Banjul - Yahya Jammeh, who swapped army fatigues for flowing white robes and a sceptre, has ruled Gambia with an aura of mysticism and an iron fist since age 29, and says only God can remove him from power.

Jammeh, whose mystic credentials include a claim that he can cure Aids, is poised to win a fourth term of office in presidential polls on Thursday.

Now 46, he has already ruled for 17 years since seizing power in a bloodless coup. Gambia's weak and divided opposition is not seen as a good bet to unseat him.

If Jammeh remains popular it is in part due to his largesse come election time, when he has a habit of handing out gifts.

But he has also been praised for his public works programmes, having built roads, schools and hospitals and kept economic growth strong.

The fresh-faced former wrestler has nevertheless been regularly pilloried for rights abuses in the tiny nation.

Amnesty International earlier this year accused him of having "ruthlessly quashed any form of dissent against his regime".

King of Gambia

His government had overseen enforced disappearances, killings and torture of journalists and opposition party members by security personnel, Amnesty said.

Government ministers are regularly reshuffled and military officers are accused of plotting coups against Jammeh and charged with treason, in what observers say is a sign of growing paranoia.

The president himself runs several ministries - including the ministry of defence - as well as several businesses.

"Elections will not make me to lose power nor will military coups make me lose grip of power. It is only the Almighty Allah ... who can make this possible," Jammeh said recently.

The president was born in the western village of Kanilai in 1965, the year that Gambia, a long east-west sliver of land bordered on three sides by Senegal, gained independence from Britain.

Along with fellow army officers he seized power in July 1994 from Sir Dawda Jawara, who had ruled the country since its independence, pledging to root out corruption and hold elections.

Having brought in a new constitution and retired from the military, Jammeh went on to win elections in September 1996, October 2001 and September 2006.

In 2002 a constitutional amendment removed presidential term limits, and recently tribal chiefs have been campaigning to have Jammeh declared "King of Gambia".

Rumours of secret powers

He already boasts a panoply of titles: His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen, Commander In Chief of The Armed Forces and Chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of The Gambia.

In 2008, Jammeh gave an ultimatum to gays and lesbians to leave his country, saying he would "cut off the head" of any homosexual found in Gambia.

Jammeh has woven a shroud of mysticism around himself using religion and rumours of secret powers. He claims he can cure Aids using a combination of mystical powers and herbs which requires patients to stop other treatment.

And he has had no qualms about kicking out international workers, including two United Nations officials, who criticised his government.

His official biography states he "possesses extensive knowledge in traditional herbal therapy especially in the treatment of asthma and epilepsy" and he also treats infertility, diabetes and hypertension.

Jammeh's website lists his hobbies as playing tennis and soccer, hunting in the forests, reading, riding motorcycles and browsing the internet. He also enjoys watching music videos and rearing animals.

Jammeh is married with one daughter and one son.

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