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Yahya Jammeh, President of Gambia - World Leaders in History

Though he has pursued many positive reforms, Jammeh has complicated Gambian relations with domestic minorities and governments in the West.

5. Early Life

Yahya Jammeh was born on May 25th, 1965, in Kanilai Village, Gambia. He received his early education at the Kanilai Primary School, the Saint Edwards School in Bwiam, and then Gambia High School in Banjul. He received a Certificate of Education in 1983. From a young age, Yahya had also been receiving extensive military training, both in Gambia's neighbouring country of Senegal and in the United States. He joined the Gambian National Army in 1984, when he was only 19. He was soon promoted to Lieutenant in 1989, and four years later, in 1992, he became Commander of the Gambian Military Police.

4. Rise to Power

Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara had been the President of Gambia since 1970, and his long term rule had created widespread dissent within the country. While he successfully quenched previous coups, a coup initiated by a group of soldiers in the Gambian National Army in July of 1994 seized power, and forced Jawara into exile. Jammeh was the chairman of the group carrying out the coup, knowns as the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC). The soldiers then founded the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction in 1996, which supported Jammeh in the presidential election that year. Jammeh was elected as President of Gambia in 1996. He has since then won three subsequent Presidential Elections, in 2001, 2006, and 2011.

3. Contributions

During his reign, Jammeh has pushed for many reforms and policies, and many of them have been controversial. In order to seek greater independence and further cut ties from its British Colonial past, Jammeh decided to withdraw the Gambia from the Commonwealth of Nations in 2013. Then, in December of 2015, he declared that the Gambia, within which most people are Muslims, to be an Islamic republic. According to him, such a proclamation is in line with Gambia's "religious identity and values", and still endorses religious freedom and allows people of other faiths to practice their beliefs freely as well. He also claimed that he had found the cure of HIV/AIDS, saying that it can be cured with natural herbs. His claim had been criticized for its lack of scientific evidence, and the risk of promoting dangerous behaviors regarding its treatment.

2. Challenges

Jammeh and many of the policies he initiated have been seen as problematic for his country, and thusly have been widely criticized. Women's and minorities' rights, press freedoms, and the human rights record in general in Gambia have all come under scrutiny. He called homosexuals "evil" and "vermins", saying that they are detrimental to human existence. He also passed laws against homosexuals and threatened to "cut off their heads". Meanwhile, journalists are often met with state-sponsored violence and repression, and dissenting opinions are absolutely not tolerated. Individuals also suffer from arbitrary state violence, execution, and imprisonment on a large scale. The situation concerns many nations in the West, and they have increasingly withheld aid money to the Gambia. Still, Jammeh's power has not been seriously challenged within the Gambia.

1. The Present Day and Legacy

Jammeh has been the President of Gambia for over two decades. Domestically, his reign has contributed to deterioration of human rights in Gambia. Instances such as the killings of student protesters and journalists, and the executions of homosexuals, have caused a great deal of domestic unrest and international concern. His government also meticulously tracks dissent, and then represses dissenting voices. In the realm of international relations, although he has made considerable efforts to break away with Gambia's colonial past, those measures have caused concern and outcry in the West. As a result, the relation between the Gambia and the West has deteriorated, creating a more difficult international environment for the Gambia to deal with.

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