Banjul – Gambia’s former dictator Yahya Jammeh, now in exile, has defied outgoing president Adama Barrow from afar as the country prepares to go the polls next month.
In a controversial intervention in the campaign in the tiny west African state, Jammeh late on Thursday spoke remotely at a public meeting of the candidate he has joined forces with for the December 4 election, Mama Kandeh.
He accused Barrow and his allies of having “rigged” elections in 2016 that saw Jammeh ousted from power after a brutal 22-year rule.
After a six-week crisis that led to military intervention by other West African states, Jammeh was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea.
But he still has significant political support in The Gambia.
His future role in the impoverished country, as well as the question of justice for crimes committed under his rule, are both central themes in the runup to the election.
Witnesses have already given chilling evidence about state-sanctioned torture, death squads, rape and witch hunts, often at the hands of the “Junglers” who acted as Jammeh’s death squads.
This is not the first time that Jammeh has intervened in the campaign, prompting criticism from Barrow.
“Yahya Jammeh is in exile. He doesn’t have permission to take part in our politics,” the current president said earlier this week in comments reported by the media.
“If you call him, give him the chance to talk and cause problems here, I’m warning Mama Kandeh, since he is the party leader. We will give notice to the Independent Electoral Commission to warn him.”
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But Jammeh and Kandeh ignored the warning during the public meeting.
Accusing Barrow of having “destroyed the country in just four years”, Jammeh called on supporters to vote for him and Kandeh.
“I want to assure you that… if you vote for us, you are going to have all of what I’ve told you,” he said.
“That is free education, free medical care for all Gambians…, and Gambia will be developed to a point where it will be one of the most developed countries in the world.”
Six candidates are vying for the presidency, including Barrow.
The election, the first since the Jammeh’s departure, will be a test of the strength of the country’s democratic transition.
Jammeh seized power in The Gambia in 1994 as part of a bloodless military coup. He was then repeatedly re-elected in disputed circumstances until he was defeated in December 2016 by Barrow.
Picture: Getty Images