Jammeh used religion to consolidate dictatorship -TRRC

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By Alagie Manneh

Former president Yahya Jammeh abused religion as a ‘potent weapon’ to prolong and consolidate his 22-year rule of The Gambia, the TRRC said in its report released last month.

Detailing its findings on religious attacks in The Gambia in its final report, the truth commission said the former leader realised the impact of religion on his government, and soon resorted to carrying a Quran and prayer beads to ‘build an aura of religiosity. 

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“Jammeh would over the years appear in public dressed only in white Khaftan cultivating the image of sainthood and purity,” the report said. “He so cultivated this image to the extent that people started entertaining the idea that he had supernatural powers. This was more so when he started the Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme (PATP) during which he claimed to have received a mandate from God who gave him the power to cure HIV and Aids and other diseases. He painted the picture that he was a grand marabout with healing and seeing powers,” the TRRC report said.

It added that the former president also knew that religious and cultural leaders wield the power to influence the general public.

“He would use them to bolster his image, co-opting and using religious leaders and religious groups, organisations, and associations to prop and maintain his dictatorship. Jammeh shrewdly utilised the ideological zeal of members of religious organisations such as the Supreme Islamic Council to perpetuate an image of a righteous God-ordained leader. This appealed to the majority Muslim population who believe that God chooses leaders and that the people should keep that leader in position until God removes the leader,” it said.

The report said the belief that the former ruler possessed supernatural powers was not limited to ordinary citizens, adding that “even some imams publicly espoused that belief”.

“This position is manifested by the fact that the imams would often agree with whatever Jammeh said and would quickly find justification for it in the Quran. An example of the grip Jammeh had on the Islamic religious leaders is captured in a video which showed Jammeh pouring water at the steps of the grand entrance at the State House and the imams and other persons present scrambling to touch some of the water as if it were holy or spiritual water.”

The TRRC recommended that Jammeh be prosecuted for unlawful arrests and detention and torture of Ba-Kawsu Fofana, Imam Baba Leigh, Sheikh Muhideen Hydara, and Alhaiba Hydara and the persecution of the Ahmadiya Jama’at, Shia Muslims, and the Ndiggal Sect in The Gambia.