Gambia’s president, who once vowed to rule for a billion years, was voted out of power today shortly before his billionth birthday. Here’s something I wrote six years ago.
I once made the mistake of agreeing to work for a Dutchman – a real one, from Holland – who made millions out of a project which on the surface appeared designed to help develop impoverished African countries but which turned out to be aimed more at developing his own offshore bank accounts.
It was through this piece of white Eurotrash that I met His Excellency President Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, honorary admiral in the Nebraskan navy, defender of the constitution and ruler of Gambia.
For those who may not know where Gambia is – which is understandable given its size – I can only describe it in geo-biological terms. If Senegal were a woman, Gambia would be her vagina. It’s a weird sausage of a country consisting of little more than 300kms of river banks and a million semi-destitute mango sellers.
Gambia is a popular destination for sex tourists. They come from all over. Germany, England, America. The men spend their evenings drinking gin and tonics, decanting their colostomy bags and pawing well-maintained, reasonably priced hookers.
I’d heard about the bumsters – strapping Rastas who hang about the beach offering their services to foreign visitors. This could mean anything from tour guiding to sado-masochistic role-playing involving 200kg dominatrixes from Dortrecht.
The European women are fat and ugly. They spend their evenings plying their hook-ups with free drinks until the bars close, then Kunte Kinte has to go back to the B&B and perform his lucrative but highly unenviable duty.
The morning I had to shoot an interview with President Jammeh came after a long night of playing pool against a bar full of local hustlers. The night was hot. The Julbrews were cold. I was on top form. Nothing could put me off, not even coconuts crashing through the thatched roof and ricochetting off the table.
I was less on form the next day. After setting up the video equipment inside State House, I stood there sweating like a cornered rat, fighting off the dry heaves and hoping to god I wouldn’t vomit on the red carpet. The president kept us waiting for two hours.
Earlier I had stared into the terrible maw of a Banjul jail after armed guards caught me filming in the grounds. I don’t know why I risked it. The place was rubbish. Paint peeling from the walls. Gardens overgrown with weeds. Dogs barking at me in Wolof.
By the time Jammeh made his appearance, my central nervous system was shot to hell. He cut an impressive figure, with the blackness of his face contrasting with his beautiful white dress. It played havoc with my attempts to get a white balance.
My second worst moment came when I had to lean over him to attach the microphone to his collar. I stank of beer and had to breathe through my eyes. Some Muslim leaders would have had me executed on the spot.
My worst moment came when I tripped over one of the cables. If I hadn’t moved fast, I would still be in Mile Two Prison. First the British colonise their country and sell them into slavery, then I come along and kill their leader with an 800w tungsten light.
The man is barking mad, of course. He won’t allow men to play football in the rural areas during the rainy season, saying they should be farming instead. He claims to have found a herbal cure for HIV/Aids and recently rounded up hundreds of “witches” and made them drink poison. He has said he would cut off the heads of homosexuals and if you didn’t believe in God you were lower than a pig. Journalists disappear and critics are jailed.
Speaking about next year’s elections, Jammeh said: “Come 2011, whether you vote for me or not, I will win.” That’s the spirit, Yahya. You’re a credit to the continent.