1994 Gambian coup d'état

1994 Gambian coup d'état
Gambia, The-CIA WFB Map (2004).png
Map of The Gambia.
Date22 July 1994

Coup attempt succeeds.

Flag of The Gambia.svg Government of the Gambia Military faction
Commanders and leaders
Dawda Jawara Yahya Jammeh

In the 1994 Gambian coup d'état, a group of soldiers led by 29-year-old Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup d'état on 22 July, ousting Dawda Jawara who had been President of the Gambia since its independence in 1970.[1]


The Coup of 1994 was spontaneous in nature; it was not a planned coup but rather it was a mutiny that eventually turned into a coup.[2] The mutiny had been planned the night before its execution. leaving much to chance.[2] Despite its spontaneity, the sentiments behind the coup had been developing since the attempted coup of 1981.[2] The primary complaints of supporters of the coup included the delegitimization of the government, the lack of accountability, its overall ineffectiveness, and the corruption that pervaded it.[3]

Declining legitimacy of the government[]

In the 1992 election, the People's Progressive Party (PPP) maintained a comfortable 58.2% share of the vote; there was, however, a sharp decline in government legitimacy almost immediately after the election.[4] Citizens increasingly felt the government was no longer responsive to their needs and had been acting in its own self-interest.[3] Citizens argued the government had become complacent as a result of its comfortable hold on power since The Gambia's independence 29 years earlier. [3] This sentiment was particularly present among younger voters and youth groups, who felt under-represented by the patriarchal nature of President Dawda Jawara's government.[5] They believed the only route to fair representation had to exist outside of the Jawara government and thus they were some of the coup's greatest proponents.[5]

At the same time, the uncovering and investigation of multiple ongoing scandals revealed the corruption of the Gambian Government.[3] The Jawara government had been embroiled in a scandal involving three high-ranking government officials who were accused of embezzling millions of dollars from Union Funds in late 1993.[3] Jawara and his government were reluctant to investigate this scandal and once the officials' guilt was proven they were even more reluctant to punish them, except for the seizing and auctioning their houses.[3] This scandal made many citizens very sceptical of the government's complacency with corruption; eventually, domestic pressures resulted in the establishment in June 1994 of a commission to investigate this scandal. Jawara's attempt to regain the trust of the people came far too late; the commission had not reached a conclusion in time to save the regime.[3] This incident, and many other scandals, led to the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) continually rebuking the Jawara regime for its corruption, despite Jawara's objection that "the extent of corruption under the PPP was nothing like as great as claimed by the AFRPC".[3] This was confirmed later in November 1994 when an investigation uncovered considerable corruption and mismanagement of the Jawara government, including accusations of tax noncompliance, the distribution of favourable lands in Banjul to the administration, overpayment of travel expenses, theft of state resources and the nonpayment of government loans.[3]

Ineffectiveness of the Jawara government[]

Popular discontent with President Dawda Jawara (pictured 1979) contributed to the push for a coup.

Another factor leading to the discontent of the Gambian people was the ineffective nature of the Jawara government, which many accused of being ineffective in its final months of existence, arguing that governmental corruption prevented the country from progressing.[3] Following the establishment of the Assets Management and Recovery Commission (AMRC) in December 1992, which aimed to recover debts accrued by Gambian citizens and government officials, the ineffectiveness of government programs became increasingly clear.[3] It was argued that the government had deliberately resisted AMRC efforts to collect debt and had purposefully limited its collecting powers; a result of the government's reluctance for its own debts to be collected. [6] This resulted in more accusations involving the ineffective, corrupt and tyrannical nature of the Jawara government, which even argued the PPP was responsible for the underdevelopment of the country.[7]

Discontent in the military[]

Though there was discontent among the Gambian public, the coup was executed by junior officers of the Gambian National Army (GNA).[8] It was preceded by growing dissatisfaction in the military.[8] Some of the chief concerns of the GNA included the disparity of living conditions between Nigerian senior officers and Gambian junior officers, which they believed to be indicative of a broader, corrupted structuring of the government.[5] The officers argued the increased incorporation of foreign senior officers into the GNA limited their own opportunities for advancement within the military.[5] The junior officers became angry when they had not received pay for a number of months; they began to plan a mutiny that would later develop into a coup d'état.[2]


On 21 July 1994, the USS La Moure County docked in Banjul for an international courtesy call and to conduct a joint training exercise with the GNA the next day. This was broadcast on Gambian radio stations, making public the knowledge that there would be a lack of military presence in the Gambia the next day. With this advantage, along with unrestricted and unmonitored access to military-grade vehicles and the armory, the coup was executed before the GNA had a chance to respond.[9] At 7:30 a.m. the next day, the coup was set in motion at Yundum Barracks, a military installation 25 kilometers (15 mi) away from the capital. The coup began a protest staged by disgruntled lieutenants and junior officers of the GNA, who planned to make demands regarding their lack of pay. The GNA, under the command of these Junior Officers, seized the airport, a radio station and a power station. Hours later, Jawara and his family fled to the La Moure County in attempt to gain the protection and possible support of United States Marine Corps. After being denied intervention by the Americans, the ship left Banjul that afternoon and docked in Dakar, where Jawara disembarked under the protection of American warships.[10] With Jawara having fled the country, the coup organizers were free to secure their control over it and begin the establishment of their own government, which became known as the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling (AFRPC) and governed The Gambia until 1996, when a civilian party replaced it.[10] Jammeh, being the most senior officer of the coup organizers, was elected to lead the AFPRC shortly after its establishment.[11]

Coup organizers included Sabally, Singhatet, Basiru Barrow, Alhaji Kanteh, and Alpha Kinteh.[3] Kanteh and Kinteh withdrew from the plans because they believed the protest was poorly timed;[3] their withdrawal led to the inclusion of Hydara and Jammeh into the coup plans.[3]

Effects of the coup[]

Immediate effects[]

Immediately following the coup, its leaders banned all opposition parties, established the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) as the ruling government of the Gambia, and suspended the constitution of 1970.[12] Jammeh and other coup organizers took further steps to gain public and political support while suppressing all possibilities of opposition to the intervention. In the days following the coup, Jammeh made a number of speeches to both internal and external audiences in which he dedicated himself and the AFPRC to improving the transparency, integrity and accountability of the Gambian government. This move was primarily to gain support or neutrality, asserting that the military intervention was necessary to uphold national interests.[13][14] In their speeches, the coup leaders also denounced the Jawara government, dedicated themselves to the protection of human rights, and to governing under the rule of law.[5]

Coup leaders took over national radio stations and imposed harsh restrictions on the press, which had considerable liberties under the Jawara govwernment, to prevent the broadcasting of opposition sentiments.[15] These tighter restrictions led to the imprisonment and exile of several Gambian journalists who offered anti-coup sentiments in their media.[15] The restrictions also resulted in the deportation of other West African journalists, most often on charges dating to colonial rule and with politically charged biases.[16] Human rights violations were not limited to journalists and vocal protesters of the coup; Jammeh's most controversial policy included the re-establishment of the death penalty in Gambia, which was mostly reserved for political opponents and attempted coup leaders.[15] Through these acts, Jammeh and the other coup leaders were able to legitimize the coup, the new ruling government and the PPP, both internally and internationally.[17] Leading up to the September 1996 election, Jammeh changed the AFPRC from a ruling military body into the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), and began to campaign as the nominee for the new party.[11] Jammeh won this election, partially due to the lack of major opposition parties, thus legitimizing his government.[11]

Jammeh committed himself and the government to providing more public goods to Gambians. In the first few years after the coup, his administration constructed two new high schools, five new middle schools, a large rural hospital, several rural clinics and the country's first television station.[15]

Responses to the coup[]

The coup itself had very little political, military or public resistance, a relief to many Gambians after the bloody attempted coup of 1981.[3] The only resistance to the coup came from Tactical Support Group (TSG) officers – who quickly realized that they were outnumbered and outgunned and surrendered their weapons – and from Jawara himself.[3] Jawara pleaded the coup leaders to return to their barracks but they refused to comply.[3] Despite meeting little resistance, one of the first acts of the coup leaders was to ban all opposition parties.[3] Many leaders of these parties eventually became nominees for the United Democratic Party (UDP), which was established in September 1996.[3] In the public sphere, there was a generally positive attitude toward the military intervention, particularly among the urban youth, who felt most under-represented in the Jawara era.[3] A study conducted by Wiseman later found that most public supporters of the coup actually opposed it privately but were too afraid to openly declare their opposition.[3]

The internal neutrality towards the coup was also reflected in international reactions. After Jawara's flight to the US warship La Moure County in an attempts to secure US military intervention and protection,[3] the US ambassador, following talks with his government, refused to send marines to suppress the coup, disappointing Jawara and other officials of his government.[3] Jawara then was transported to Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, by the US warship. He once again asked for military intervention from the Senegalese.[3] Senegal offered Jawara and many of his officials political asylum but, in viewing the coup as a low-ranking affair, refused to offer military assistance.[18] Senegalwent on to become the first country to recognize the newly established government in the Gambia as legitimate.[3] The United Kingdom, despite being an adamant supporter of the Jawara regime, also failed to take action to suppress the coup.[11] The British had contested that the "rebellion" in Gambia would be over in a matter of days and there was little need for British intervention.[11] Despite this initial neutrality towards the subject, sanctions and restrictions were placed on the new regime beginning in November 1994. [5] In response to the coup and the suspension of democracy in the Gambia, major donors such as the EU, US and Japan froze all humanitarian aid to the Gambia and issued travel warnings for the region. [5] In response to this, the AFRPC established the National Consultative Committee (NCC) to survey public opinion about the coup and the new ruling government. [16] The regime accepted the suggestions of the NCC and shortened the rule of the AFPRC from four years to two before transitioning to democratic rule. [16]

Wider context[]

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union encouraged liberalization and democratization movements in much of Africa; for this reason, the period from 1974 to the mid-1990s is considered the third wave of democratization in Africa, in which many countries changed from being militaristic and autocratic states to become democracies.[2] Many Western scholars hoped the number of military governments in Africa would continue to decrease, both numerically and in power, in the following decades.[2] Because the Gambia had changed from being a democracy to a more autocratic state in that period, it is often considered paradoxical to this trend by many scholars.[19] The 1994 coup in the Gambia marked the end of the longest-lasting democracy in West Africa and the deposition of one of Africa's longest-serving heads of state.[17] Later studies on Gambian liberalization[clarification needed] show that Jammeh took considerable steps to liberalize Gambia, even though he seized power in a coup.[citation needed]

See also[]


  1. ^ French, Howard W. (August 28, 1994). "In Gambia, New Coup Follows Old Pattern". The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Saine, Abdoulaye (2009). The Paradox of Third-Wave Democratization in Africa: The Gambia Under AFPRC-APRC Rule, 1994–2008. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books. pp. 23–36. ISBN 978-0-7391-2921-0.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Hughes, Arnold; Perfect, David (2006). A Political History of the Gambia 1816–1994. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press. pp. 280–295. ISBN 978-1-58046-230-3.
  4. ^ Dieter, Nohlen; Krennerich, Michael; Thibaut, Bernhard (1999). Elections in Africa: A data handbook. p. 420. ISBN 978-0-19-829645-4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Saine, Abdoulaye (2008). "SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research". Armed Forces & Society. 34 (3): 450–473. doi:10.1177/0095327x07312081.
  6. ^ Perfect, David (2016-05-27). Historical Dictionary of The Gambia. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781442265264.
  7. ^ Perfect, David (2008-03-01). "Politics and Society in The Gambia since Independence". History Compass. 6 (2): 426–438. doi:10.1111/j.1478-0542.2008.00513.x. ISSN 1478-0542.
  8. ^ a b Perfect, David (2010). "The Gambia under Yahya Jammeh: An Assessment". The Round Table. 99 (406): 53–63. doi:10.1080/00358530903513681.
  9. ^ Loum, Momodou (April 2000). "An Analysis of the Gambia Coup of 1994" (PDF): 49.
  10. ^ a b "World Atlas – About Gambia". Travel Document Systems. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d e Mwakikagile, Godfrey (2001). Military Coups in West Africa Since the Sixties. Nova Science Publishers. pp. 25–37. ISBN 978-1-56072-945-7.
  12. ^ Hughes, Arnold; Perfect, David (2006). A Political History of the Gambia 1816–1994. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press. pp. 280–295. ISBN 978-1-58046-230-3.
  13. ^ "Gambia, The". Freedom House. 2012-12-03. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
  14. ^ Wiseman, John A. (1996). "Military Rule in the Gambia: An Interim Assessment". Third World Quarterly. 17 (5): 917–940. JSTOR 3993237.
  15. ^ a b c d Saine, Abdoulaye (Fall 2002). "Military and Human Rights in the Gambia: 1994–1999". Journal of Third World Studies.
  16. ^ a b c Wiseman, John A. (1998-04-01). "The Gambia: From Coup to Elections". Journal of Democracy. 9 (2): 64–75. doi:10.1353/jod.1998.0035. ISSN 1086-3214.
  17. ^ a b Ihonvbere, Julius Omozuanvbo; Mbaku, John Mukum (2003). Political Liberalization and Democratization in Africa: Lessons from Country Experiences. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780275975067.
  18. ^ Perfect, David (2008-03-01). "Politics and Society in The Gambia since Independence". History Compass. 6 (2): 426–438. doi:10.1111/j.1478-0542.2008.00513.x. ISSN 1478-0542.
  19. ^ Wiseman, John A.; Vidler, Elizabeth (January 1995). "The July 1994 coup D'Etat in the Gambia: The end of an era?". The Round Table. 84 (333): 53–65. doi:10.1080/00358539508454237. ISSN 0035-8533.

Further reading[]