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 then 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]

Discontent in the Gambia[]

The Coup of 1994 was rather spontaneous in nature – in fact, it was not even a planned 'coup' per say, rather it was a mutiny that eventually turned into a coup.[2] Even then, the mutiny had only been planned the night before its execution leaving much up to chance.[2] Despite the spontaneity of the actual act, 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 present, its overall ineffectiveness, and the corruption that riddled the government.[3]

Declining legitimacy[]

In the 1992 election, the People's Progressive Party maintained a comfortable 58.2% of the vote, however there was a sharp decline in government legitimacy almost immediately after.[4] Citizens increasingly felt as if the government was no longer responsive to their needs and had been acting in their own self-interests.[3] Citizens argued that the government had become complacent as a result of its comfortable hold on power since Gambia's independence 29 years earlier. [3] This sentiment was particularly present among younger voters and youth groups, who felt particularly underrepresented by the patriarchal nature of Jawara's regime. [5] They believed that the only route to fair representation had to exist outside of the Jawara regime itself, and thus they were some of the coups greatest proponents. [5] At the same time, the uncovering and investigation of multiple ongoing scandals unveiled the corruption that "riddled" the Gambian Government. [3] An often used example of corruption in the Jawara government is the 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 incredibly reluctant to investigate this scandal, and once their guilt was proven they were even more reluctant to punish these officials, outside of seizing and auctioning their houses. [3] This scandal in itself made many citizens very skeptical of the governments complacency with corruption and eventually domestic pressures resulted in the establishment of a commission dedicated solely to investigate this scandal in June 1994 - unfortunately, Jawara's attempt to regain the trust of the people came much too late, and the commission had not reached a conclusion in time to save the regime. [3] This instance is one of many and the AFPRC continually rebuked 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 government under Jawara, including accusations of tax noncompliance, the distribution of favorable 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 Regime[]

Another factor leading to the discontent of the Gambian peoples was the ineffective nature of the Jawara regime. Many accused the Jawara regime of being ineffective in its final months of existence, arguing that the corruption in the government prevented any actual progress in Gambia. [3] Following the establishment of the Assets Management and Recovery Commission (AMRC) in December 1992, which aimed to recover debts accrued debts of 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 their collecting powers - undoubtedly a result of their reluctance for their own debts to be collected on. [6] This resulted in more accusations involving the ineffective, corrupt and tyrannical nature of the Jawara regime - even arguing that the PPP was responsible for the underdevelopment of the entire country. [7]

Discontent in the Military[]

Despite the discontent in the Gambian public, this was not a coup by the peoples - it was a coup planned and carried out by junior officers of the Gambian National Officers. [8]Therefore, it is important to note some of the factors leading to the growing discontent in the military. [8] Some of the chief concerns of the GNA included the disparity of living conditions between Nigerians Senior Officers and Gambian Junior Officers, which they believed to be indicative of a much broader corrupted structuring of the government. [5] They argued that the increased incorporation of foreign senior officers into the GNA limited their own opportunities at advancement within the military. [5] The junior officers were brought to a boiling point when they had not received pay for a number of months and began to plan a mutiny that would later develop into the Gambian Coup of 1994. [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 Gambian National Army (GNA) the next day. This was broadcast on Gambian Radio stations – making it public knowledge that there would be a lack of military presence in the Gambia the next day. With this major advantage – along with unrestricted and unmonitored access to military-grade vehicles and the armory – the coup was executed before the Gambian National Army 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 was not initially a coup, rather a protest staged by disgruntled lieutenants and junior officers of the Gambian National Army who planned to make demands regarding their lack of pay. The Gambian National Army, under the command of these Junior Officers, seized the airport, a radio station, and a power station. Hours later, Dawda Jawara and his family fled to the La Moure County in attempts to gain protection and perhaps support of American marines. 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 the country and begin the establishment of their own regime – which came to be known as he Armed Forces Provisional Ruling, which went on to serve as the ruling government of Gambia until 1996, when a citizen-ruled 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] However, Kanteh and Kinteh withdrew from the plans because they believed that the timing wasn't right for the protest.[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, the coup 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 also took further steps to gain public and political support, all 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 – primarily to gain their support, at least their neutrality, asserting that the military intervention was necessary to uphold national interests.[13][14] In these series of speeches, they also denounced the Jawara regime, dedicated themselves to the protection of human rights, and to governing under the rule of law. [5] Coup leaders also took over national radio stations and imposed starker restrictions on the press, which had considerable liberties under the Jawara regime, to prevent the broadcasting of opposition sentiments.[15] These tighter restrictions led to the imprisonment and exile of multiple Gambian journalists, who offered anti-coup sentiments in their media.[15] These tighter 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, in fact, Jammeh's most controversial policy included the reestablishment of the death penalty in Gambia – a punishment 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 transformed the AFPRC from a ruling military body into the Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientational and Construction (APRC) and began to campaign as the nominee for the new party.[11] Jammeh went on to win this election - partially due to the lack of major opposition parties- thus legitimizing his regime in the eyes of Gambians and in the international community.[11]

Jammeh has also committed himself and the government to providing more public goods to the citizens of Gambia, having constructed two new high schools, five new middle schools, a large rural hospital, several rural clinics and the nations first television station all within the first years after the coup.[15]

International and Internal Responses to the Coup[]

The coup itself came with very little political, military or public resistance, a relief to many Gambians with the attempted coup of 1981 still fresh in their memories.[3] The only resistance to the coup came from TSG (Tactical Support Group) 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 – a plead that was promptly rejected.[3] Despite the little resistance that came with the military intervention, one of the first acts of the coup leaders was to ban all opposition parties.[3] However, many leaders of these parties eventually went on to become nominees for the United Democratic Party (UDP), which was established in September 1996.[3] In the public sphere, there was a “euphoric” and “undoubtedly positive” attitude toward the military intervention – particularly among the urban youth, those who felt most underrepresented 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 oppose the coup under the military rule of Jammeh.[3]

The overall neutrality towards the coup was also reflected in international reactions. Jawara initially fled to the US warship La Moure Countyin attempts to secure US military intervention and protection.[3] The US ambassador, after talks with the US government, refused to send US marines to suppress the coup, much to the disappointment of Jawara and other officials of the Jawara regime.[3] Jawara then was transported to Dakar, the capital city of Senegal by the US warship, where he once again asked for military intervention from the Senegalese.[3] Jawara and many other officials were offered political asylum by the Senegalese but, in viewing the coup as a low-ranking affair, refused to offer military assistance.[18] Senegal eventually went on to become the first country to recognize the newly established government in the Gambia as legitimate.[3] Britain, despite being adamant supporters of the Jawara regime, also failed to take action in suppressing the Gambian coup.[11] The British had contested that the "rebellion" in Gambia would be over in a matter of days, and that there was little need for British intervention.[11] Despite this initial neutrality towards the subject, sanctions and restrictions were eventually 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 placed travel warnings on the region. [5] In response to this, the AFRPC established the National Consultative Committee (NCC) to survey public opinion for the coup and for the new ruling government. [16] The regime ultimately accepted the suggestions of the NCC and shortened the rule of the AFPRC from 4 years to 2 years before transitioning to democratic rule. [16]

The Paradox to the Third Wave of Democratization[]

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union brought on liberalization, or democratization, movements throughout much of Africa – for this reason, the period lasting from 1974 to the mid 1990s is considered the Third Wave of Democratization, in which many countries made the transition from militaristic and autocratic regimes to democratic states.[2] The hope of many Western scholars at the time was the military regimes in Africa would continue to decrease, both numerically and in power, throughout the following decades.[2] Since Gambia had made a switch from a democratic regime to a more autocratic regime in the same time period, it is often considered paradoxical to this trend that many scholars noticed.[19] It was particularly notable in Gambia, however, because it marked the ending of the longest lasting democracy in West Africa and the toppling of one of the longest serving heads of state in all of Africa.[17]

Despite being described as the "Paradox to the Third Wave of Democratization", recent studies on Gambian liberalization measures have shown that Jammeh took considerable steps to liberalize Gambia, even if he did not come into power democratically.[20]

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 1-58046-230-8.
  4. ^ Dieter, Nohlen; Krennerich, Michael; Thibaut, Bernhard (1999). Elections in Africa: A data handbook. p. 420. ISBN 0-19-829645-2.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research". SAGE Journals. doi:10.1177/0095327x07312081. Retrieved 2018-12-07.
  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. "The Gambia under Yahya Jammeh: An Assessment". www.tandfonline.com. doi:10.1080/00358530903513681. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  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 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 1-58046-230-8.
  13. ^ "Gambia, The". Freedom House. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
  14. ^ Wiseman, John A. (1996). "Military Rule in the Gambia: An Interim Assessment". Third World Quarterly. 17 (5): 917–940.
  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.
  20. ^ EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page[dead link]

Further reading[]