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Making the hyena pay

The week in corruption, 17 July 2020

In 2015, Central Bank of The Gambia printed a 'Yahya Jammeh issue' of the country's Dalasi currency, including the new 200 Dalasi banknote. In 2019, Jammeh's face was removed from the currency. (Photo: ppart / Shutterstock)

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Yahya Jammeh, The Gambia’s brutal former dictator, may soon lose his vast mansion in Maryland, U.S. – a property he should never have been able to buy in the first place.

In a welcome and much-anticipated step, this week the U.S. Department of Justice has asked the Maryland district court to allow the confiscation of the disgraced former president’s house, for which his family reportedly paid a whopping US$3.5 million in September 2010.

U.S. authorities believe these funds were stolen from the Gambian people, whom Jammeh left high and dry when he fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017.

Jammeh’s 22-year reign is a textbook case study of grand corruption at its most extreme.

In 2019, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) documented the previously unknown scale of grand corruption under Jammeh. Journalists exposed how Jammeh and his cronies plundered nearly US$1 billion of Gambia’s public funds and resources.

“This week’s announcement by the U.S. authorities offers hope that, sooner rather than later, Jammeh will pay for his crimes, and assets he illicitly acquired at the expense of the Gambian people will be fully recovered,” Marr Nyang, Gambian activist and the founder of the civil society organisation, Gambia Participates, told us.

One year ago, we partnered with Gambia Participates to record the experiences of communities who suffered under Jammeh’s regime. Their stories – documented in the community-led film, Hyena – are testimonies to the human cost of corruption and to people’s perseverance.

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This short documentary was planned, filmed and directed by a group of 11 Gambian citizens – drawn from communities across the country – during a participatory video project in July 2019.

Hyena was premiered in Banjul and Berlin in September 2019. It has also been submitted as evidence to the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission in The Gambia, which is currently investigating the human rights abuses of the Jammeh regime.

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Going after Jammeh’s foreign assets is one of the critical first steps for ensuring justice for the Gambian people.

Next, the U.S. government should follow through with the recovery of stolen funds and then safely return them to The Gambia.

The Gambian people now eagerly await for other foreign governments, where the rest of Jammeh's stolen assets are located, to follow suit.
Marr Nyang Founder and executive director, Gambia Participates

Transparency International will continue to demand that authorities in all relevant jurisdictions – including in Belgium and France – investigate the remaining pieces of the US$1 billion puzzle.

Doing so can gradually help disrupt Jammeh’s life of luxury and impunity as a guest of fellow dictator and next-door neighbour in Maryland, President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.

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