A Misadventured, Piteous Overthrow Attempt

Few would shed few tears if Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh, who recently signed a law criminalizing “aggravated homosexuality” and who once claimed to have discovered an herbal cure for AIDS, were to come to some bad end. However, the two Gambian-Americans who recently tried to pull off a coup in Banjul clearly didn’t think it through:

The men, Cherno Njie, 57, of Austin, and Papa Faal, 46, of Brooklyn Center, Minn., were part of a ring of approximately a dozen co-conspirators who agreed to participate in the coup, according to a criminal complaint. In an interview with the FBI, Faal admitted playing a role in the coup and identified Njie, a businessman, as one of the leaders and main financiers of the plot, the complaint alleges. Faal told the FBI that Njie intended to serve as the interim leader of the country after they deposed 49-year-old Yahya Jammeh, the president of Gambia. …

The group had originally planned to ambush the president’s convoy but instead decided to target the government State House in Banjul, the country’s capital. Split in two teams, the group descended on the State House, the complaint says, before encountering heavy fire and taking serious causalities. Some of the attackers were killed.

Pointing to fraying ties between Jammeh and his military, which have underlain many previous coup attempts, Maggie Dwyer isn’t surprised to see diaspora dissidents trying to bump off the strongman:

Despite the fate of past coup plotters in the Gambia, military personnel have continued to try to oust Jammeh. He has endured at least eight alleged coup attempts during his 20 years in office. Many of the accused plotters had served at the highest military positions, including Army Chief of Staff and Director of the National Intelligence Agency, suggesting divisions at the most senior levels. It should be noted that there is speculation as to whether some of the attempts were real or simply ways to purge members of the military. The ambiguity of these events is another cause of uncertainty and fear within the military. These tensions, divisions, and dissatisfaction within the Gambian military probably contributed to the most recent and past coup attempts against Jammeh.

Keating comments:

Coup plots against brutal West African dictators tend to attract a certain kind of overambitious adventurer. Most memorable was the misbegotten 2004 “wonga coup” attempt against Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, a tangled mess involving British and South African mercenaries and—allegedly—Margaret Thatcher’s son. Faal, at least according to his statements, appears to have been a bit more idealistic than the wonga plotters, motivated by concern over the dire state of affairs in his country, even if he didn’t really think through the consequences of what he was getting involved in.

In case you’re wondering, it’s legal in many cases for U.S. citizens to fight in another country’s war, but plotting aggression against a nation “with whom the United States is at peace” from U.S. soil is prohibited under the Neutrality Act, which dates back to George Washington’s presidency.

While Jammeh downplayed the coup attempt as a terrorist operation backed by foreign governments, he also reshuffled his cabinet and launched a crackdown on local dissidents in response:

“There have been massive arrests in Banjul and there’s a heavy security presence in the capital Banjul and around the presidential palace,” a Gambian journalist told DW. He spoke to DW on condition of anonymity and confirmed that both serving and former military personnel had been arrested and that security had been vamped up in the capital Banjul. He however said that life in the city was back to normal on Friday (02.01.2015). … Gilles Yabi, a researcher based in Dakar, warned that the attempted coup could result in the wider repression citizens in Guinea-Bissau. “There are fears the regime could take advantage of the situation by blaming people who had nothing to do with it.”