Surprise as Africa’s most virulently homophobic president is unseated

President Yahya Jammeh

President Yahya Jammeh

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who threatened to slit the throats of gay people, has been defeated in his country’s presidential election.

Not only did the dictator, who has been in power since 1994, lose the poll this week, he surprised the world and fellow Gambians by admitting defeat and promising to hand over power to the victor, opposition leader Adama Barrow.

According to Gambia’s electoral commission, Barrow received 45.5 percent of the vote, compared to Jammeh’s 36.7 percent.

Speaking on television, Jammeh confirmed that Barrow had won a “clear victory”, adding: “I wish him all the best and I wish all Gambians the best.”

The end of the despot’s rule will come as a relief to LGBT Gambians. Jammeh not only advocated violence against LGBT people but also promoted the view that homosexuality is being pushed onto Africa by the West.

In May last year, Jammeh said he would “slit the throats” of gay Gambians – the most recent slur in a long history of anti-gay comments.

He’s repeatedly attacked LGBT people as “vermin” and asserted that the “evil empire of homosexuals will also go down the dirty drain and garbage of hell…” In 2008, Jammeh infamously gave gays and lesbians 24 hours to leave the country or face having their heads cut off.

In October 2014, he signed an anti-gay law that created the crime of “aggravated homosexuality”, which carries punishment of up to life in prison. Homosexuality was already illegal in The Gambia under British colonial era laws and those found guilty of “unnatural offences” face up to 14 years in prison.

The new law was followed by the reported arrest, detention and torture of a number of people on suspicion of homosexuality by the country’s National Intelligence Agency, which was condemned by human rights groups.

While it’s unclear what the incoming president’s view on LGBT rights are, Barrow has promised to “promote and consolidate Democracy, Rule of Law, Good Governance and respect for the Human Rights of our people”.

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