First, a few facts about that autocrat, Yahya Jammeh (officially referred to as “His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Awal Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen Babili Mansa”). He took power in a 1994 coup and has survived eight attempts to overthrow his rotten regime. He’s been described as “holding sway through a potent mixture of state brutality and mysticism.” Under his rule, Gambia has developed the “worst press rights” in west Africa, which is quite an accomplishment, and innumerable journalists have been imprisoned or assassinated or “disappeared.”
And that’s just for starters. Jammeh’s also a crackpot of the first water who claims to be able to cure “a long list of maladies including obesity and erectile dysfunction.” In 2009, he accused a thousand of his subjects of being witch doctors and ordered them beaten and forced to “drink hallucinogens.” In 2000, thugs acting on his direct orders “gunned down 14 school children…who were protesting against his regime.” Last December, the European Union halted €13 million in aid to Gambia in response to its ghastly human-rights record; in the same month, the U.S. government revoked Gambia’s preferential status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a step hailed by a Gambian freedom activist as “a clear indication that the international community has had enough of Yahya Jammeh’s tyrannical rule.”
As with the Kims in North Korea and the Castros in Cuba, Jammeh’s countenance is ubiquitous throughout his realm, with his face being “used to advertise everything from food to phone credit.” One human-rights activist, indeed, has even called Gambia “the North Korea of Africa.” Jammeh is especially preoccupied with homosexuality, having called gays “vermin” and destroyers of culture and threatened to decapitate them. “Some people go to the West,” he announced in a 2014 speech, “and claim they are gays and that their lives are at risk in the Gambia, in order for them to be granted a stay in Europe. If I catch them I will kill them.” Last year, he approved a law punishing homosexuality with life imprisonment. Among many other offenses, he’s been accused by Senegal, the country that surrounds his own (except for a small sliver of Atlantic seacoast), of trying to ship Iranian weapons to separatist rebels in Senegal’s Casamance region.
This is the man whom Jermaine Jackson calls a friend and a “very, very real person,” whatever that means. During a visit to Gambia in 2010, Jackson hung out with Jammeh and announced that he wanted to play a role in what he described as Gambia’s development. (As one German newspaper noted, nobody, especially human-rights activists, thinks that there is anything deserving of the label “development” going on in Gambia.)
Think of it this way: if Jammeh is the Kim Jung-un of the D-list, Jermaine Jackson is the D-list Dennis Rodman. No, it’s certainly not as high profile a friendship, but it’s every bit as odious. And, of course, every bit as dumb.