Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

Our Man in Banjul: Ambassador Recalls Gambia’s 1994 Coup and the Rise of Yahya Jammeh


Our Ambassador in Banjul, Gambia, was not expecting a coup on the morning of July 22, 1994 — but that is what he got.   With little violence and no casualties, 29-year old Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh and other junior army officers occupied the capital and the presidential compound, ousting long-serving President Sir Dawda Jawara.  Jawara took refuge on a visiting U.S. naval vessel, and Gambia’s days as one of a handful of African democracies had come to an end.  Jammeh’s erratic and increasingly oppressive rule lasted until 2017, when a combination of popular discontent and regional diplomatic and military pressure forced him into exile.  Ambassador Andrew Winter recalls that remarkable day in his oral history.  Winter joined the Foreign Service in 1970 at the age of 24.  In addition to service as U.S. Ambassador to Gambia, he served as Executive Director of the Bureau of African Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information Technology, and Minister Counselor for Administrative Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York.  He retired in 2000.   Winter was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy, beginning in 2010.

Read Andrew Winter’s full oral history HERE.

 

Excerpt:

“Only a Single Shot Was Fired”

The Ousting of President Jawara During the 1994 Gambia Coup D’Etat:  “On the morning of Friday, July 22, 1994, I arrived at the Navy vessel, the Lamoure County, to escort the ship’s commanding officer on official calls in Banjul. At 9:00 in the morning we arrived at the executive offices of the presidency to call on the permanent secretary for the Minister of Defense in the office of the vice presidency… The vice president excused himself to go see the president, returning some five minutes later he informed us that Gambian troops were moving towards Banjul. He requested that we take the president and him to the Navy ship for safety… The police tactical support group and the military’s presidential guard were sent to Denton Bridge to intercept the troops. A few minutes later the head of the national security service and the permanent secretary of the defense ministry also went to the bridge to negotiate with the troops. Now, when I say “troops,” we’re talking about 100 soldiers. On the other hand, the police and presidential guard numbered maybe 20. We weren’t looking at a major confrontation here. They attempted to negotiate with the troops – from what I heard later it was very cordial and peaceful; everybody knew each other – and the troops said no we have the upper hand here; we’re coming in. The police and the president’s security guard decided not to stop them. Only a single shot was fired. We later reported that one soldier’s weapon accidentally discharged and shot the leg of a dog and that was the only casualty of this very nonviolent coup. The inspector general of police came back to the ship and said, they’re coming in and there’s not much we can do.”

 

Drafted by Ben Bosland

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