The Gambia’s eccentric leader, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, yesterday July 22 marked 20 years in office - so today he officially starts out on his 21st. More accurately, since he came to power through a military coup in 1994, at the age of 29.
Since then Africa, and Mr Jammeh, have seen—and been through—a lot. We run down 20 of the best as we mark this milestone, which activists have christened #20YrsOfFear:
1: South Africa, which held its first universal adult suffrage election that same year, has since seen three substantive presidents, and one other in acting capacity over this period.
2: Swaziland’s King Mswati III, in power since 1986, had only four wives in 1994. He now has 15.
3: Sub-Saharan Africa’s population in 1994 was 547.4 million, according to the UN. The region now has about 940 million people—1.1 billion if you count the Maghreb.
4: Only nine African leaders have been in power longer than Jammeh. They are to be found in Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Swaziland, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Cameroon and Chad.
5: In 1994 the first African mobile network was rolled out. Next year, the continent will sign up its one billionth mobile subscription, according to Informa Telecoms data.
6: In July 1994, the total number of AIDS cases were estimated by World Health Organisation (WHO) as four million, a 60% rise over one year. There are now 35 million people infected in the world, with 24.7 million in Africa.
7: In 1994 one of the most seminal events in African history took place—the Rwanda genocide, which officially ended one week before Jammeh ascended to office. Close to one million were killed.
8: In the same week the 1994 World Cup, lit up by 42-year-old Cameroonian star Roger Milla, ended with Brazil as champions. In that tournament Africa was for the first time represented by three teams, the others being Nigeria and Morocco.
9: Since 1994 Jammeh saw off three Nigerian leaders of military origin, until Umaru Yar’Adua ended their run in 2007.
10: In 1994 Africa’s infant mortality was an average 170 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2012 this had fallen to 98.
11: In 1994 sub-Saharan Africa had a net school enrollment rate of 52%. This is now up to 78%, according to the UN.
12: In 1994 just 30% of black South Africans would have been classified as middle class. Close to 55% are now in that bracket.
13 In 1994 Africa was just a blip in China’s radar. Last year bilateral trade topped $210 billion. To celebrate, Jammeh, one of the last remaining leaders who recognised the rival Taiwan, summarily severed ties with Taipei.
14: In 1994 South African Airlines picked the Africa’s Leading Airline award from the World Travel Awards. Jammeh has never seen another airline win since.
15: By contrast, over the same period the Gambian leader has seen at least 75 African airlines go under.
16: The Gambia has sent athletes to every summer Olympic Games since Jammeh took power. None has ever won a medal of any colour. Over the same period Kenya has bagged 47 medals.
17: African athletes have also broken eight Olympic records in the last 20 years, and 113 outdoor records in all competitions over the same period.
18: Gambia’s enigmatic leader has also seen one animal declared extinct during his term—the Western Black Rhinocerous.
19: In 1994 South Africa decriminalised male homosexuality. President Jammeh considers gays “vermin”, and last year branded them a threat to humanity.
20: In the year the Gambian president came to power, Africa produced 6.7 million barrels per day of oil. The continent last year churned out 10 million barrels per day. Jammed has said he will make Gambia an oil power. The country is yet to strike oil.