A former beauty queen in The Gambia, Fatou Jallow, has accused the former president of the country, Yahya Jammeh of rape.
The 23-year-old said the incident happened five years ago while Jammeh was still in office and she had just been crowned the winner of a national beauty pageant at the age of 18.
Her claims are part of a Human Rights Watch and Trial International report that has accounts of women who allege the former dictator raped and sexually assaulted them.
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Jallow said right after winning the top beauty pageant in 2014, the then President Jammeh advised her and the other contestants not to rush into marriage but rather work towards fulfilling their dreams.
Little did she know that the president would soon start tormenting her with marriage. Initially – months after winning the pageant – Jallow said Jammeh was almost like a father figure, advising her, giving her gifts and other items and even organizing for running water to be installed in their family home.
Suddenly, at a dinner organized by an aide to the president, Jallow said Jammeh asked her to marry him, but she refused. Even when the president’s aides kept calling her to agree to the proposal, she still declined.
One of the aides then insisted that she attend a religious ceremony at the State House in her role as a beauty queen. But when she arrived, she claimed she was taken to the president’s private residence, where she was drugged and raped by Jammeh.
Jallow, who is one of the first people to publicly accuse the president of sexual assault, said she is willing to testify before The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) which has been set up by the current administration.
Nearly two years after the exile of former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh, the West African country has sworn in an 11-member truth, reconciliation and reparations commission that will unravel the abuses perpetrated by the dictator.
Jammeh is accused of summary executions, disappearances, torture, rape and other crimes during his 22-year rule and the victims are seeking some closure, justice and possible prosecution of those responsible, including the former president who flew into exile in Equatorial Guinea in early 2017.
Five years ago when Jallow was invited to the presidential palace by Jammeh, she claimed she was unaware of the allegations of abuse against the former dictator.
“In order to know information like that, you had to be connected to the internet,’’ she was quoted by The New York Times. “I didn’t even have a phone for most of my high school years. I was not very politically savvy as a teenager.”
She said on the day of the alleged rape incident, she was taken to the private residence of the former dictator, where she was asked to wait while a security guard took her phone and bag.
Jammeh would arrive a few minutes later in baggy slacks and a T-shirt, and would greet her saying: “You know a woman has never rejected me.”
He led her to an adjacent room, pushed her into a chair and started ripping off her clothes. She started crying, as Jammeh slapped her and injected her in her arm with a needle.
“He rubbed his genitals in my face, pushed me down to my knees, pulled my dress up and sodomised me,” she was quoted by the BBC.
Jallow said after the incident, she was scared to tell anyone about it and rather locked herself at home for three days before deciding to flee to neighbouring Dakar, Senegal.
There, she was able to contact aid organisations and weeks later, she was referred to seek asylum and resettlement in Canada, where she had been living since as a customer agent for a phone company.
Currently, in therapy, Jallow has studied at university to become a social worker and volunteers at a women’s shelter once a month.
“I decided to speak now because it is time to tell the story and to make sure that Yayha Jammeh hears what he has done,” she said.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Jammeh’s APRC party has denied the accusations made against their former leader.
“We as a party and The Gambian people are tired of the steady stream of unfounded allegations that have been reported against our ex-president,” Ousman Rambo Jatta told the BBC.
Reed Brody, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch has described the alleged incident as “one layer of atrocities in many,” and said is hopeful that justice would be served.
Ruling Gambia for over two decades, Jammeh initially refused to relinquish power after losing the December 2016 elections to current president Adama Barrow.
It took a military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), threats from the international community, visits by about half a dozen heads of state and an immunity deal for him and his family before he agreed to leave for exile to Equatorial Guinea on the invitation of Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has been President since 1979.
The United States recently banned Jammeh and his family from ever setting foot in the country. The announcement of the ban, which was made by the U.S. Department of State, was as a result of his heavy involvement in corruption and human rights violations while he was in power.
The exiled ex-president was this January spotted dancing with the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, to a Koffi Olomide performance at the Presidential End of Year Ball in the capital city of Malabo.
Questions, however, abound as to why Jammeh is enjoying his life when the people who had suffered under his rule have still not received justice.