(Repeats without changes from Sunday)
By Edward McAllister
BANJUL Dec 4 Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh
was celebrating his 48th birthday in Banjul in May 2013 when he
saw a poor street hawker selling peanuts with a child strapped
to her back.
Without hesitating, he sent an aide over with a gift: $1,000
in cash, double the tiny West African nation's average annual
wage, said Fatou Camara, his former press secretary who saw it.
It was classic Jammeh: impulsive, capricious and generous
with his pocket, at least when he was in the right mood.
"He could change a life in minutes," said Camara. "When you
are close to him, it is impossible to believe the killings."
For 22 years since he took power in a coup, Jammeh, a former
junior army officer, mixed charm and generosity with the threat
of violence to maintain a firm grip on power.
But over time, the latter took centre stage as Gambia
morphed into a police state that tortured opponents, rights
groups say. Jammeh's supporters deny such claims, and he
frequently rails against the Western interference in Africa.
Jammeh accepted his shock election defeat on Friday, a sharp
turnaround for a man who had vowed to rule the tiny West African
nation of 1.8 million people for "a billion years".
He has not been seen in public since. It is still uncertain
whether he will honour his promise to hand over power.
"FEAR BEGAN TO ERODE"
Friends and victims alike say if there was a defining event
which set Jammeh on an increasingly authoritarian path, it was a
coup attempt by a vanguard of the military in March 2006.
Musa Saidykhan, then the editor-in-chief of The Independent
newspaper, was in bed a few days after the coup when policemen
came to arrest him. His paper had reported that Jammeh rounded
up more people than the authorities had announced.
Saidykhan was taken to the National Intelligence Agency, a
short drive away, next to one of Banjul's white sand beaches
that attract thousands of tourists to Gambia.
There, on April 8, in a room that Gambians nicknamed the
"Crocodile Hole", agents electrocuted his genitals, beat him
with batons, suffocated him with a plastic bag and broke his
"They said I write with my right hand and that is what is
causing the trouble," he told Reuters. Saidykhan left Gambia
after his 22-day ordeal and is now social worker in the United
The government has repeatedly dismissed allegations of
torture. Reuters's calls to officials for comment on this story
Jammeh's quirkier traits, such as his strong belief in
supernatural powers, often made international headlines.
He claimed to have a herbal cure for AIDS that only worked
on Thursdays. He invited hundreds of women to State House where
he administered another herbal remedy for infertility.
In 2009 he arrested hundreds of people for witchcraft.
Gradually, terrified citizens became bolder in expressing
dissent, even after hundreds were arrested for protesting in
April to May this year.
"The fear began to erode," said Jeffrey Smith from campaign
group Vanguard Africa. "People had had enough."
"SOLDIERS WITH A DIFFERENCE"
On July 22, 1994, Jammeh deposed the corrupt regime of Dawda
Jawara, who had ruled since independence from Britain in 1960.
It was a sudden rise for a quiet man with little education who
once grew tomatoes and lettuce in rural Gambia.
"Many of us welcomed the intervention. These were soldiers
with a difference, setting the stage for democracy," said Amadou
Janneh, Jammeh's communications minister in 2004.
Even then, there were warning signs: the junta arrested
politicians from the old government and reinstated the death
penalty. In 2000, its forces killed 14 students at an
Former aides say Jammeh can appear charming and generous. In
2002, he gave a leather bag containing 250,000 dalasis ($6,000)
to a boy whose father had been struck dead by lightning, said
Ramzia Diab, an advisor who saw it.
On a state visit to Thailand in June 2005, he tipped
restaurant staff with multiple $100 bills he drew from a
suitcase, said Amadou Janneh, who witnessed the event.
But after the coup attempt, he became more paranoid.
"He could be very jovial and kind and then lose his temper
like a mad dog," said Momodou Sowe, 36, an aide to Jammeh
between 2003 to 2012 before being jailed for allegedly leaking
sensitive information, which he denies.
Armed men arrested Demba Dem, a member of parliament, at his
office shortly after the coup. In darkness, agents he could not
see beat him with sticks and guns and burned him with hot metal.
Four others interviewed by Reuters got similar treatment
that week. Guards dripped melted plastic onto the leg of Yaya
Darboe, an officer involved in the coup. Someone filmed it,
Dem and Darboe were taken to Mile 2, a prison complex of
white concrete that abuts the main highway into Banjul.
Cells are overcrowded so that inmates cannot lie down. They
are served sandy rice and rotting fish. Dozens share one toilet,
often a bucket in a corner, several former inmates said.
Former newspaper editor Saidykhan developed severe back
pain from his treatment, and in 2010, the regional ECOWAS Court
of Justice ordered the Gambian government to compensate him with
He is still waiting to receive it.
(Editing by Tim Cocks and Raissa Kasolowsky)