Published April 11, 2016
In a way, the 2014 coup attempt in the small West African country of The Gambia began 14 years earlier. Back in 2000, many Gambians hadn’t yet made up their minds about Yahya Jammeh—the former military officer who had taken power in a 1994 coup, replacing the country’s democratically elected, if out-of-touch, leader. Jammeh’s dark side was no secret: Within months of taking power, he had two other members of his junta arrested for plotting counter-coups and caused a third to flee the country. But Jammeh had delivered on some of his promises to bring development to The Gambia, and so most citizens adopted a wait-and-see mentality.
They shed it on April 10, 2000. That day, a group of students in their school uniforms gathered in Serekunda, The Gambia’s most populous city, to protest the alleged murder of a teenage boy by firemen and the alleged rape of a teenage girl by a security officer. “No justice, no peace,” the students chanted. They reached a standoff with the police amid the haze of tear gas near the Gambia Technical Training Institute. The minister of the interior was seen negotiating with the students before giving up and gesturing for the police to open fire. They did. Officially, 14 people were killed.
Among the injured were three 17-year-old boys, who were taken to the hospital in the capital, Banjul, which offered only rudimentary treatment. The bullet that pierced the back of Yusupha Mbaye’s neck left him paralyzed. He developed bedsores the size of his fist. Sainey Senghore, whose leg was hit by three bullets, got gangrene in his toes. Assan Suwareh was shot from behind in the arm and the stomach. Doctors using only local anesthetics removed a kidney, part of his intestines, and half of his liver. His wounds filled with pus, and his weight dropped below 100 pounds. With the three teenagers’ conditions worsening, the Gambian Ministry of Health arranged to fly them to Cairo for treatment. But the nurse who traveled with them left after a week, and the ministry stopped paying their medical bills after a month.