- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Under the headline “President Jammeh bags 4 awards,” the Gambia’s pro-government Daily Obersever newspaper recently reported that President Yahya Jammeh had received a number of commendations from President “Barrack” Obama:
Two of the awards with an accompanying letter came from the president of the United States of America, Barrack Obama, who congratulated the Gambian leader for the accolade, and also commended him “for helping to address the most pressing needs” in his community. The awards include the ‘President’s Volunteer Call to Service Award’, and the ‘Platinum Award 2009 by President Barrack Obama’. The last two awards are the ‘Admiral of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska’, USA’, given to the Gambian leader by its Governor, Dave Heinemana, whilst the fourth award, the ‘Honorary Vocational Bachelors Degree’ was given by the Printers and Publishers Guild of Northern Germany.
As the Committee to Protect Journalists found out with some quick digging, Obama never sent any such letter and the majority of the awards mentioned don’t actually exist. The only one that does seem to be real is the admiralship in the fictitious Nebraska navy, a tongue-in-cheek award for distinguished residents of the landlocked state — in other words, not the president of the Gambia. (Click here to nominate your favorite Nebraskan.)
It’s a funny story, but highlights the all-too-serious problem of media repression under Jammeh’s authoritarian regime. As one former staffer at the paper told CPG, ” “If [the story] wasn’t out in the paper, someone would be in Mile 2 [prison] today — the managing director or the editor.”
George Ayittey included His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh on his list of the world’s worst dictators.