Toufah Jallow is a woman on a mission. This 27-year-old Gambian, with neat dreadlocks, who nothing predisposed to a life as an activist, has set herself the objective of bringing the former president of her country before the courts and, more broadly, of raising the voice of the victims “whose rapists are not presidents.” To date, she is the first woman to accuse former dictator Yahya Jammeh of rape, when he was in power in Banjul (1994-2017). In a testimonial book, translated into French, Toufah Jallow retraces her trajectory, broken during a night in June 2015.
The “journey of no return” of Toufah Jallow, met in the Parisian bookstore of her publisher (Edition des femmes-Antoinette Fouque), began in December 2014. That evening, her country had its eyes fixed on the “July 22 Competition » broadcast live on television. The slender young woman, draped in a long black dress, parades alongside twenty-one other high school girls on the stage of the Paradise Suites Hotel in Serrekunda.
This beauty contest, the dictator, absent from the ceremony but omnipresent in the speeches, created it to "promote female autonomy", and celebrate the date of his coup d'état, July 22, 1994. The winner of this propaganda operation can hope to obtain a scholarship in the country of their choice or financial support to launch their business. Toufah Jallow, 19, wants to escape the teaching profession, the only horizon offered to her by her career in Gambia, and to study dramatic arts abroad. When the presenter announces her coronation, she thinks she has touched her dream. A trap that will allow the Jammeh clan to exercise its control over her.
“If I want a woman, I get her.”
This took place a few days after the coronation, during a first meeting with the president, organized by Jimbee, Jammeh's cousin and faithful collaborator. The winner and her runners-up are then asked to attend a ceremony at the presidential palace.
“He said to me: “Hello Peule!” He looked at us in turn, and started making jokes about different ethnicities, as relaxed as an uncle or family friend. I was aware of his power and had heard about what happened to people who opposed him, but at that moment he seemed caring and even approachable,” she says. Later, he promised her 100,000 dalasis (1,540 euros) in aid for a play project, while praising her “way of speaking and moving for an 18-year-old girl.”
Then, little by little, the dictator invites himself into his daily life. One morning, a team from the water service comes to connect his mother's house. Another day, Jimbee drives the miss to a villa: a gift from Jammeh that Toufah Jallow refuses. Then, during a dinner, he tells her that he is going to marry her. “I politely declined. The next day, two men in black started following me everywhere. »
The trap closes in June 2015. “Summoned” to the palace to attend a religious celebration, the young woman is directed by Jimbee as soon as she arrives towards a room, far from the guests. According to her, Yahya Jammeh then dragged her into an adjoining room, before attacking her. “If I want a woman, I get it, and there are no exceptions,” the man who claimed to cure AIDS with his potions allegedly told him, before injecting a substance into his arm. “Who do you think you are? I can have any woman I want in the entire world. Let's see if you're a virgin. »
“We will do everything to protect him.”
After the rape, fear and shame pushed the young woman to flee to Senegal, whose borders surround the Gambia. “The guard at the residence said to me when he saw me leaving the room in tears: ‘He is our president, and we will always do everything to protect him,’” she wrote.
In Dakar, she obtained the support of a Gambian opponent, Omar Topp, as well as that of the Senegalese authorities. The affair causes embarrassment between the two capitals, whose relations are execrable. Yahya Jammeh and Macky Sall accuse each other of supporting each other's opponents. Toufah Jallow eventually obtained asylum in Canada. In Toronto, she gets by, far from the Gambians of the diaspora. Because, in her country of origin, the press describes her as a “venal woman” and a “liar”. “She chewed up all the money he gave her and when he refused to give her more, she left! ”, she heard one morning on an online radio station.
In 2016, the unthinkable happened: Yahya Jammeh was defeated at the polls. After conceding his defeat, he retracted but was forced, under pressure from the region, to accept the verdict of the vote and went into exile to Equatorial Guinea, where he has resided ever since. Toufah Jallow only brings herself to see her loved ones again two years later and returns with the idea of breaking the silence and “reestablishing her version”. In Dakar then in Banjul, supported by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), she publicly denounced her attack. In the middle of a wave
“In Fulani and Wolof, the term does not exist,” she recalls. “In Wolof, the closest word means something like “indecent touch” or “leaning forward” or even “stealing a thigh.” »
His speech also coincides with the opening of the work of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. Broadcast live, the hearings captivate and move Gambians. For two years, 393 witnesses, executioners and victims, took the stand one after the other and revealed the brutality of the Jammeh regime. Torture, summary executions, disappearances… crimes committed against citizens deemed recalcitrant point to the direct responsibility of the Head of State.
In October 2019, Toufah Jallow appeared before the Commission to give her account of the rape she said she had suffered. “Yahya Jammeh had no desire for me, he did not want to have pleasure with me. What he wanted was to hurt me. What he wanted was to teach me a lesson. Yahya Jammeh couldn’t believe that an unknown girl from an unknown family could have the audacity to say no to him,” she explains.
“Toufah Jallow’s testimony was crucial to understanding Jammeh’s system of sexual predation,” explains Reed Brody, author of a report on Jammeh’s sexual crimes for HRW. He would spot the girls he liked and ask his collaborators to deliver them to him. He recruited them for his protocol service in exchange for a salary. Then came the gifts, the privileges, the promises of scholarships, before the rapes. »
The NGO collected several other testimonies from alleged victims and former collaborators of the ex-president. “These “protocol girls” [a position that Toufah Jallow claims to have refused] were responsible for official functions, such as serving drinks, typing documents or preparing for meetings, but their real role was to be at the disposal of the president to sleep with him. These women accompanied him during his frequent extended stays in Kanilai, his native village,” reveals the investigation.
Exiled in Equatorial Guinea where he benefits from the protection of Teodorin Obiang Nguema, in power for forty-four years, Yahya Jammeh is at the heart of a legal battle. United in the coalition
Toufah Jallow, now the head of a foundation, however, remains hopeful that her alleged attacker will be held accountable. “His supporters pray for a peaceful retirement. But judging him is essential if we want to prevent these crimes from repeating themselves. » His other fight, more intimate, concerns his mental health. “Today I’m fine. Tomorrow, I don't know. My healing is a long process. But I hold on. »