Gambia: The President who claims he can cure Aids on Mondays
- The President who claims he can cure Aids on Mondays
By Alex Duval Smith
Published: 03 February 2007
The smallest country in Africa is this morning playing
host to one of the longest queues on the continent, as
hundreds of people line up for miracle cures for
asthma and Aids, promised by the Gambian President.
Scientists have reacted with horror to a claim by
President Yahya Jammeh that he can cure asthma on
Fridays and Saturdays and HIV/Aids on Mondays and
Thursdays. All patients need is a referral from a
doctor and the willingness to queue up at State House
in the capital, Banjul.
"I'm astonished. The danger of a president saying this
is shocking," said South African HIV specialist Jerry
Coovadia, who heads the HIV research team at the
University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban.
Professor Coovadia is one of the most vociferous
critics of the South African government's resistance
to rolling out antiretroviral drugs. After pressure
from him and other scientists the government last year
withdrew its advice that a diet of garlic, beetroot
and olive oil could help people infected with HIV.
The rush for Mr Jammeh's alleged cure began on 18
January after the west African country's state
television service devoted most of its evening news to
it. The President, who believes he has mystic powers,
was seen laying his hands on the heads of patients at
the Royal Victoria Hospital in Banjul. Since then, Mr
Jammeh has addressed diplomats and the broadcaster has
shown interviews with alleged patients who say they
are feeling better and putting on weight.
Mr Jammeh, who has been in power since 1994, told the
diplomats he has long had mystic powers but that he
only recently received a "mandate" to treat large
numbers of people. In his speech, he said: "The cure
is a day's treatment. Within three days the person
will be negative."
Mr Jammeh said he hoped the Taiwanese ambassador would
spread news of the "cure" because his country has a
large pharmaceuticals industry. According to rumours
in Banjul, Mr Jammeh's treatment is based on seven
herbs that are mentioned in the Koran.
The President has not revealed the names of the herbs,
nor divulged who has bestowed the "mandate" on him,
which includes specific days of the week for each
treatment. "I am not doing it for money or
popularity," he said. "For asthma I have to choose
between Saturday and Friday. I am also not authorised
to treat more than 100 people. The one on HIV/Aids
cannot be mass-produced because I am restricted to 10
patients only on every Thursday and Monday." He said
he may have to cancel surgeries on Thursdays if they
clash with cabinet meetings.
Superstition and mysticism has gone hand in hand with
governance since President Jammeh came to power. Four
years ago, in an official press statement, he alleged
that members of the opposition had placed the carcass
of a lion and gourds of palm wine at a major road
junction to "spoil the country's economy". A former
National Intelligence Agency boss lost his job after
being accused of hiring a Senegalese witchdoctor.
From soldier to statesman
* The Gambia's notoriously authoritarian and somewhat
eccentric President started his career as a young
lieutenant before sweeping to power in 1994 in a
military coup. He has since been re-elected three
times in elections of varying standards of fairness.
* Since coming to power, Mr Jammeh, a self-declared
mystic, has spoken of turning his country into an
oil-producing nation to supplement its main export,
peanuts, a product that currently leaves Gambians
susceptible to world market changes. To date, however,
his country has been unable to find any crude.
* Mr Jammeh's regime isconsidered stable for The
Gambia, but this has come at a price, largely through
his suppression of critical newspapers.