SITTING beside a banner with the words “The truth shall set you free”, Fatou Jallow, known as Toufah, recounted details of her alleged rape by Yahya Jammeh, the Gambia’s former president.
Her family listened in the hearing room of the Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission.
“I know a lot of people will find it difficult to believe what I’ve said when you live in a culture where you believe that women should be quiet. It’s a culture where you have to keep secrets. That’s the culture that I come from,” Jallow said in her concluding statement late last month.
Jallow (23) is the unexpected catalyst for the Gambia’s “Me Too” moment.
Earlier this year, she became the first woman to publicly accuse Jammeh of rape in an investigation by NGOs Human Rights Watch and Trial International.
She alleges that Jammeh assaulted her during a Ramadan festival at State House as punishment for refusing to accept his marriage proposal – she had caught his eye when she won a beauty pageant in 2014.
Speaking from her adopted home of Toronto, Canada, shortly before returning to the Gambia, Jallow said an “overwhelming” number of women confessed their stories to her after she spoke out.
“It was a learning experience, I thought ‘Oh my god, I knew it’s bad, but I didn’t know it was to this extent”.
His time in office saw the oppression of anti-government journalists, LGBT people and opposition parties.
His foreign policy led to a constantly strained relationship with the sole neighbouring country of Senegal.
In 2013, Jammeh withdrew the Gambia from the Commonwealth of Nations, and in 2016 he began the process of withdrawing it from the International Criminal Court (later rescinded by the Barrow government).
Jammeh is accused of having stolen millions of dollars from the country’s coffers to fund a life of luxury.
After leaving office, his assets were frozen by many countries and he went into exile.
In addition to charges of corruption and human rights violations, he is also accused of having raped a number of young women.