afrol News, 11 June - Gambian Dictator Yahya Jammeh, a lieutenant who claims to have found a cure against AIDS, now insists on being addressed as "His Excellency the President Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh."
Lieutenant Yahya AJJ Jammeh came to power in a military coup in July 1994. The thus 29-year-old skinny and insecure officer had his little education from the armed forces of The Gambia and his reading abilities have often been questioned.
Now, 16 years later, the still insecure but far from skinny Jammeh is leading The Gambia with an iron fist. Since 2008, he started decorating himself with an increasingly long list of titles, many of them academic. Mr Jammeh claims to be both a doctor and a professor.
According to Ebrima Sankareh, editor of the exiled media 'Gambia Echo', President Jammeh is only "a self-proclaimed professor with a doctored high school diploma." Indeed, most titles prove to be self-proclaimed honours.
But the doctor title to a limited degree is legitimate. In 1999, the Canadian St Mary's University in Halifax awarded President Jammeh with an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws Degree for allowing Gambian "citizens freedom to pursue their well-being and to live in peace and harmony."
Such honorary doctor degrees are awarded visiting state leaders by the dozen, but few leaders later pride themselves with a doctor title in official settings if the title is only honorary. After 16 years in power, Mr Jammeh only has been awarded one single honorary academic degree.
The professor title however is completely made up by President Jammeh himself during the last year. The Gambian leader reportedly started to refer to himself as professor because he is convinced to have discovered herbal cures for AIDS, asthma and diabetes.
His herbs-and-banana cure for AIDS caused international headlines, and as the UN representative in The Gambia questioned the cure, based on medical evidence, she was thrown out of the country. Gambian MPs questioning the mental condition of the Dictator following his AIDS cure announcement were told by Mr Jammeh that, only by looking into the eyes of a person, he could predict their accurate date of death.
The large-scale ridiculing of Mr Jammeh over his herbal cures was reported to have made the insecure colonel even more introvert. The self-appointed healer thus felt it necessary to award himself a professor title.
But Mr Jammeh has also caught two Muslim titles, Alhaji and Sheikh. The Alhaji title simply means that he has participated in pilgrimage to the holy cities of Islam; the Hajj. Despite a lack of reporting of any Hajj made by Mr Jammeh, this title has yet to be questioned.
The new Sheikh title however is surprising. It is completely un-African and belongs to the Arabian Peninsula, normally referring to an Islamic scholar of that region. Sheikh is an honorific term, literally meaning "elder" in Arabic, commonly used for a person that has completed Islamic university studies. Mr Jammeh has never studied at university level.
The current list of titles referring to "His Excellency" is even longer. Mr Jammeh is the Commander In Chief of The Armed Forces and the Chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of The Gambia. He is also the Grand Master of the National Order of the Republic of The Gambia, The Gambia's Minister of Defence and holds responsibility over several national departments.
While Mr Jammeh's many titles may be a laugh for outsiders, Gambians are obliged to take them seriously. Gambian media such as 'The Observer' and 'Today' list up all the titles each time they refer to the President. Even UN agencies such as FAO follow these new instructions. There are reports of arrests of people failing to address the professor sheikh - or was it sheikh professor? - correctly.
Outside the officialist circles, President Jammeh's new and flashy titles however mostly are a source of good African humour. Some point to the Gambian leader a "Professor WitchDr Jammeh" and others talk about "Africa's mad professor". And Mr Jammeh is programmed to amuse non-Gambians again in the future.
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