When Was the Gambian President the Admiral of Nebraska?

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Reuters

Last month, apparently. (via Foreign Policy)

His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh has been President of the West African state of the Gambia ever since taking over in a 1994 military coup and is known – in the moments when he’s not simply being a tyrant – to be something of an eccentric.

Jammeh claims to have found the remedy for HIV/AIDS (it involves local herbs) and is wont to make strange, stray pronouncements – like when he suggested this year during a tirade against the meddling West that the first cross-Atlantic flight in history actually landed in the Gambia.

But in the past month, Jammeh has outdone himself. A report first published in the country’s main state paper on Sept. 17 announced that the President “bags 4 awards.” What were these prizes? Two apparently came from a certain President Barrack (note the spelling) Obama — a “Platinum Award” and a “President’s Volunteer Call to Service Award” — and one from the Printers and Publishers Guild of Northern Germany, which supposedly conferred upon Jammeh an “Honorary Vocational Bacherlors’ Degree.”

And the fourth? The Admiralship of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska.

The irony about Jammeh’s reported trophy haul is that the only award that actually exists is the one that seems the most ludicrous. As a spokeswoman for the Nebraska governor’s office confirmed this week: “an ‘admiralship’ in the fictitious ‘Navy’ of Nebraska is meant to be a ceremonial acknowledgment of Nebraskans who have shown outstanding citizenship.” Still, Jammeh is not, and never will be, a Nebraskan admiral.

As absurd as the whole episode may be, the Committee to Protect Journalists has spotlighted it as a sign of Jammeh’s authoritarian grip over the Gambia, a tiny, riparian country snuck into the landmass of Senegal, itself hardly a vast nation. Jammeh has allegedly cracked down on media and had dissidents disappeared. His flaunting of imaginary prizes is indeed news you just can’t make up—except when you actually can.

- By Ishaan Tharoor