Military Wiki
1981 Gambian coup d'état attempt
Date30 July 1981 – 4 August 1981
LocationThe Gambia
Result Gambian victory
The Gambia The Gambia
Senegal Senegal
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
The Gambia Dawda Jawara
The Gambia Assan Musa Camara
The Gambia A. S. M'Boob
Senegal Abdou Diouf
United Kingdom Ian Crooke
Kukoi Sanyang
Ousman Bojang
Gibril George
Units involved
Loyalist elements of the Gambia Field Force
Senegalese Army
Special Air Service
Socialist rebels
Elements of the Gambia Field Force
Casualties and losses
20 100

The 1981 Gambian coup d'état attempt was executed at the end of July 1981 and lasted until early August when it was defeated by Senegalese soldiers. It was carried out by Marxist rebels in The Gambia while the President, Dawda Jawara, was attending the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in London.


Dissatisfaction in the Field Force

In 1958, the British colonial government had disbanded the Gambia Regiment due to cost concerns, and replaced it with a paramilitary unit of police called the Gambia Field Force. The Field Force had existed without issue for some time, but on 27 October 1980, Deputy Commander E. J. Mahoney was murdered by Private Mustapha Danso, at the Bakau Depot. The incident was explained as a solitary act of mutiny, but the government still invoked the 1965 common defence agreement with Senegal, leading to them deploying 150 troops on a joint training exercise called 'Operation Foday Kabba I' for the week following the incident.[1]

The government also forcibly retired Assistant Commander Ousman Bojang in 1981, who believed that his long-held grudge against what he saw as Wolof/Aku domination of the Field Force led to his dismissal.[1]

Marxist growth

The Gambian government was concerned at foreign policy of socialist Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in the region. The Libyan embassy in Banjul had been increasing in size and it was believed that it was supporting local dissidents, including the socialist newspaper The Voice. As early as July 1980, the Libyans had been accused of providing military training to Gambians who had been recruited by Senegalese rebel leader, Sheikh Ahmed Niasse of Kaolack. On 29 October 1980, the Libyan embassy was shut down and diplomatic relations were broken off.[1]

The background for the rebels involved in the attempted coup came from the Gambia Socialist Revolutionary Party (GSRP), founded in early 1980 by Gibril L. George, a former businessman. This party was joined by Kukoi Sanyang, a former NCP politician who had traveled to Libya and the Soviet Union. After being declared unlawful on 30 October 1980, the party became the Gambia Underground Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (GUSRWP), and committed itself to overthrow of the Gambian government.[2] Supposed members of the GUSRWP who swore to overthrow the Gambian government included 10 civilians and 36 Field Force officers.[1]

Many of the plotters were Jola, considered one of the most marginalized ethnic groups in The Gambia. The ideology of the group was a "woolly and vulgarized form" of Marxist and radical pan-Africanist thinking. They spoke of "Victory for the Gambian revolutionary struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leadership of a Marxist-Leninist party" and of "Death to neocolonialism, racism and fascism."[1]



Covert meetings in Serekunda were held in late July, led by Kukoi Sanyang, to plan the coup. Of the 15 members of this group, at least five had been involved in the Field Force. A number were also employed as taxi drivers - lending the name 'taxi driver's coup'. The plotters waited until President Dawda Jawara was out of the country in England before launching the coup d'etat.[1]

30 July 1980

In the early hours of the day, the coup began. Kukoi Sanyang and 10 accomplices made their way on foot to the Bakau Field Force Depot from Serekunda, five miles away. They broke into the depot using wire cutters and met up with a conspirator in the Field Force - Momodou Sonko - who let them into the armoury. Armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, the group were able to take the Depot and collected Ousman Bojang, the former Assistant Commander. A number of disaffected Field Force officers also joined them, but the greater number fled. Once the Depot was taken, the rebels moved onto other targets of importance. By dawn, they had secured the Radio Gambia buildings, Yundum airport, and the State House in Banjul. Civilian supporters of the group were given weapons at the armoury in order to assist the coup.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Hughes, Arnold; Perfect, David (2006). A Political History of The Gambia, 1816-1994. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press. pp. 209–220. 
  2. Hughes, Arnold; Perfect, David (2006). A Political History of The Gambia, 1816-1994. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press. pp. 209-209. 

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