Yahya Jammeh ruled with fear, intimidation and murder. When the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) which Jammeh was a Chairman of took over the government of The Gambia in a military coup in 1996 - so began the two decades of an authoritarian dictatorship. During his 22-years of ruling, political oppositions were detained, journalists mysteriously gunned down, human rights activists tortured and thrown into the National Intelligence Agency, the intelligence agency of the AFPRC which also functions as Jammeh's secret police. Jammeh is also a practicing witchcraft, often claiming that he could cure HIV/AIDS, read minds, treats epilepsy and infertility. His bizarre and eccentric personality has somehow made him a cult figure.
Louis Leeson, a reportage photojournalist has been in and out of The Gambia since 2015, often working as a freelance photographer with non profit organizations and human activists groups. Prior to the much talked about 2016 Presidential Election, Leeson began spending time at political rallies which often took place at night. "It was really hot in the day and none of these supporters would come if it was in the day. These rallies mostly took place at night when the weather was cooler. There would be music, food and dancing. It was almost like a party".
On December 1st, in a surprising move, Jammeh lost to democratic opponent, Adama Barrow. “It was quite unexpected. There was a lot of optimism and a lot of hope. At this time, I decided that I wanted to document the transition from this autocratic authoritarian regime into this democratic new Gambia that was taking place. The young people of Gambia was really involved in pro democracy movement. And I wanted to document that and because of my time working there for several years before hand, I got to know a lot of activists on the ground. A lot of the activists I’ve worked with before who were in the women empowerment were also working in the pro-democracy movement. So I had a lot of good access."
With a foreword by esteemed colleague and friend Sait Matty Jaw, Give The Devil His Due - Volume 1 is a 44 page, saddled stitched, full colour photography zine. Sait Matty Jaw who is a strong advocate for freedom and democracy was subject to abuse by Jammeh's regime. His foreword is a heartfelt letter of his time in prison and to the future of the Gambia. Leeson's first monograph is hopefully the first volume of many more to come - a reflection of the long years this transition will take place. "I knew that this was going to be a long term project that I wanted to be at. To shoot in my own time and in my own way. And I knew it was something that I had to go back to possibly in the years. It’s already taken me about 12 months shooting and I fully expect to going back for several more years as this transition of democracy takes place. Because this is not something that is finished. It is something that is going to continue for many years now."