Sierra Leone honoured the Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh at an awards ceremony on Friday recognising the outstanding contribution of those at home and abroad who helped the country defeat Ebola.
Gambia’s controversial leader, frequently the source of diplomatic spats on the international stage, was awarded a gold medal for his financial support during the outbreak by Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma.
The sum involved was not mentioned in the citation, although Jammeh’s office announced at the height of the epidemic in August last year it was handing over $500,000 (380,000 euros).
Jammeh did not attend the ceremony outside the State House in Freetown, instead sending his health minister Umaru Sei to pick up the award.
It was among 199 gold, silver and bronze medals handed to African and international charities, British, Chinese and Cuban diplomatic officials, the United Nations and aid workers.
The World Health Organization declared on November 7 that Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak was over, after it had killed almost 4,000 citizens.
The former British colony recorded half of the cases in an Ebola epidemic that has infected a reported 28,600 people across the three hardest-hit nations, with Guinea and Liberia still awaiting the all-clear.
“We are delighted that the work done by people to fight the disease has been recognised by the state,” said Sally Koroma, a farmer from eastern Sierra Leone who lost her husband, three children and 18 other relations.
The smallest country in mainland Africa, flanked on both sides by Senegal, the Gambia is frequently criticised for human rights abuses and has a chequered recent diplomatic record.
In 2007 Jammeh booted out a United Nations envoy for questioning his supposed herbal “cure” for AIDS.
Three years later, the European Union — the country’s top aid donor — cancelled 22 million euros ($27 million) in budget support because of concerns over human rights and governance issues.
In October 2013 Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth and then accused the United States and former colonial power Britain of leading a “shameless campaign of lying” about its rights record