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The forgotten souls

Mustapha K Darboe. Picture taken in Kiang, during the 2016 presidential campaign.

By Mustapha K Darboe

In December 2016, I was one of those who were recording history. Brothers became sworn enemies with minds prepared to put a dagger in each other’s heart. Those were trying times. A beautiful soul, Ebrima Solo Sandeng, had long joined his ancestors.

The cause was of freedom from the grip of a man who betrayed both God and man. His colleagues and friend swore that people involved in his death will pay. Those blamed for his death were adamant they committed no wrong.

“One dog die and they are asking me to investigate,” said Yahya Jammeh. As painful as that was, this statement was accompanied with threat of genocide. The country was pushed to an edge—effectively at war with herself.

Mothers cry for their young. At the height of this tension emerged a semblance of salvation. For there to be sanity, a new order must replace an old order. We care not who led this revolution. Anything was better than war.

The torch-bearer was to be one Adama Barrow. This man, I did not know him. My first meeting with him was at Brikama, United Democratic Party’s last meeting before a planned negotiation for a coalition. I was there with a Foroyaa reporter Kebba Jeffang. Our mission as reporters who mostly focus on politics and public policy was to see who may be the UDP leader.

There, the second to last speaker was Barrow. Aja Mariam Secka was the UDP leader at the time. “Do you think he could be the leader?” asked Jeffang. “No. He is not a presidential material,” I said sternly.

For me, the deficiencies were apparent. But I was not the judge. I was just being arrogant. The Gambian people are the judges and jury. When the UDP also announced their press conference where their leader was to be announced, I was there.

This time, with a number of people. Emil Touray, former president of the Gambia Press Union was there. Lamin Cham, the editor of The Standard newspaper was there. Saikou Jammeh, the RFI correspondent and secretary general of the GPU was also there.

Cham was the only journalist Barrow recognized and called him by his name. He then basked into a conversation of how, if it were in UK where he briefly lived, the result of the UDP convention would have leaked—how journalists would have been analyzing it.

Again, we were told this was the leader. Barrow held a two-page paper, if I recall properly, and read. His hands trembling. Again, we left asking each other “who is he”. But again, it was not for us to decide. By default, journalists tend to pay too many attentions to people, such that we can over-exaggerate their deficiencies.

Fast forward, that period past and we headed for the coalition convention, Barrow won. But all these times, Barrow may not be president but he had soldiers on all sides. All of a sudden, this man inspired confidence in the people.

Not that anything has changed in his capacity to express or argue but that he has lieutenants. Civilians, people who expect nothing from a government—the so-call uneducated—volunteered as security for Barrow and his lieutenants. Barrow himself campaigned on the strength of these people to think and act appropriately.

From Kartong to Koina, I watched, listened and recorded history. For the first time, I saw hope, hope for the future of my country—that I forgot about a threat of genocide. I have watched women, regardless of their ethno-linguistic origin, running after Barrow’s convoy and giving them water to drink.

But this hope does not exist anywhere else. It was the hope that defined the coordinated attack that dethrone a dictator.

For the first time in this country, campaign was 24 hours. In some communities, fragile people like me could not attend the meeting. I would be in the “media vehicle” sleeping. From such slumber, I would be awakened sometimes by the eloquent voice of a 71-year old Sidia Jatta.

These men love this country. In Wuli, I recalled, Sidia could not talk. He was so impressed with the turn-out that the only thing he said was “you have won”. Indeed, they have. But in every village we go, the campaign message has been what Jammeh did to our countrymen.

And Barrow’s message was let’s free Ousainou Darboe and our people, let’s get the economy back and Gambia on its feet as a defender of human rights across the world. Truly, a united front! With his seemingly trusted lieutenants besides him, people cheered. Even 3 a.m meetings seemed like daylight meetings.

These were tough times. But united people don’t realize toughness of times. They lean on each other’s shoulders to cross even a broken bridge. Perhaps, this is what explain why a man served by Junglers can be defeated by a little-known man with only a civilian, volunteered security.

Now, the country is not recognizable anymore. Believers of the God (s) no longer believe. The guard posts have been abandoned. The victims on whose plight their campaign have been forgotten. Gambia became a story told to us by Lucky Dude long time ago in a song call the Victim.

Bob Marley said

How long shall they kill our prophets

While we stand aside and look

But little did he know that

Eventually the enemy

Will stand aside and look

While we slash and kill

Our own brothers

Knowing that already

They are the victims of the situation

It could not be further from the truth. For the past week, I have been with victims of the former regime, people Barrow claimed he will defend when he came to power. Who are:

Still licking wounds from brutality

Still licking wounds from humiliation

A father who comes home with a gift to find his son in mortuary

Abdoulie Bojang has lost his son in April 2000. Security forces put a bullet in his skull. The only justice he has 20 years on was a condolence message from the state. And a D7500 token. I have also sat and listen to the story of Binta Manneh.

She was raped by a member of the security forces and later told by investigators that she was lying. Her experience ruined her life and got her married off at the age of 15. Abdou Karim Jammeh was also shot and wounded, a scar he lives with to date. Dozens live with health effects caused by a bullet.

Most of the student victims became school dropouts. But Barrow, like Jammeh, has his children in the best schools. Same goes for top Government officials. They don’t even visit our hospitals.

She took me outside to the churchyard

Showed me graves on the ground

And she said;

There lies a man who fought for equality

There lies a boy who died in his struggle

Can all these heroes die in vain

While we slash and kill our own brothers

Knowing that already they are the

Victims of the situation

On Saturday, I had myself sent out of Mile 2. Why? Because I am a journalist by profession. I was not there for any journalism. I was only there to accompany Dr Ousman Gajigo who visited Killa Ace. I don’t know Killa at personal level. Of course, like most Gambians, I have heard of and seen him at places.

After much torment at the gate, having to answer so many questions, we got in. In the visitors’ room, we waited for about 20 minutes, venting our frustration at the challenges we had to face going in. “For Killa,” said a fair-coloured lady, pointing at us. She is a prison warden.

“Yes,” we said simultaneously, and jumped on our feet. Killa was right there, behind some iron bars. There is a small space through which we could shook hands. But there was no time for that. We needed some introducing.

Dr Gajigo is an economist who is passionate about Gambia. He is by default an activist. He had already given D10, 000 to Killa’s defence team. After telling him about the tooth brush and tooth paste we brought, then the introducing.

He only had to say I am a journalist, pointing at me. “The meeting is over,” said an uncultured fair-coloured girl from behind. “He is a journalist.” Both Gajigo and I were ashamed of her ignorance. But such is a common behavior. So, we had to keep our cool.

“Yes, I am a journalist but I am not here to practice journalism. I am visiting Killa with a friend,” I said, hoping the girl could see little sense. “No,” she jumped. For about 2 minutes, 4 prison wardens, one behind Killa and 3 right behind us were all talking at the same time.

 How is there a communication where no one is listening? Then suddenly, silence. They agreed among themselves that we should continue but the 30 minutes we initially have was now reduced to 3 minutes. “Three,” I said, surprised. “Yes three,” emphasized the fair-coloured girl.

Both Gajigo and Killa lost their cool at that point. “This is my time,” Killa busted. Another ill-mannered, visibly temperamental prison warden and Gajigo nearly had a punch. He would later warn Killa not to complicate his situation.

Killa had already told us that he they have moved him away from the group because of his “unruly behavior”. Of course, the “unruly” is as the word is defined by them, the prison officers. This is justice! Our 3 minutes was cut to 2 and we were asked to leave.

But this was Killa, the one who could stand for himself and others. How about others with him, the ones unnoticed by the public?

Frustrated, like Abdoulie Bojang or Binta Manneh, we headed for the door. The system, as brother Matabaruka said, is a fraud. As we walked out, we met two of Killa’s colleagues. We were told they were denied from bringing in the constitution for Killa. The irony is that that Mile 2 is supposed to be run according to that BOOK that established our republic.

But that is the excess we fought to eradicate. When the people ran after Barrow’s convoy in December to hand us water, in their mind, it was the situation like Killa’s that they were fighting against. Those were days when the state accused a man with pen to be violent against a man with barracks full of guns or police station full of guns.

When the man in charge of arsenal is scared, the republic is doomed!

As I expressed my anger over my Mile 2 experience, then came a bigger distraction. People are talking about who gets and who doesn’t get a diplomatic passport. This is a national important issue, they claim.

However, for a man who is locked at Mile 2 or Yusupha Mbaye who is suffering from a bullet wound, argument about diplomatic passports are a luxury.

They watch as the same fraudulent 2016 political players who never and does not care about Abdou Karim or Mbaye talk about passports. For them, all is politics. All is votes. All is about self. Nothing else. They only say because it gives them a political capital.

For Binta and Killa, nothing makes sense than a statement from Bob Marley that “every Government on the face of the earth today is illegal”. And I add, “if they are not illegal, they are apartheid”.

Same people win all the time. Same people suffer all the time. And when they protest to show their anger, they are told they are rebels or troublemakers. Nay, people like Ousman Darboe is not supposed to have justice.

The young people are supposed to trust the system that never cared about anyone but the top. Each time they complain, they are told they should feel privileged because they are being served by people who quit their UN job for a low-paid Gambian job.

They are then told their suffering is caused by God. Even God, they are made to believe, is not on their side. They are just cursed.

But in my community in Salikenni, there are 3 Gods and when the major one refused to deliver the rain, we go to the smaller gods. Sometimes, we have had to rely on the God at either Malibanta of Nehwu for rain.

As Ali Mazrui said, “the freedom of man begins with multiplication of his master”. Perhaps, we need to abandon the God they say chose these “mis-leaders” and follow the true God that say we are architect of our own destiny.

Every good and intelligent man is a rebel— for it is rebels who disrupt an old order and establish a new one.

They are indeed the forgotten souls.

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