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‘We remember Koro not how he died but how he lived’

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Edward Singhatey ends his 3-day testimony on Monday.  He accepted involvement in the execution of 11 soldiers on November 11, 1994, but denied participation in the killing of Ousman Koro Ceesay, a former finance minister.  Several witnesses, including the orderlies of the former vice president, put him at the scene of the crime on the day Koro was killed but he denied any wrongdoing.

Dr Naffie Ceesay was a teenager when her brother was killed. He shares with Kerr Fatou her views on Edward’s testimony.

By Mustapha K Darboe

As Edward testified before the Truth Commission on October 21, sitting about 3 meters to his right was Dr Naffie Ceesay.  She is a sister to the former finance minister Ousman Koro Ceesay who was killed in June 1995.

Naffie is a trained medical doctor in the United States where she resides for the past decade. She last saw her brother on the morning of the day he was going to die. It was a routine for Koro to drop her to school, she said.

On this day, the 33-year old Koro told her that it was going to be a long day for him because Yahya Jammeh was going to travel and he was going to be at the airport.

Koro left but Naffie had no idea that her only brother had just said his final goodbye. On the night of that Friday, Koro would be found dead along the Jambur highway.

His charred remains were found in his tinted vehicle. Several witnesses who went to the scene including former army chief, Babucarr Jatta, said the accident was staged.

“We chose to remember him not the way he died but how he lived his life…” Naffie said.  “Koro was a very funny man. Not a lot of people knew that about him. He loved his country and he was very disciplined. And that is how we would like to remember him, not how he died.”

The Ceesay family established a foundation in the name of Koro which has been donating medical consumables to Gambians for four years. She had flown into the country to offer such medical services to the people.

Her arrival coincided with the testimony of Edward Singhatey, the man accused of participation in the murder of his brother. That was the second time Naffie saw Edward. The first was when he came to their house with his colleagues after Koro’s death.

Early suspicions

On February 28, a former soldier who now serves the Gambia Immigration, confessed to Koro’s murder. Alagie Kanyi said the crime scene was the house of former local government minister Yankuba Touray. The architects, according to Kanyi, were Edward Singhatey, vice president at the time, Peter Singhatey and Yankuba Touray.

Yankuba appeared before the Truth Commission on June 26 but refused to testify on claims that he has constitutional immunity. He was immediately arrested and is currently being tried for Koro’s murder. Peter is yet to appear. However, Edward who appeared denied any knowledge of Koro’s death.

Even before Kanyi’s testimony, there were testimonies that the military Government was complicit in the murder of Koro. The incident, according to the justice minister at the time, Mustapha Marong, was never investigated. Marong testified before the Truth Commission on April 16.

“I believe his death was connected to the $35 million dollars that Captain Ebou Jalo negotiated on behalf of the Government with Exim Bank of Taiwan…,” said Marong.

“Most of the civilian ministers in the cabinet thought Koro was murdered.”

Marong said it was unusual and not in accordance with proper procedure that the loan agreement was negotiated with by Jalo and not the former finance minister.

It was unclear though why Koro was left out of the negotiation but there were suspicions that he would not have approved how the money obtained was going to be used.

“I have no expectations of Edward”

Prior to his appearance, various witnesses before the Truth Commission had established what appeared like an airtight evidence of how Koro died.

In addition to the suspicions and Kanyi’s confessions, two orderlies of Edward, Lamin S. Marong and Lamin Fatty said they have dropped him at Yankuba’s house on the day of the murder.

The orderlies of Yankuba had also testified that they were sent on a surveillance mission at the seaside for an “unestablished threat”. Some of them had no guns. Ahmed Jangom, also an orderly of Yankuba, said he saw Edward at Touray’s house on the day of the murder.

And Lamin Ndure, the driver of Yankuba Touray, also said he dropped Touray’s wife at Edward’s house, suggesting the “crime scene” was being cleared for “murder”.  Koro’s family also brought to the Commission what appeared like a motive. Bajen Ceesay Jaiteh, Koro sister, said Edward was not in good terms with his brother and had once threatened to kill him, a charge Edward denied.

But Edward said his orderlies may have dropped him at Touray’s house but not on that particular day. His alibi was that he was home from airport.

After his testimony, several people were unimpressed with “Edward’s truth”. Among them is Madi Jobarteh, a leading Gambian rights activist. Jobarteh said the ex-Gambian vice president should be arrested for an attempt to mislead the Commission.

Koro’s sister Naffie shared Madi’s view that Edward was not truthful.

“I believe he murdered Koro,” said Naffie.  

Naffie said his family have come into this testimony without expecting anything from Edward.  From his testimony, Edward has totally no idea how Koro may have died. However, he appeared to have insinuated that he may have been involved in former President Yahya Jammeh’s financing of rebellion in Casamance.

He said Jammeh once brought up that issue in the presence of Koro, him and Tumbul Tamba. Both Tumbul and Koro died. With likelihood of Jammeh not testifying before the Commission, another dead end.

“For him to insinuate that my brother was killed by rebels from Casamance. That is too low even for a guy like him,” said Naffie.

“But this is his strategy. He is trying to throw a lot of garbage out there hoping people will believe it.”

Madi shared a similar view.

“Edward never said Koro stole the money. He never said Koro refused to give the money to the Casamance bandits or anything else. He never said Koro ever objected to Yahya Jammeh to give the money to the bandits,” said Madi.

“Rather, Edward just mentioned the money and then immediately jumped to the border closure issue. So where is the money connection to Koro leading to his death?”

“Forgiveness is not for him”

As Edward pleaded for forgiveness for crimes he had committed, Koro’s family had already started walking away. Naffie said even if he had claimed knowledge of Koro’s murder, their family had already moved on.

“Forgiveness is not for the villain or the perpetrator. It is the victim’s way of getting their power back… It is a path you choose to take. My family already chose to take this path a long time ago, independent of what Edward has to say because he does not get to dictate when my family heals. We had already forgiven because forgiveness gives the victims power back… If you stay hating the person, then the person has power over you and your emotions,” said Naffie.

For followers of the Commission, many had hoped Edward’s appearance would have offered some insight into the murder of Koro. Meanwhile, the mystery over the circumstances surrounding the only assassination of a state minister in Gambia continues.

Naffie has no doubt justice will be served.

“Whatever was done in the dark will someday come to light,” she said.

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