Women of Substance





Some thoughts on "This Struggle”

By Fatou Jaw Manneh
Few years after the  military took over in The Gambia in 1994, I was tipped off by some Daily Observer journalists that part of the junta was in Washington, D.C. to lay a case before the US government about their legitimacy. I was given their address and I met with the late Koro Ceesay and Ebou Jallow. Probably they were more than two, but if I remember right, I met with former Army Captain Ebou Jallow and Koro Ceesay for the first time. Ebou Jallow was a very polite person. He was the spokesperson for the Junta then and looked nothing military in his grey or was it mustard colored suit. Koro Ceesay was hard on me. What do you want to know, he asked. These boys are a “military with a difference”, were some of the words that stuck with me since his death. Koro was the newly appointed civilian with the AFPRC junta as Finance minister from 1995 to his death in May, 22 1995.

Koro never knew I was on the same page with him then. I was sick and tired of the Jawara government, but all my journalist friends back home were skeptical and doubted very seriously if the military boys would ever adhere to the timetable of handing over the government to democratic rule. I could not really remember any fruitful discussion with Koro, except his reiterating that the military boys, Yahya Jammeh and his gang, were going to care for the people. They were different and would adhere to their slogan of “Equality, Transparency and Accountability.” My former boss Kenneth Best was bundled and thrown back at Charles Taylor in Liberia, whom and where he was running from; for persistently asking the junta that question: “When shall you return to the barracks?”The military junta’s then-vice chairman Sana Sabally was causing havoc on the civilian population; from ex-ministers, drivers to Alkalos to ordinary citizens. Sana Sabally was the brute of the day then. I still remember the observer caption of his expulsion from the APRC leadership. “The Mighty Sana Sabally has fallen”: written by Dr. Ebrima Ceesay, then a journalist.

Koro was six years older than me, but he looked young, tall, slender and elitist. I did not like his approach or tone of speaking to me, but after I left the hotel, I had some relief. Thank God,  I said to myself, a little relief that all these confusion, fear and beatings of ordinary Gambians in the streets that I heard; with some civilians like Koro and Bakary Bunja (BB) Dabo, a former Foreign Affairs Minister in the PPP government, who joined the APRC junta government may enable some sanity to prevail. No Gambian ever approved of them being part of the junta, but simply we thought they could bring some calm, sense and help the military men focus strictly on the affairs of the country. How dreaming we were!! Few months later, I heard Koro was dead.Koro was not even shot to death. He was clobbered with a baseball bat, his head broken into pieces; and as if not enough, his dead body placed in his car and burnt to pieces. Come on Gambians, even the prophet Jesus in the hands of Pontius Pilate was said to be left on the cross for his followers and family to lay him to rest. Yep! Koro never had a “quick shot” at death. He was brutalized to death piece by piece. And later I heard BB Dabo had fled. This is not Rwanda, SierraLeone or Liberia now; this is The Gambia where you grow up without ever setting foot in the courts. When they say police then, it was a serious matter. You rarely heard of a brutal incident in The Gambia. That was when I decided to close my doors on tthe AFPRC. I closed my doors to their then-Washington, DC Consular Tombong Saidy who was a serious, kind, down-to-earth intelligent young man who was hired at the embassy after we gave Jawara hell during his last visit to promote a call for Diaspora Gambians to return home. This is the time when I stood up and started talking and protesting with friends in DC, what we now know as “the Struggle” – a fight to get rid of Gambia president Yahya Jammeh.

But as anything Gambian, any brutal or fatal behavior from Yahya Jammeh and his government, that occurred, we had lines of Gambians in defense of their barbaric acts. Anytime Yahya strikes, we have Gambians come to his defense. In Koro’s case, they accused him of being too ambitious and arrogant. He was planning to undermine them, so he had to be killed. Not fired or jailed, but break his head into pieces and burn to ashes. Yes at 33 years old, a promising, intelligent young man, whom I am sure, had huge plans for his country. I could never ever get over his posture talking to me in that DC hotel. I can never forget him; the overwhelming feeling I had was the manner in which Koro was killed. It fills my eyes now that I am visualizing him. What a loss to the country! It was there and then that I knew Gambia and Gambians had to brace up. We were going to witness hell on earth. Those who killed him were capable of anything, and to think that they were the ones running our country, was indeed scary. From then on, every other headline that comes out of The Gambia has been bad.

Making the job a bit easier for us at some point, the military junta started eliminating each other. Accusations of coups and counter coups ensued. They all weakened each other and to some point, we were left with just one Brute that is Yahya Jammeh. But as bad as things were going, Gambians would find excuses for him and his cronies. When I was arrested and detained at the NIA in 2007, some serious Gambians whom I have some serious admiration for, pleaded to me to write a letter to Yahya Jammeh and apologize to him so that the matter could wrap up fast. I refused. I told them I was not a song writer; any article with my name on it was written by me and me alone. Then I did my prayers to God already – Please Lord if I die, give my old mother and my two sons some strength to carry on. Friends, relatives and some citizens thought I was crazy. Some even quizzed me on Surah Iklas, curious to know if I could recite it or not. Yes they dubbed me crazy and some came purposely to check on me and quizzed me to verify if I had gone crazy.

And so I lost most of them and my family to “the Struggle”. Some dubbed me a lesbian/gay because there was no way a Gambian woman could resist Yaya Jammeh, or his job offers. Can you imagine the money, the travels, the little black car, an apartment at TAF’s? What woman would turn her back on all that? Even Zeinab wants to work with you dear, they would say to me. Please talk to Yahya, my sister, some NIA officers advised. You can even work with us here. We love you and we have a good rapport. Please talk to him. He wants to talk to you. I told them any man who wants to talk to me is going to meet me at my father’s house not at a detention center. I was horrified. Chei! The Gambia has changed. All the normal is now the abnormal. It is all about greed, greed and greed and selfishness, no one cares about integrity. Yahya kills their husbands and uncles and he comes with a few thousands to the funeral and rolls out with the widow if she is any beautiful, all in the name of helping the deceased family. Everything decent I know about The Gambia as a country has disappeared and disintegrated into thin air. The Gambia is all about Yahya Jammeh, APRC and his cronies. You are either with them or you are not. Anything that will kill your spirit and make you forget Jammeh, Gambians will employ.

I came back to the US and we still prod on. Take ten steps forward with our fight against Yahya Jammeh and then some 50 steps backward as we see some respectable friends and relatives each line up for his jobs, because they are “ patriotic”, “love and want to develop their country”, or “ “want to get us some insider information”. These hirings and firings got this struggle back and down. When some so-called “respectable” people got hired, people doubt why we complain about our friends and educated Gambians taking the job to develop the country. When they get fired, they run back to us claiming being victims with bogus claims of having some inside information that will take us forward. Over fifteen years I have been watching runaway soldiers, military and civilians alike, coming back “with insider information” which we can never put our hands on. We all know what Yahya is about. I have records of some of these ministers and appointees who had never sat with him to discuss anything. Yahya kills people he hates, and the rest, the ones he probably just dislikes, he detains. The ones he hires for the government portfolios, he keeps them just as civilian faces in a quasi military government and dictates to them as necessary, and as long as they are picking some money after him, everything will be alright.

With the Gambian opposition spineless on the ground, battered by a president and government hell bent on destroying any effort they (the opposition) can make, by arresting their party members and leaders and bogging them down with jails and court orders that they can never escape, without money and with majority of those who support them on the ground all fearful, with their inability to come together, and with some sophisticated undermining within, they have been rendered toothless and weightless. Jammeh cronies are all so self-centered and looking after their own interests that they do not go near any opposition members except to destroy them. The editorial that came from Halifa Sallah regarding the struggle is way beyond me. I am yet to recover from it. In as much as he disagrees with our style and take on Gambian politics, that editorial really almost served its purpose: to frustrate, and to create a wedge between, Gambians on the ground and those in the Diaspora. It really serves its purpose. Not only does it create a serious misunderstanding and lack of respect from our comrades on the ground, but it is chilling to the core to realize that only when we think we are complementing efforts on the ground, some form of discouragement emerges from a senior politician whom we all once loved and respected and  thought all along was on the same page with us regarding dealing with the brutal Jammeh government.

The diaspora is equally important in "this struggle" against Jammeh. We almost run the country economically. Without our remittances to The Gambia, how many families will be able to put a meal on the table. The Diaspora Gambians are those with some minimum freedom, that is, if you can overcome the outcries of family members against joining “the struggle”. We pounce on Yahya Jammeh as we please word for word and now, blow by blow. At least we are pragmatic because we are not under the clutches of Yahya Jammeh. We have some advantages over Gambians on the ground. We are a large force that should not and cannot be ignored. We have the access to technology and we can create hell for Yahya Jammeh. Facebook has now become the toughest battle ground for ideas with regards to “the struggle”. Now sports enthusiasts, spies, dissenters, supporters of Jammeh, elites and school dropouts are all battling for the space for our specific interests. Some of us are there for the “struggle”, whilst some are there looking for romantic interests, love and relationships, some are spying on us, and we spying on them and some we can never tell who they are or what they stand for. Life goes on.

Sometimes, as dissenters, our points get across and we get the upper hand, and sometimes our big outfits fill our facebook screens and we cannot say no to any. But for over 15 years, we are slowly peeling off the mystery that surrounds Yahya Jammeh, but at a cost. We have many organizations, all headed by the same people, the same constitution, by-laws and all in the name of the struggle - however, putting a structure and face to the struggle continues to become elusive. Each of these organizations has a set of people whom they want to lead the struggle. Don’t mind that these faces are some old time Yahya Jammeh cohorts. They are coming from Jammeh’s cabal so they must be big, rich “with some insider information”. Anytime we expect “insider information”, it turns out to be nothing but lies hatched against each other to reach Jammeh. Petty stuff unfortunately making headlines. Nothing helpful to us in anyway.  Each has a set of Gambians they like and think best represent us, under categories best known to them. This is not the only setback in the Diaspora. As each month brings us a newcomer into "the struggle”, we automatically erase all caution to the very people who once before had gotten and maintained their government jobs by calling us haters, losers and unpatriotic. Anytime we have a surge of these newcomers with “inside information”, confusion ensues, debates get complicated and as we all pick and choose who joins the camp against Yahya’s camp. And as armchair revolutionaries, we can sensationalize! Sometimes obstructive to our cause. Forgetting that most of these folks did not resign, they got fired! And if no more chances existed for ass kissing, then they run away claiming we need them most because they have in-depth information that will help us get further in "this struggle". Some only to turn out to be spies for the very Yahya Jammeh we struggle hard to keep them from. I have seen it all and it is a turn off. We break our necks over nothing. Create deeper divisions and confusions and render the struggle nothing but a name and a cause to vent our frustrations. Just like Gambians have excuses for all their malfeasance on the ground, so it is for those in the Diaspora, who make excuses for them as to why we need them to take a lead because they have some classified inside information. We need everyone, every defector, but we have to prioritize , think deep and hard sometimes. Many a time I wonder, what we really stand for. Who we really are and how we expect to achieve our goals with all these distractions from promoters and abettors of this Yahya Jammeh regime. And we have some of  these bogus organizations, some just 2-3 member persons,  for the "struggle", cash on our names in the name of the struggle. Scammers and white collar criminals cashing up on our names with no central body to bring them into account.But as everything Gambian, we go for the glossy. Taff Taff Rekk.

There is always a point when we can, as individuals, say enough is enough. And for the first time in over 15 years, I am thinking of hitting the back pedal to this “Gambian Struggle”!! We have to gather strength and move on. But then again we can carry through on the Raleigh Accord,form a committee with no former government officials, party affiliates or organizational heads. Everyone in this struggle is fit to be in this committee, but we have to keep it simple and clean. Choose some simple, sensible and dedicated folks as “elders”, who will just represent us in the Diaspora. Be the formal voice for the struggle. Former Jawara officials, former Yahya Jammeh officials, and the rest of us, can be foot soldiers, concentrate on what we do best. That is: harangue Yaya Jammeh!! Unless we make this committee simple, we shall run into roadblocks as some people mistake the collective efforts and choices for a government in waiting, to be coronated. This committee can work with all of these organization heads, the media and can formally be the broker and structural communications lines between us and the opposition on the ground or any group of individuals that have the same objective. It needs to be free of opposition party members, partisans and affiliates. All those who are heads of organizations or members of diaspora organizations shall resign from their organizations as they join this group of overseers. No committee member shall come from the ground in The Gambia to limit targets, arrests and distractions. They only have to help and coordinate with individuals and opposition party officials on the ground, all working cohesively to put pressure on Yahya Jammeh on  the ground. The Diaspora needs to do some vigorous fundraising, all in the aim of strengthening the opposition on the ground. Without finances it will be hard to roll the dice of effective change. 

Lastly a list of suggesting names for a simple 10-20 member committee membership I would like “the struggle" to consider ( just an example, just an example , just an example) USA: Dr. Abdoulie Saine, Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow, Falai Baldeh, Alkali Conteh , Mathew K. Jallow, Momodou Krubally,  Kebba Foon, Sigga Jagne, Yero Jallow, Musa Jeng, Ousainou Mbenga, (and maybe Sophie Ceesay and Fatoumatta Singhateh)Scandinavia: Koro Sallah, Jainaba Bah, Ndey Jobarteh, England: Malik Kah, Sarjo Baying, Abdoulie Jobe, Dr. Ebrima Ceesay (Yankuba Darboe , Lamin J Darboe, Assan Martin: some lawyers to help with the legal aspect of it) . Scotland: Alieu Ceesay. Africa: D. A Jawo, Joe Sambou. Or Just 10 out of the above will do.  I do not know the background of some of these people listed above even though I am familiar with what they do regarding "the struggle". If any person is affiliated with any organization, they should resign from any party or organization to limit conflicts of interest. This is just a thought ! An opinion and nothing more.Many other members can come up as long as their appointment will not render us irrelevant and incredible. Unless we make this selection process as simple as possible, we are not going anywhere and thus assuring the longevity of the Jammeh regime!   

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