Women of Substance

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BREAKING OMERTÀ – PART II:

In Response to Modou Sarho’s (Dumo) Last Balang Baa Article

by Jainaba Bah, Sweden

As I start jotting down a continuation from my last article, 20 children between the ages of six or seven, are among 26 victims of a mass shooting at a suburban Connecticut elementary school, in one of the worst shooting sprees in US history. There is much pain in losing a loved one and no bigger tragedy than a parent burying their child. May their souls rest in perfect peace!

Hugo Chavez has announced a successor Nicolas Maduro, as he gets poised for another round of battle with “rebel cells “. Cancer cells are after all, disobedient workers refusing to follow protocol!

Madiba is in hospital putting a nation and the world on alert, praying for his continued good health.

Baba Leigh is in custody and Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh’s integrity is under the microscope. I guess mine too will be soon, if not already. Am I worried? The answer lies embedded in the series of articles I have promised to deliver to Maafanta. Even when they seem unconnected to the very hot issues on the table, I still urge you to read them. I will be happy if you do. After all, the search for Truth is our collective responsibility; each and every one of us.

These are trying times, Compatriots!

For those who have been waiting for the continuation of this narrative, I appeal to you to exercise patience! Facts must be corroborated and individuals’ approvals are to be sought before the storyline is dispatched for publication.

I would like to emphasize that this is neither an auto-biography nor the writing of a biography. It is also in no measure the complete story of MOJA-G. Militants or former activists of the Movement for Justice in Africa-Gambia (MOJA-G) would have to compile such a work together when they choose to. Without doubt it will be worth reading and future generations of our children and their children will benefit from the lessons drawn by a group of young people who had big dreams for their Country - A Nation called The Gambia. Whether those dreams came to fruition or not will be judged by history, I humbly assume.

This narrative if you may wish can be read as a simple prelude. Nothing more, nothing less!

My trip with Dumo for a country tour never was to take place. Not yet! This was Dumo’s 4th arrest. You see Dumo is a personification of Resistance. A resistance; born out of the desire to seek justice and define justice, what ever the cost. He indeed, paid a heavy price!

Dumo’s first arrest was in 1971 at St Augustine’s High School. He was in Form 3. During an inter-house sports event at McCarthy Square, the police were on duty at the Quadrangle gate. As events unfolded the officers stepped in for crowd control. Dumo saw no reason for the crowd to be controlled. In the midst of the ensued turmoil he ended up fighting with the police. He was a Black Panther militant at the time.

In 1979, he was again arrested, suspected of distributing the underground publication: The Voice of the Future and held at the Remand Wing of the Mile II Central Prison for two weeks. He was charged with sedition in a trial which dragged on for thirteen months. He was released and as he awaited judgment (Gibbi Janneh was his lawyer at the Kanifing Magistrate’s Court where the late Mr. Edward C, Sow also known as Pa Sow presided over the case), Dumo traveled to Dakar, in order to take a break from all the pressures during the court’s recess. He duly returned to follow the proceedings towards judgment. He was freed from all counts and later he moved to stay in Brikama getting employment with Balfour Beatty, during the construction of the Brikama College where he worked closely with the late Saihou Sumareh.

Dumo Sarho’s third arrest came in 1981. This in relation to the putsch! He was suspected of knowing something”. On September 5th, he was once again picked by Jatta Baldeh, an SB –Special Branch officer posted at Serrekunda Police Station together with some armed policemen led by Abba Faburay. First taken to the Serrekunda Police Station and later to Banjul Police Headquarters, where Samba Bah awaited his arrival. During the interrogation, Dumo was badly beaten and left hanging on his wrists. With numb hands, a swollen face, blood all over his face and body, witnesses can attest to this, he was taken to the Bakau Police Depot where he started another detention period of 365 days x 2!

Here, one has to pause and recollect even if for a second in time and space the events of Thursday, July 30th, 1981.

Contrary to popular belief and wild speculation, The Movement for Justice in África –Gambia (MOJA-G) was NOT involved in the planning of the abortive coup. On the morning of that eventful day, it was Saikou Samateh (Saiks) who woke Tijan Koro Sallah from bed and informed him about the Coup.

On that same day MOJA-G militants were to have a meeting for a final discussion before moving to the country-side. All activists and leading members were assigned a certain regional area to cover for political work. Saiks was going to travel to the Badibus with Koro. He was to move first and Koro was to follow later. This plan was never executed. It was disrupted by the news of the coup.

Upon arrival of comrades, the meeting was convened but the agenda changed to discussing the coup. The final resolution was: MOJA-G condemned the coup!Certain people in that meeting expressed their individual positions: that if Senegalese forces enter the country to suppress the coup, which they saw coming, then, there was the likelihood they would pick up arms; not to defend the coup but to defend the sovereignty of the Gambian Nation. And that was exactly what many of them did. When Senegalese forces stepped foot on Gambian soil what they met was never a calculus in their arithmetic. They were met with Balang Baa: RESISTANCE!

MOJA-G had some contacts in the barracks, that is to say members. Mustapha Danso was one among them. In as much as speculation has it that the Movement at one time or the other contemplated on initiating/staging a military coup, this interest never lasted long as many people are made to believe. The truth is those militants who were aware of the planning of a military coup by Kukoi were working in the camp to discourage that from happening, waking up from the Mustapha Danso/Eku Mahoney drama.

Ousman Manjang was not with MOJA-G at the time of the coup. This may be surprising to many, but fact is: a meeting in Sukuta to discuss how to forge a way forward for the Movement resulted in Ousman Manjang’s resignation. A temporary resignation one must hasten to add.

According to a very close source, Tijan Koro Sallah was shot in Banjul in an attempt to liberate the city. At the time he was with Kukoi and Danso among others. That was when he ( Koro) recommended that to Free Banjul they needed more men and arms, and since Danso was a militarty man with the know-how, he should go to Bakau Barracks and bring arms and men. But Kukoi insisted he (Kukoi) will do that. That was the last time they saw him. The next time they heard from him was from an abandoned transmitter.  Kukoi has a story to tell Gambians!

Moving towards the Central Bank, Tijan Koro Sallah was shot in the stomach. In a critical condition of near death experience, Mustapha Danso took Koro Sallah to the RVH and was staying guard at his bed 24/7. As Koro’s condition stabilized and the Senegalese forces were everywhere, Danso moved Koro to one of his (Koro’s) sister’s place in Perseverance. From there, being on security alert, Koro was moved to his other Sister’s place in (Afdye) Half-die, at the Imam’s home. Another source close to Koro disclosed that Koro was to spend some days at the family compound at Buckle Street. I was told his Mom Ya Yandeh Nyane, (May Her soul rest in perfect peace! Aameen!) guarded & nursed Koro day and night, protecting him from the patrol searchers. That one day she barricaded herself at the compound gate offering to give her life in exchange for Koro’s and refusing to let in any patrol officer. The same source further explained that Koro Sallah’s own elder brother, Abou Sallah (same Mom & Dad) was a die-hard PPP stalwart. He had sworn Koro must be handed over to the authorities dead or alive! A family tragedy unfolded when their younger brother Nyanga Sallah (RIP) took a bullet and died instantly for no fault of his but simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Another source said he suffocated with others as they were grouped together in custody. Femi Jeng, Gambia’s legendary host of the program “Your Quiz Competitors” on Friday evenings at Radio Gambia also met a similar fate: death from suffocation. Nyanga Sallah was on vacation from Holland.

Having lost one son and ready to give her live to save the other this AMAZING WOMAN, Ya Yandeh Nyane organized an escape route for her severely wounded son. On an unsuspecting night, a fisherman with a canoe paddled Tijan Koro Sallah (in the guise of a moor) over the waves of the Atlantic to the border into Senegal.

I have asked Koro to give me a personal account of exactly what expired in his life during those fateful days between July 30th and August 6th 1981. But he gently declined, giving security reasons. I sent him the notes written here: to confirm or reject. His comments read:

Greetings,
I have seen the information and issues raised. 
Yes it is important that issues and events raised are discussed. 
The nature of the crisis of Moja demands that a disciplined environment and condition is created before a responsible dialog of our common past, possible present and future. My advice at this stage is to start with developing a code of conduct that will guide the internal and external dialog. 

The nature of the crisis at home, the increasing fragmentation of the political opposition at home, the Diaspora and the Gambian masses requires self critical analysis of the positive and negative experiences of our past and a way forward.   
Best regards 
Koro

When I insisted that I want his ok before I could dispatch the article and he knew I really wanted to send away the piece he told me “it’s ok,” that he will take what ever price comes with that! I was laughing with him on the phone, but when we finished, I sat down and wept! The moment of truth is here….am I jeopardizing his life? Should duty to country be a higher call than staying faithful to our avowed bonding? Time will tell! He knows, (like any other MOJA-G militant or non-member mentioned here) he has the freedom to come out plain and set the record straight.

Koro Sallah gave his first born son the twin names of his fallen comrade and younger brother. I held the baby in my arms as the Imam recited The Fathiha, whispered in his cute ears and later announced to the gathering the name of such a bundle of joy: Mustapha-Nyanga: after the late Mustapha Danso and the late Nyanga Sallah (Both RIP!)

In the articles to follow I will give you a brief description of who Tijan Koro Sallah is. The man: I have had the fortune to live with him in a collective and seen him at very close quarters; a view that very few individuals have had access to.

Yes, after that fourth arrest, my trip with Dumo for a country tour is yet to take place, but I immediately hit the road with Comrade Saikou Samateh. We call him Saiks or Shakes for Shakespeare because he loves writing poetry. Poetry, depicting struggle. Here is one of them with his courtesy:

Be Firm

“Be firm

Brother be Firm

Be Firm Sister

The hurricane is blowing, be firm

The wind is blowing, be firm brother

He who is firm shall never perish.

Be firm to your beliefs sister

Hold firm to your beliefs brother

She who is firm shall never perish.

Be Firm

Sister be firm

Be firm brother

For he who is firm shall never perish”

Later we renamed Saiks Comrade Ho after the Vietnamese hero and icon Ho Chi Minh. Reason: 1) Clandestine work. 2)He is tall and very skinny, likes to smoke. Works very hard, dedicated and never complains. The trek with Saiks took us less than a week and we covered only a fraction of the original plan. We traveled from Barra to Berending, to Darsilami (North Bank), where we met Sister Fatou Banja. She was also a MOJA-G member working with the Community Development Programme. If I remember correctly, her project involved salt-making. She was very reserved and we used to visit her when she comes home in Dippakunda, west of Serrekunda marketplace. From Darsilami we traveled to Kerewan, crossed the bridge and took another transport which dropped us on the highway. We started walking to Badibu Mandori, where Saiks’ maternal Grandmother hails from. We convened a meeting with the Mandori cell and then continued by foot to Badibu Salikenye (home to both Saiks’ parents and the late Sheriff Mustapha Dibba). There too we had a meeting with the existing group. Our journey took us through many tiny hamlets and villages around that area. Meeting different cells of able-bodied young men with much hope: the hope for a better tomorrow; one that would transform their communities and improve their lives for the better. We addressed the need for their full participation in the work at hand. I remember being inspired by Cabral, his epic “Tell no lies, Claim no easy Victories” was resonating in my head all the time! And I delivered my lines to every cell gathering as if I was standing with Amilcar Cabral when he was addressing his comrades in arms in Baafata. Saiks being a “son of the place” made our work much easier than anticipated. He connected with everybody and the most remarkable observation I made on that trip was The Mutual Trust we shared with the people. That experience later made better sense to me when I got a book from Nana Grey Johnson: Pedagogy of the oppressed.

On our return leg we dropped off at Kuntaya. Had a meeting and continued to Sambakala on a van. From Sambakala it was by foot through Kerr Cherno (Sare Cherno Alhaji Baaba), Kerr Mam’Ma(Sare Mam’Ma) and to Sika. We spent a night in Sika where we had a meeting with the village cell members. But first we were treated to a sumptuous dinner. It was chicken “janing’dõ” and a very tasty one with bara maano(chicken stew with home-grown rice) . As I sat eating with the women I could imagine Saiks taking epicurean pleasure in each spoonful. We’ve been eating raw groundnuts, corned beef and tapalapa most of the time. Throughout the journey, we were accommodated with a lot of hospitality at what our hosts could afford. When we ate a hot meal it was mostly futô/chéré/lachiri with salt and hot water or simple plain rice and some watery domoda. That was the best they could afford, the little they had, and they shared everything with us. That evening in Sika, after a long bath with Astral (my favourite soap of all times), it was like heaven putting my head on a pillow and closing my eyes on a bed.

The next morning we were on track again, by foot to Juffureh, Albreda and Sitanungku. My feet had blisters and the Bata sandals I was wearing have aged a century. Throughout the journey we were given lots of groundnuts as gifts. I remember telling Saiks I was going to either dump some on the way for passer’s by, for hares, rabbits, monkeys and any other animal caring to nibble or just drop the whole lot in the next village. The weight was working my nerves. But delicious fantasy images of“plasas”,mbaxali gërrté” with okra & or jaxatu and “domoda” flooding my mind, hunger gnawing at my intestines I endured, heavily suppressing the urge to plead with Saiks to carry me on his back. On the outskirts of Sitanungku when an old truck offered to take us all the way to Barra it was like living in a dream. We were exhausted, dehydrated and very dirty covered with red dust. As the driver slowed down, we mustered our last energies, scrambled and flung ourselves and our backpacks in the rear….

To be continued……

"I AM A HO$TAGE OF MY CON$CIENCE!
THERE I$ NO RAN$OM THAT
CAN EVER $ET ME FREE!"  (Jainaba Bah)

© Balang Baa Publications 2012