Women of Substance






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

By Jainaba Bah (Sweden)

Recent dramatic events have made me consider whether it is worth continuing this narrative. The unknown fate of Imam Baba Leigh, the spine chilling revelations of Bai Lowe on Freedom Radio and the gruesome rape ordeal of a sixteen year old teenage girl and her two friends at the hands of mercenary thugs in Kanilai all had an overwhelming emotional impact on me. I have seriously pondered during these past weeks the relevance of my writings whilst heart wrenching atrocities continue being inflicted on innocent Gambians, especially the most vulnerable in our society, young girls. Yet, I feel it is compelling to share this story with all and sundry!  Most especially, I feel I owe it to all those Gambian women and men, friends of the Gambia who see themselves as true agents of social transformation. As our collective search for the truth continues and heinous stories of rape, torture and mutilated bodies dumped in wells churn our consciences, let us search in our innermost beings to find the hidden strengths and courage in each and every one of us. Findings that will lead us to not only recognize our voices in calling out for justice and standing up for the truth but findings that will inspire us realize our historic call and seriously exert concrete collective efforts to make the change expected of us, as true sons and daughters of a Sacrosanct Country. If it means torture we should be ready to pay the prize. Many have already walked that path, we are not alone! We will live long enough to narrate the story later.  If that call demands dear life, some of us must be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. Think about all those who throughout history have paid that price! Let us exploit our individual and collective revolutionary potential! This article is dedicated to all prisoners of conscience and all torture victims! Most especially: To Imam Baba Leigh! I feel your pain, I pray for you!  

"Torture" by Wislawa Szymborska

Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain,
it must eat and breathe air and sleep,
it has thin skin and blood right underneath,
an adequate stock of teeth and nails,
its bones are breakable, its joints are stretchable.
In tortures all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.
The body shudders as it shuddered
before the founding of Rome and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are as they were, it's just the earth that's grown smaller,
and whatever happens seems right on the other side of the wall.

Nothing has changed. It's just that there are more people,
besides the old offenses new ones have appeared,
real, imaginary, temporary, and none,
but the howl with which the body responds to them,
was, is and ever will be a howl of innocence
according to the time-honored scale and tonality.

Nothing has changed. Maybe just the manners, ceremonies, dances.
Yet the movement of the hands in protecting the head is the same.
The body writhes, jerks and tries to pull away,
its legs give out, it falls, the knees fly up,
it turns blue, swells, salivates and bleeds.

Nothing has changed. Except for the course of boundaries,
the line of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers.
Amid these landscapes traipses the soul,
disappears, comes back, draws nearer, moves away,
alien to itself, elusive, at times certain, at others uncertain of its own existence,
while the body is and is and is
and has no place of its own.

Torture is one of the most extreme forms of human violence. As a victim it strips you of all self-worth leaving you with a dramatic feeling of helplessness. Think about being degraded and brought within an inch of your life! Well, Daba Marena and his colleagues did devise a method, or rightly, methods of inflicting pain. Excruciating pain: violence trauma, cruel, inhuman, ruthless and degrading.

I stuck to my version of not knowing a B from a Bull´s foot of what I was being interrogated on. I had no idea or clue as to what Sajo Jallow was up to in terms of planning treason or subversion. I had no idea where the ORS paper found at my place came from and I had no idea as to what MOJA-G stands for! As the torture continued unabated, death would have been most welcomed! My nose started to bleed profusely. A vein must have ruptured due to the pressure exerted by high voltage electricity the body is not used to. Both Abou Njie and Secka Bai rushed to stop the dripping blood from reaching my dress with rags that looked like they were retrieved from an auto-mechanic’s greasy toolbox. I have stopped hearing the waves from the Atlantic Ocean. I have stopped hearing my own crying voice. This was worse pain than female circumcision; that ritual rite where a part of your body is sliced away with a knife/razor blade by a pair of experienced hands whilst a dozen others pin you down to the ground. I knew I had descended in hell! Finally with one heavy wind, Daba Marena brought the handle to a stop and there was complete silence...... It took a long moment before I realized the torture has ended... My body was like set on fire. I felt so sore! Daba Marena turned around in the front seat he was occupying, the machine was bundled up by Abou Njie and tucked away, Sowe started the car engine and we headed back to Banjul, Buckle Street. No one uttered a word; it was a resonating silence all the way. Upon arrival, the gates opened and I was ushered to my corner and made to sit down.  My legs could not carry me and literally I was carried under the arms by Abou Njie and Secka Bai. That was not a pretty sight to look at. The officers on duty started whispering and speaking in low voices. One phrase that came out succinctly clear was: "She was taken to Talk-True School".  Then the obvious follow-up question: "Waaxnaam?" (Did she spill the beans?) . Someone came back later and revealed that Sowe the driver has informed them I had kept to my story..... “I have no idea" ..... The officers at the CID office started showing signs of concern. Earlier they had a detached attitude towards me, unless when it came to sharing my food (which they enjoyed with relish), now they were sort of showing sympathy. I lay stretched out on the bench facing the wall and my back to the rest of the office when I felt some wetness on my arm...a closer inspection revealed oozing blood from my right ear. I started to sob. The sobs turned to crying. I wailed! Nobody said a word. I was left to exhaust my lungs. I felt miserable. That day I went on hunger strike. I refused to touch my breakfast that was waiting for me.  Lunch came and I was at my corner and did not look at the bowl. Dinner came and I was again crying. The officers asked me if they could give away the food to the fitters who worked in the yard and I nodded.  Night fell and I could not move to go take my routine shower. I just lay on the bench and tears were streaming down my cheeks. Occasionally, I would blow my nose. Strains of blood were evident on the toilet paper.  Sunday morning: no shower, no breakfast.  I started running a fever.  No lunch, no dinner! At night fall, no shower, more tears. I was wide awake for the best part of the night. My anger rises, reaches a peak and ebbs away in to sobs of helplessness. By the wee hours of Monday my fever was so high I was ready to embrace an episode of delirium.  My body was numb.  The female constable escorted me and with heavy faltering steps I made it to the tap in the yard. Under gushing waters I washed my hair and took a purification bath. I realized I had lost much weight in less than a week.  

My breakfast came and I refused to touch it. One of the constables was urging me to eat when Sidney Riley walked in. He took a look at me and told the officers to inform Daba Marena & Co. that I should be taken to the hospital right away.  In a Range Rover I was driven to RVH. Dr. Adama Sallah has just returned from Sweden as a Pediatrician.  He was on duty at the out-patient clinic. When it was my turn to meet him All three (Daba, Abou and Secka) followed right behind me. We entered the doctor's room and Dr. Sallah inquired my ailment. I told him I need my privacy and would not say a word if my guards are present. Dr.  Sallah agreed that according to medical praxis I have a right to  a moment with him in private. He asked them if they could excuse us and wait outside. Between sobs I narrated my story to the doctor, who was horrified at my burnt thumbs and who I guess never expected Gambian democracy could look so ugly. He looked into my nose and ears; did some physical examinations like checking for my reflexes by hitting my knees (knee-jerk response) and looking for other bodily harm. He asked if I had been subjected to any other violence like sexual assault and I said:"NO!” I was twenty years and my curiosity & knowledge at the time never ventured beyond my High School Biology notes. The thought of the possibility of such a nightmare scenario made me cringe with fear and disgust. I swore to myself that I would take my life if that were to happen. I would rather die. Fortunately, I was spared that ordeal! Dr. Sallah wrote some prescription drugs. He also wrote and signed under a health certificate in which he stated that after his examination he has observed torture marks of severe burnt skin and he could verify that I was subjected to electric shock torture. That blood has clotted in my right ear and that I had reported having bled from the nose during the torture. I folded the certificate and placed it in my bra, took the prescription paper and walked out as the Doctor stood by shocked by the revelation made by his last patient. Immediately I closed the door Daba Marena jumped on the prescription paper. He read it and understood we are to collect some Paracetamol and antibiotics (Penicillin) at the out-patient pharmacy. Still under escort we walked to the window and I received my drugs. We drove back to Head quarters and Lo and Behold My Mom was standing at the CID office entrance! She has finally been allowed to enter the CID office and visit me. One look at my Mom and my heart sank to the ground. The last thing I wanted was for her to see me in the wretched state I was in. I felt bad; I have brought her much anguish and pain. I could see she has been crying a lot. One look at me and tears started rushing down her face.  She wept and told me I was sending her on a walk to the here-after - Laxara - in Pularr (Laxara tépéré)? Meaning people have to die first before they can reach the here after, but it seemed I wanted her to walk on foot in reaching that destination whilst living.  I pulled a brave face. I did not want my Mom to see me broken down. Just as she was wiping her eyes so walked in my three high school friends: Lauretta Sowe(UN), Lucy Thomasi (MRC) (Marcel Thomasi's Sister) and Fatou Sanyang – present head of Women’s Bureau). They too have been allowed to visit me now. Later I was made to understand that my family and friends were visiting everyday, but everyday they were turned away, until that Monday! They all were anxious if I was ok and I told them I was not feeling well and had to seek care at the hospital. To which they thought it must have been Malaria - Blame the mosquitoes! I was relieved that I had taken a thorough bath that morning and they did not find me in my earlier sorry state. I could not bring myself to tell them what I have been subjected to. It was a price I paid, one that I was also ready to pay without self-pity, complaining or looking for sympathy. Anybody who declares war on the powers that be must in the same vein be ready to pay an equivalent or higher price. Sometimes that price comes with losing a job, arrests, imprisonment or exile. Many a time, the ultimate price comes with paying with one's life! Actually, this is the first time ever; I am giving a detailed narrative of what I had undergone during those fateful days at the Special Branch (SB) headquarters. My friends left for work and my Mom stayed a bit longer. She asked me why I was held in custody. I told her the police were after some newspaper publication editors and want me to give them info, but I have no idea as to their inquiry. Later as the charges became clearer to her from information the CID officers willingly offered to share with her, she there and then revoked her lifelong PPP membership.

As events were unfolding, Saikou Samateh (Saiks) and Buba Senghore (Bob) were frantically trying to locate a lawyer to get us out. They succeeded in getting Bai Modi Joof. A Lawyer with long robes and one worth his white wig! I was sitting at my usual corner, when one of "our trusted" officers came with a piece of paper for me from Sajo Jallow. Sajo was in his cell appealing almost to the point of begging that I should not break down whatever the cost! Of course his life was hanging on a thread, facing sedition, treason charges, conspiracy you name it, and it was stamped with his name! I wrote on the back of the paper that he should write his will and perform his last prayers as I have given the officers a library.  Sajo went frantic; totally berserk! He was almost going into a convulsion when I sent him a one liner "NOT TO WORRY!" which calmed his nerves. I knew at that moment I had not lost my sense of humour, the torture had not broken me down!

Ndura Njie brought me lunch that day.  She too was allowed to see me now. Our eyes met and her tears started flowing. She sat with me in silence. I told her I have lost my appetite but would eat later. As soon as Ndura left, then came one of the female officers.  She told me I was going to be released. I was not sure whether it was a prank or if that was really true.  Within half an hour I was informed I was free to walk, that I have been released with no charges being pressed against me. I felt nothing; neither joy nor sadness!

I walked out on Buckle Street and found Saiks and Bob waiting for me outside.

My first reaction was “ kui nôbu du fëñu”, meaning we were not supposed to be seen together. We shook hands. Saiks was having a fat grin on his face, both very happy to see me and the feeling was mutual. I was told we were going to Wellington Street where Lawyer Joof had his chambers. Upon arrival we found Pa Ousman Marong and Modou Mbaye Jabang seated. Their eyes were very red as if robbed with hot chili peppers. I guess mine too must have been the same if I had looked in a mirror. The Lawyer brought out our files which he read to us; files with photocopies of written statements. Sajo was still in custody. Bai Modi disclosed the contents of the statements: Modou Mbaye Jabang and Pa Ousman Marong had confessed to our torturers and told them exactly how they were involved in the clandestine work of The ORS (Organ of the Revolutionary Student). They have both explained in written detail the depth of their involvement. Pa Ousman was our typist and Jabang was the co-editor and a distributor of the ORS. They have explained about the cell formations and Jabang has given them a blueprint to some of our distribution network. Both have specified Sajo Jallow’s role in our grooming for the ORS founding and his leadership position in MOJA-G. When Bai Modi took my file he looked at me, stood up and shook my hand. He took a second look at me and became a bit emotional. He revealed that according to my file retrieved from the Special Branch the contents read: “ Jainaba have no idea about ORS or Moja” signed by Abou Njie! That meant I did not even volunteer to write a simple statement sentence. I borrowed the file and read the line to myself: “ Jainaba have no idea about Moja” (My emphasis). The last thing I wanted to do was correct that grammar!

We left the Lawyer’s premises and I have never seen a more beaten down Modou Mbaye and Pa Ousman Marong.  Jabang used to be this very energetic young man, smart, full with exuberance, confident to the point of arrogance....All of that simply deflated. He never became himself again from that moment onwards regarding the work we were doing. Pa Ousman was one of the most dedicated cadres we ever had. He was working at Elder Dempster and would help type both ORS articles and MOJA-G New Year Messages whole nights. Lawyer Bai Modi Joof told us that he believed the case would end there and he would work to get Sajo Jallow out. We parted and I headed to 11 Dobson Street. I placed the untouched lunch basket down and Ndura told me to head to the Atlantic and take a bath. That way I will wash away the evil of custody. I did just that. I washed the dress I was wearing, dried it and gave it away to a beggar, mother of twins at the Russel street turn-table. Sajo Jallow was held in custody for another three days and he too was finally released. His arrest later resulted in him being sacked from his Action-Aid job as Team-Leader. In the initial suspension letter he was instructed by Robin Poulton, Country Director of Action-Aid Team – Gambia (AATG) to hand over the company car (a Lada) keys, cash-flow box and  go sort out his “problems with the police!”

Dumo Sarho was at the time still languishing at Mile II prisons. Denied bail and without legal representation!

I went back to my Life Insurance classes as if nothing so dramatic ever happened in my life, poised to catch up with the group of what I have missed during my unceremonious absence. I had to report everyday at the CID office from 8:00 - 10:00.  It was during those days when Nana Grey Johnson gave me the book "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire. Recently I understand Nana is now a Cabinet Minister and this has provoked both disappointment and concern from certain quarters. Nana is one of Gambia's most celebrated intellectuals. He is not a Dr. Lenrie Peters but he is learned. No one can take that away from him. Did he join MOJA-G in our struggle for social justice because Jainaba Bah was arrested and tortured whilst working at the GNIC? NO! Did he commit class suicide to join hands with the forces of progress and bring about much longed for transformation in The Gambia, NO! Does Nana fit the late Achebe's definition of a true 'patriot' as one ‘who will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best from his people. He will be outspoken in condemnation of their shortcomings without giving way to superiority, despair or cynicism’. I don’t think so! Is Nana expected to know better? Of course! Should he resist the lures of power and money? Yes, we expect him to. But at the end of the day Nana never claimed to be the voice of integrity and courage, a voice that would speak against those in power; not under Jawara and I don’t see that coming any time soon, now that he (Nana) is serving directly in a cabinet, in order words; himself a symbol of power! I knew him as a simple and down-to-earth gentleman who took his job very seriously and worked hard at the Gambia National Insurance Corporation (GNIC). He loved poetry, writing and fishing. Those who can recall would remember him at Denton Bridge throwing his fishing line during his leisure hrs. I have never heard his name being connected to any embezzlement of funds or some shady deal. Nana is not the enemy! Simply call him a petite bourgeois and you’ll do us all justice!

Later we learnt from a reliable source at the Special Branch (SB) that Tombong Saidy and Mai Fatty were the ones who were first arrested and interrogated without being tortured. That Tombong did give info as to those whom he suspected were behind the ORS : Jainaba Bah & Modou Mbaye Jabang

(Tombong was our classmate at Saint Augustine's). But the real scoop for the Special Branch (SB) came from Mai Fatty who was at the material time a member of the ORS (NEVER MOJA-G)! Yes, Mai Ahmad Fatty! Both Jabang and I had on occasion delivered the ORS papers personally, foot-to-foot and hand-to-hand to Mai at James Senegal where he was residing as a senior student attending Muslim High School. Mai Fatty was supplying the police accurate information as to the exact inner workings of the ORS. According to the source, our arrest was a joint collaboration Mai had with the Police. He delivered our heads on a silver platter to the State agents of brutality and coercion without bating an eye.  When I read Mai's entrance on the political arena claiming to want to deliver Gambia from evil, I could not decide whether to check myself straight in to a psychiatric ward or simply pull an Alpha Robinson on him; meaning travel to Senegal and as they call it, "pray" him to the beach with the simple question: "HOW DARE YOU?”  I could have written a one paragraph article to all the online papers and the newspapers back home urging people to boycott Mai Fatty and his Party, but in a collective protracted struggle you keep your eye on the boll. Personal vendettas have no space and one should rise above self pity. I exercised restrain and simply ignored Mai Fatty. Mai you owe us an apology, especially Pa Ousman Marong, Modou Mbaye Jabang and my humble self! I do not urge you to scramble for some lawyer notes, nor should you come out with the line "I am innocent, it’s a fabrication". Be a man and own up to what you did! Speaking for myself, I will whole heartedly forgive you.  

 I was told Secka Bai is presently at Mile II serving a death sentence after being implicated in the Lang Tombong treason trial. A couple of weeks after penning down the last sentence in part IV of these article series, chilling revelations came from one Bai Lowe on Freedom Radio and Newspaper! Explaining in Alfred Hitchcock genre the gruesome death meted out to Daba Marena. In detailed accuracy Bai Lowe described to the world Daba Marena's last breaths on earth! An ordeal I would never have wished for him (Daba Marena) despite the gruesome ordeal I suffered at his hands! To Daba Marena's wife, children and extended family, I want you to know: with neither hatred nor vengeance, I hereby, and with a clean heart, forgive your husband/father/relative; Daba Marena for what he did to me. May his soul rest in peace! Aameen!


To be continued………..

© Balang Baa Publications 2013

            CAN EVER $ET ME FREE!"  (Jainaba Bah)

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