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By Nanama Keita

 I accidentally bumped into this former personal aide of President Jammeh recently at a bus station just adjacent to Yankee Stadium in New York. Arriving at the station with my phone out of battery, I easily picked the man out as a fellow African asking if he could please lend me his phone so I could tell my friend that I’m on my way. He kindly handed me the phone to make the call and in giving back the phone, I stole a second glance at the man’s face only to now see a more familiar face. “I know you from somewhere”, I quietly said as he received the phone. “Where”? He responded.

“In the Gambia, you’re either a soldier or an NIA officer that I’ve seen in the Gambia before,” I said. “Yeah, I used to serve as a presidential guard since 1994 till lately when I left,” he confirmed. I then introduced myself as a new member on the long list of country’s political exiles forced out by the prevailing heat.

Luckily, we’re all up for the same bus, and when we finally took our seats among group of unsuspecting passengers, we engaged in a marathon chat. The subject of our discussion was no different from the topic that dominates in any small or big gathering involving Gambians in diaspora – the seemingly unending dictatorship and deteriorating human rights conditions in the country.

The man spoke expressly on range of issues including the colorful reputation President Jammeh enjoys as engaging eccentric, the untold stories of arbitrary arrests and secret murders and Jammeh’s personal life behind the scene. One of the man’s lines made me feel sorry for those dreamers who believe that Jammeh could be tackled through democratic process – ballot box.

“During my time, there had never been a single free and fair election,” he said, adding: “I remembered during 1996 presidential elections, I was part of the very team that rigged that election even before the votes were cast.”

He described President Jammeh as a paranoid leader who would sometimes even fear his own shadow – a stark feature that’s exhibited by the president on daily basis with his weird executive decisions.

“On the outside, the president presents himself as a hero but in the inside, he’s a big coward and a radical”, said the ex-aide who added that the president had always pampered them with excessive and illegal allowances as a way of buying their loyalty. “We owed Gambians lot of unanswered questions, but also we owed a lot of money to the taxpayers”, the man confessed.

Our conversation later shifted to the 2006 March aborted coup when I asked him about the fate of Daba Marena & Co. The man’s response was no different from the belief held by almost every Gambian; that the senior military officers (who’re declared as escapees seven years ago, yet unheard of since) were brutally murdered to deter any future coup attempt. The man also gave credit to the current Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko, when asked who must have suggested that weak press release announcing the escape of Daba & Co. with an ‘unsaleable lie’ that the vehicle that was ferrying them to the Janjangbureh prison had somersaulted leading to their escape.

Even before I could reach my final stop on the bus, the man had some time to rip into the president’s sexual life, lamenting on his unquenchable taste for material wealth and women. “Only those of us who traveled with him (President Jammeh) can tell how he easily gets attracted to a beautiful woman. He is a crazy womanizer who would hardly spend a night without woman during our various foreign trips,” he said. Though a mere claim from a former aide, President Jammeh’s marital history alone gives enough weight to these allegations. In the last seventeen years when he took power, the man has had marital relations with at least four different women – one of them a 21-year-old light-skinned high school graduate. President Jammeh’s taste for material wealth, most specially fancy American cars, has also earned him a “50 Cent” code-name in some parts of Gambia, the code-name in reference to New York City born rapper, 50 Cent.

In my parting statement to the man, I would ask a question that would fill his face with sheer guilt. “Why are you people sitting on all these untold secrets?”, I enquired from him. “You need to tell your story”, I added as he continued to search for answers. The man murmured a response, but his response had since escaped my memory. Probably it didn’t make that sense. Reflecting on our conversation later that night at home, I kept saying to myself that this man needs to tell his story. If not for the sake of oppressed Gambians, then at least for the sake of his own conscience. I understand that we all have families back in Gambia, thus the fear that their safety might be compromised with our actions out here, but this is a risk worth taking just to ensure that the unending cruelties in Gambia are not left untold.


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