By D. A. Jawo
Africa’s Hell on Earth, is quite a moving account of how a young Gambian journalist made a dramatic escape from possible torture and even ‘disappearance’ in the hands of the notorious Gambian security forces after his name was included in a list of socalled ‘informants’ of a US-based online newspaper often critical of the regime of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. The list of ‘informants’ was made public after the Freedom newspaper’s website was hacked into by someone no doubt in the service of the Jammeh regime.
In the dawn of the New Millennium, Omar Bah was quite a rising star in Gambian journalism, attracting a wide range of readership, particularly for his incisive weekly column in the Daily Observer; “Bantaba” which he had been using to subject his guests to some grueling questioning.
Even though Omar was quite an ambitious young journalist who was eager to make his mark in Gambian journalism, but as news editor of the Daily Observer, which over the years was eventually transformed into the propaganda organ of the ruling APRC, he was quite constrained in what he could write. Therefore, because of the heavy censorship at the Daily Observer, Omar was no doubt looking for any other avenue to vent out his feelings about what was going on in the country, and as such, writing for the Freedom newspaper was quite an opportunity he never would have missed. However, writing for Freedom or any association with its editor, Pa Nderry Mbai, was considered by many people just as good as committing treasonable felony against the Jammeh regime and most of those whose names were on that list paid quite dearly for it.
In the book, Omar quite meticulously depicted the ordeal that Gambian journalists have been going through under the Jammeh regime, particularly his graphic description of the life-threatening ordeal he went through in the hands of the soldiers when he went to cover the court martial at the Yundum military barracks. However, what made the book even more interesting and captivating was how he managed to juxtapose his experiences at work and his depiction of life in his village, colorizing it with some of his dreams, mostly involving hyenas and other aspects of life in rural Gambia.
We saw in Chapter Five how Omar narrowly escaped capture at the Denton Bridge when one of the hundreds of heavily armed soldiers deployed in the Greater Banjul Area to look out for him, unhesitatingly let him go after identifying him among the passengers in a vehicle bound for Banjul. By letting Omar go, the soldier not only risked his own job and life, but he also had to forego promotion and even compensation with a lot of money and privileges if he had handed him over to the authorities. This is therefore yet another indication that not all members of the security forces are zombies who would obey all bad orders without question, but that some of them are quite ready to risk anything to do the right thing. Even the sympathy and prayers that Omar received from all his fellow passengers on the vehicle after the Denton Bridge encounter, was an indication of how the public seem not to be in support of the prevailing abuse of power in the country.
We also saw in Chapter Six how Omar’s father was illegally arrested, detained and tortured for several days on the orders of one of the regime’s thugs, simply because he was an opposition supporter, which is yet another indication that there is hardly any regard for the rule of law and that arbitrariness and abuse of power are the order of the day.
Omar went on to recount in detail his dramatic escape across the border into Senegal, the warm welcome he received from some Gambian exiles in Dakar, his relocation to Ghana and how he finally succeeded in getting resettled in the United States.
Africa’s Hell on Earth is not only an accurate account of what Gambian journalists have been going through since the coming into power of the Jammeh regime, but also a good depiction of life in rural Gambia. It is quite an invaluable reference material for all those interested in documenting the atrocities being committed against innocent Gambians by their own regime.
This 230 page paperback published by Tate Publishing is available on Amazon at the modest price of $17.09.