Archive for the ‘Press Freedom’ Category

NEW PROMISING SIGNS OF POSTIVE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE GOV’T AND THE INDEPENDENT MEDIA

May 8, 2013

Lamin Sabally- Minneapolis, Minnesota

Nana

Information & Communication Minister Nana Grey Johnson

Leaning heavily on recent local newspaper reports on the Gambia’s celebrations of the international media or press freedom day, hopes appear to be increasingly illuminating with the expressed initiation of a concrete dialogue process between the Gambia government and its strange bedfellow, the independent media practitioners in the Gambia. Among indicators illuminating that hope, was the presence, at the Tango venue of the Minister of Information, Communication and Infrastructure, who is also one of Gambia’s finest writers and distinguished associates of the Gambia Press Union, Nana Grey Johnson. His presence among diplomats, Media chiefs, leadership of the Gambia Press Union and Tango ( an umbrella organization of all NGOs), will probably go down in the country’s history as the first ever minister to attend and address the annual media day anniversary celebrations as succinctly reported by the Foroyaa Newspaper. This unprecedented  initiative must be praised and embraced by the GPU as a welcome development by the Gambia government and by all indications, the physical presence and the conciliatory presentations by the honorable minister must be positively inferred to mean an opening of a new chapter in the difficulty relationship between the government and the independent media and this new positive approach must be nurtured  and strengthened through  the continuation of sustained rounds of positive dialogue between the two, whose relationship as encapsulated by the minister was construed to be a mixture  of “  suspicion, paranoid and agenda”. This change of direction must be seen to mean the chronic bad blood between the government and the watchdog or the fourth estate will now change to begin to usher in the much-desired mutual trust, respect and constructive bond between the two.

At this stage, the GPU must passionately trust one of their astute partners and capitalized on all the unprecedented package of offer extended by Minister Nana Grey Johnson and push for more dialogue to bring about the desired changes the GPU had consistently advocated in promoting the ironclad constitutionally mandated  press freedom in the Gambia. As a student of leadership during my graduate program, I have been constantly reminded that in dealing with conflict, one of the most dependable and sophisticated tools to be deployed with precision is the weapon of dialogue.  This postulation has been unshakably supported by   increasingly accumulated conclusive research findings. In pursuing continuing dialogue with the government, I am sure the GPU top echelons can always command the prevalence of decorum under the friendliest atmosphere. To that end, I would like to humbly  implore them to stick to some important principles of dialogue generously enumerated by Kegan and Lahey which include the  use of less inflammatory language with  its substitution with the use of appropriate language in case if the discussions start to elicit the tendency to be tense; use of language of personal responsibility by deploying palatable and convincing negotiations, by which way, all unnecessary ranting and possible aggression on both sides can be completely surmounted. At this stage, I will deliberately eschew the pleasure of wallowing in the precise academics of conflict management and resolution specificities to prevent bogging down the readers with its complexities since this is not an academic paper.

Already, some common grounds have been concretely rejuvenated at the Tango press freedom day convergence during which the press has been sturdily recognized as not an enemy, but partner of government in nation building and development., that information for which the media is the specialized purveyor and transmitter is very important for human existence to spur a flourishing democracy and that free speech and expression is GOD –given right of any human being.  Both the government and the GPU are obviously cognizant of these rights and what now needs to be trashed out include the mountain of hindrances to what the GPU considers to be lack of press freedom in the Gambia. The common ground amplifies that both need each other for the development of the Gambia and with mutual trust, these impediments can be overcame with rapidity if both sides uphold their trusted side of the bargain, including the provision of the right atmosphere by the government for the operation and functioning of a vibrant press and the resolute commitment to the ethics and ethos of professional journalism by the media members through appropriate training of its members to ensure  unqualified professionalism.

Training is a never-overemphasized necessary requirement for the enhancement of the professional efficiency of personnel in any area of their specialization. However, when it comes to media practitioners, there seems to be an avalanche of misunderstanding of these professional pen pushers. Most people have the unalloyed belief that a journalist is someone who needs to be trained in the specialized field of the profession. This is a highly misplaced understanding of who really a journalist is. If one takes just a perfunctory look at news anchors, readers and reporters of major international media houses including the BBC, CNN, FOX for example, you will come to the rude and surprised realization that some of the big and idiolized names are groomed academically as international law experts, economists, political scientists and linguists because they acquired their degrees in these specialized areas.

With that observation, the Gambia can be reasonably proud to be on record for having some of the finest journalists both in the print and electronic media in terms of their quality of writings and broadcasting or reporting skills. With just minimal exposure to basic and rudimentary writing and broadcasting trainings, the country had progressively produced unquestionable prolific writers in the likes of Sheriff Bojang Sr, Cherno Baba Jallow, Musa Saidy Khan, Ebrima Sillah, Alie Badara Sowe, Pa Nderry M’bai, Yankuba Jabang, Fatou Jaw Manneh and many others. And in the area of broadcasting, you have the likes of Haddy Badjie, Fatou Camara, Haruna Drammeh, Lamin Ceesay, Malick Jones, and lots more. I sincerely apologize if I am being seen to be biased for not been able to list all the other finest writers and broadcasters for obvious lack of space and these few names given are just infinitesimal samples of the swamped list.  I must personally recognize that some of these people have now either earned or in active pursuit of university degrees in various fields. But admittedly, at the time they freshly joined the media community, they have been sufficiently renowned at the national level to be excellent writers, editors, broadcasters and reporters. This is because the media houses that employed them routinely organized profoundly rewarding in-house training courses for them often under the professional tutelage of notable doyens and icons like Babucarr Gaye, Deyda Hydara, Pa Dixon Colley and AA Barry (all of blessed memory) Sam Sarr, Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow, Bora Mboge, Aunty Jainaba Nyang, Peter Gomez, Ebrima Sanyang, Alieu Sanyang, Suwaibou Conateh, Pap Saine, Abdou Gassama, Aunty Sabel Badjan, Sereign Faye, Kenneth Y Best, Demba Jawo and may others. I have been always proud of most of  these former colleagues in one of the noblest professions I was very much part of from 1998 until 2001 before I joined the IEC having worked at Citizen FM Radio and the government owned Gambia daily both as correspondent for State House and the National Assembly.  The passion and dedication I have consistently observed of these colleagues have always been both phenomenally and monumentally impressive.

In my judgment, as a matter of urgency, the dialogue must kick-start right now and the first important issue that needs to be dealt with is the minister’s characterization of the relationship between the media and government as defied by “agenda, suspicion and paranoid” which must be brought to the discussion table for all misconceptions to be permanently erased. Equally, the disturbing perception of Mr. Gray Jonson that the independent media deliberately shuns “news of development” but is intentionally “concern with news that undermines the country’s international image and standing” must be exhaustively discussed for lucid clarity to prevail. The media, it must be emphasized, has crucial responsibility that it must laboriously shoulder including making government accountable by constructively criticizing its program and policy shortcomings and deficiencies. During this process, use of certain non-calibrated descriptions may elicit some harsh reactions from the government which has the propensity of heightening the level of apprehension a government may have for the independent press. In as much as the media productively criticizes the government, it must equally give undiluted recognitions and commendations devoid of truncation to the government by reporting on news of development as alluded to Minister Grey Johnson. By towing these fine and absolutely delicate thins lines, the private press will be seen to be very impartial and becomes more receptive to the government.

The recent upgrade of the GPU as training center for journalists who will be awarding Diplomas is a welcome development. This is an instance of fruitful collaboration between the University of the Gambia and the GPU and the elaborate publication it attracted on the media was highly impressive.

So please let the promising dialogue continue with the active involvement of unexhausted list of stakeholders in every process like Tango and Action Aid executives, GPU officials, Media Chiefs, Ministers of Communication, Justice and Interior and Council of elders and let the media adequately reports all recent updates on the progress of these repeated dialogues for the information of the citizenry both aboard and home.

The private media and government each other. By all strength of imagination, the kind of connection they have is symbiosis in nature requiring each of the two to be absolutely needing the other for their very survival and relevance.

 

 

OBSERVATIONS OF JOURNALIST PA NDERRY’S STRING OF COVERT INTERVIEWS WITH MINISTERS

May 3, 2013
MoBSE Fatou Lamin Faye

MoBSE Fatou Lamin Faye

minister_lamin_jobarteh

Justice Minister Jobarteh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lamin Sabally-Minneapolis, Minnesota

With the prank interview of the Gambia’s number two on Freedom Radio  fresh in mind, during which Vice President Dr. Ajaratou Isatou Njie Siady generously disclosed what is best termed in the US media fraternity parlance as TMI (Too Much Information),  the aftermath of which heralded very interesting discussion both within the Gambia and in the Diaspora, I would have thought that Ministers and Senior Gambia government officials would have been much more careful whenever they  got engaged by surprised anonymous overseas telephone callers.

However, if the recent string of  the secret interviews by Pa Nderry of Ministers of Justice, Tourism, and Basic Education is anything thing to go by, then I should confidently conclude without fear of a jot of  overestimation that my presumption has been manifestly proven dead wrong.  The sneaky interviews during which Freedom Radio Proprietor posed as a very princely philanthropist unbelievably made these Ministers spoke very comfortably at the mere pronouncement of an intent to satisfactorily sponsor government projects in the form of books, financial aid or sending students on vacation to the Gambia.

While at work, a friend called me up and to my astonishment, informed me that Justice Minister Jobarteh was on Freedom radio and was being interviewed by Pa Nderry who was posing as a prospective juicy donor without detection by the honorable minister. I could not believe when I tuned in. At the infancy stage of the interview, it appeared Pa Nderry inventively  attempted to change his voice to disguise that of a British or American white man, but as the interview steadily progressed, his natural voice came very audibly recognized.  The government top legal guru’s failure to notice that voice suddenly made me untiringly scratch my brain in complete state of perplexity for answers to the extent that even with my relapsed during the process into mental gymnastics in frantic search for answers failed to produce any of the answers my brain cells were hysterically scampering after.

It was obvious that Minister Jobarteh was too comfortable giving remarkably golden revelations ranging from his expressed readiness to repeal with alacrity the recently enacted infamous laws aimed at discouraging public begging, divulging salaries of high court judges and magistrates, to the disturbing financial predicament faced by the Justice ministry to train its staff, to bankroll the much- admired legal aid and finance the building of more courthouses.  How in the world could any minister be dragged into such level of divulging what would have been thought to be  classified government information to an unidentified telephone caller who was nailing the minister with unsuspecting intrusive questions with precision to elicit accurate official information.

Minister Fatou Lamin Faye of Basic Education and my idolized Minister of Tourism Madam Fatou Mass Job- Njie were both enticed to freely pour out same top classified info to Pa Nderry without the recognition of his voice also prompted at the mere declaration of intent as a foreign donor. All prank interviewees comfortablly gave out their official email addresses with the high hope that the imposter donor will furnish them with details of his colossal tantalizing financial assistance package.  If kudos were to be given, this will go to Moses Jallow, the Chief of Protocol at the office of President for his professionalism in fending off Mr. M’bai’s piercing questions. He never succumbed to the invasive volley of questions to give President Jammeh’s exact physical location at the time and insisted that when the shrewd feigned donor provides details about his promised enticing financial package, he would then direct him to the appropriate Gambian agency in Dakar for the right channels to be pursued in accessing the promised assistance.  Moses exhibited real, professional, diplomatic expertise and maneuvering skills.

The obvious similarly of the interviews was that all the pranked ministers were all spontaneously triggered by sweet-talk of raw cash and they immediately started answering all undercover enquires and with that in mind, they never bother to pause for a minute to inquire about who exactly the imposing generous foreign donor was. All three went ahead and gave adequate disclosure about the major financial situations of their respective ministries and the areas of intervention they specifically need immediate bailout with the aim of securing the rapid benevolence of the donor who was never to be. I am pretty sure if any of these ministers knew from get go that they were talking to the much detested Freedom radio proprietor, each of them would have angrily dropped off the phone instantaneously.

The level of apprehension and  seeming abhorrence of  Pa N’derry was even manifested during the interview when Justice Minister Jobarteh made  stinging reference to Freedom Radio and its  evil impact it brought to the Gambia government and went further to  disclose  in the interview just like VP Saidy, that Pa Nderry had seriously  neglected his parents in the Gambia for failing to cater for their needs, while happily and irresponsibly indulging in writing and broadcasting bitter, incriminating  disgusting, false and malicious stories about the Gambia government and its officials.

Admittedly, I am not taking platform for Pa Nderry and neither am I part of the Freedom Newspaper and Radio crew, but I am one of their many listeners even with sharp difference of opinions about our pressing national issues. Similarly, I and many Diaspora Gambians regularly listen to and read other alternative online radios and web-based newspapers like Kibaaro, Hello Gambia and Gainako to beef up our sources of news about daily happenings in our beloved native country in additional to the news from the local based newspapers. With that said, can the covert interviews be suggested to mean that Pa Nderry’s frequent chest-pounding and teeth-gnashing declaration that he can penetrate the government of the Gambia has been amply justified with the latest string? Certainly, he must have procured the ministers’ direct official phone numbers through a very close government source. The fact that Minister Jobarteh unwittingly  made the chilling revelation that the main reason for amending the law on false information charge to a public official was principally meant to curb the disturbing  leakage of government information to Freedom Newspaper may be deemed  to have conclusively illustrated the zenith of apprehension and dislike being nurtured for his popular radio and newspaper.

The Ideal Presidency

April 26, 2013

By Baba Galleh Jallow

Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow

Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow

“Being president is a humbling job,” said Obama as he spoke at the opening of the George W. Bush Library at the Southern Methodist University Campus in Dallas, Texas on Thursday, April 25 2013. Those words sprung involuntary tears into my eyes. Indeed, I find tears involuntarily springing to my eyes on many occasions when I watch and hear the speeches of American leaders. Perhaps it is the extremely stark contrast I see between these great but humble citizens, and the mediocre and arrogant persons who impose themselves as so-called leaders in our homeland. Perhaps it is the realization that nothing really keeps Africa from being great but the stifling arrogance and chronic aversion to ideas, knowledge, truth and wisdom that our leaders characteristically demonstrate. While being president of the world’s most powerful nation is considered a humbling job, being president of the world’s poorest and weakest nations is considered license to assume a godlike status that gives the power to bully and kill the people with total impunity.

Of course, neither Obama nor any other American president, dead or alive is any more human than any African president, dead or alive. Americans are no less susceptible to corruption and the abuse of power than Africans. Americans and their leaders are endowed with the same brainpower that Africans possess. They have the same capacity for thought and rational action; the same weaknesses of the human being. Given this fact of the equality of humanity, Africans must wonder why their presidents behave like drunken gods with machine guns blazing among their people. Surely it is not because Americans are better human beings than Africans or that Americans are less likely to be corrupted by power; nor is it because Africans are less capable of being human or humble than Americans. Humility may be a naturally cultivated characteristic of human beings; but in situations of power, humility is more often than not an imposed virtue. An insultingly arrogant president of the kind we have in countries like The Gambia cannot long survive at the White House.

If there is one thing that every modern American president looks forward to doing, it is establishing a presidential library both to preserve their records in office and, as Bill Clinton put it at the Bush Library opening, to rewrite history. History of course, can both be re-rewritten and not be re-written. It is a joy of historical studies that while there are certain facts that can never be written or interpreted other than what they were, the stuff of history is the art of interpretation and reinterpretation. A hundred historians could write about the same event in different ways and all of them get it right. Which is why that part of the Bush library reserved for people to judge and say what they feel should have been done or not done by the Bush administration is such a good idea. American presidents care about how History will judge them. Most African presidents just don’t give a damn about history or anything other than feeding their sick and bloated egos.

But it is not the fact of historical preservation that primarily drives American presidents to preserve their legacies through the building of presidential libraries. Their motivation derives more from the high premium that the American public, or at least significant sections of it, place on the value of knowledge and education. Americans recognize that ideas are the fuel without which the engine of development cannot start, not to say run smoothly. They recognize that preserving knowledge is preserving energy for the development of future generations. They recognize that their country is great because of its respect for a diversity of ideas and opinions, some right, some wrong, some outright ridiculous. They recognize that perhaps above everything else, they owe the greatness of their nation to the survival of a free marketplace of ideas and the individual’s inalienable right to freely express himself in any way he deems necessary. The high premium America places on the value of ideas and free expression is aptly captured in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States which, among other things, prohibits Congress from making any law abridging the freedom of speech and of expression. Americans know that ideas are the building blocks with which great nations are built.

Contrast this almost obsessive reverence for the sanctity of knowledge and ideas to the contempt with which knowledge and ideas are held in most African countries and you will get the key to the puzzle of Africa’s stagnation. If only African leaders and governments had treated ideas with the respect they deserve from the dawn of independence, Africa’s story would have been a whole lot different than what it has turned out to be after over half a century of independence. Above everything else, it is the insensitive strangulation of ideas that lies at the root of Africa’s poverty and stagnation. The stupefying mountains of seemingly intractable problems facing African nations today are nothing but the bitter fruits of African leaders’ selfish intolerance of differing opinion and their refusal to privilege the acquisition of knowledge as the most important path to a people’s advancement. Witness the closure of Citizen FM and Teranga FM in The Gambia for no other reason than they sought to enlighten the Gambian people by translating the news into the vernacular and encouraging open political discussion.

African leaders build roads and hospitals and monuments to be displayed as the marks of their achievement; but they neglect building the most precious and powerful resources of their nations: their people’s minds. They know that building the people’s minds is building the people’s power, and therefore giving the people the opportunity to question their actions and boot them out of power if they misbehave. American president’s feel their power as a humbling experience because they feel the power of their people and know that while they occupy the most powerful office in the world, their success and very survival depends on recognizing the extent of the power of their people in general and their colleagues and opponents in Congress and the Judiciary in particular. American presidents cannot just wake up and decree the passage of a law, or have someone arbitrarily arrested and detained, or fire a judge, a secretary of state or a director without as much as a word of explanation. Being merely human, they might wish to do such things in their personal spaces; but they realize that their power is severely limited by the perpetual presence of the public eye and the people’s capacity to punish them. For this reason, their being president represents a humbling experience. This is as it should be everywhere in the world because all people have a right to be treated with dignity if not actually feared by their leaders. That is the ideal presidency that Africans must fight for and win if the continent is to escape the vicious cycle of poverty and stagnation it has suffered since independence.

 

Former Editor Recounts Gambia’s Student Massacre

April 11, 2013

By Ndey Tapha Sosseh

Ndey Tapha-Sosseh

Ndey Tapha-Sosseh

Waking up on that fateful Monday morning of April 10th 2000, I had no inkling of how the day was going to unfold and the impending disaster that loomed in the air. Having had a late night at the Observer editing the stories for Mondays’ edition and waiting for any late night scoop I did not intend to go early to work.  I also wondered what breaking news we would have on that Monday.

I was then the assistant editor at the Daily Observer and Sheriff Bojang was the editor.  The Daily Observer was at the height of its heyday with an active, engaged team of reporters like the fearless Alieu Badara Sowe (Borom Nyaari Jassiyi) and erudite writers and contributors such as Debo Orike, Saihou Omar Gigo, Abdul Hamid Adiamoh, Pascal Eze, Auntie Bijou (Bijou Peters), SHM Jones.  The paper practiced an independent editorial policy, and, strove to provide accurate, impartial, well-balanced and objective stories for its readers even though it was threatened by the deportations, sackings and arrests of successive managers, editor, reporters and staff.

In my short stint at the paper, I had worked under four managers, Theophilus George, Sariang Ceesay, Andrew Dacosta and Sheriff Bojang and three editors Demba A. Jawo, Baba Galeh Jallow and Sheriff Bojang, myself being the last before I got pushed out.   All had different styles of leadership but what they brought to the paper with their different management and literary skills was to bring it to a high level of quality by motivating staff at all levels to give of their best.  There was unity and cooperation in the office as evident in the interactions between the management, professional, secretarial and printing staff.  Thus working late and coming in later the next day were no big deals as we enjoyed what we were doing and were supportive of each other.

Our sources of information were good but somehow none of the reporters had picked up or made known the information that the Gambia Student’s Union was going to stage a peaceful demonstration that Monday.  So for me it was just business as usual as I left the house for the Observer but like all journalists was hopeful that we would have something really newsworthy that would be of interest to the readers and would boost our newspaper sales.  Things were rather slow at the office as reporters had not started to come in with their stories yet so I decided to go to Banjul.  As soon as I got into Banjul I got the news of the demonstrations.

My first reaction was good this is breaking news.  I did not realize that this was indeed breaking news but of the worse type – devastating news that will lead to mayhem and tragic loss of lives of young and innocent people.  I immediately dropped all transactions and headed for the office to be available to receive the stories that would pour in.  As I got to Gambia High School I saw students rushing from the school to the opposite side of the road.   I realized that this was serious business.  The students were indeed ready for action. I thought of my cousins who had left for school as they also were unaware of the demonstration.  I stopped at Ndow’s School and dropped them home then proceeded to the Observer which was now agog with action.

Telephones were ringing and some of the reporters had already come in to report on incidents that they had witnessed.  I knew that it was going to be a long and interesting day and braced myself for a long haul.   I did not at this stage realize that this was going to be one of the most vexing episodes in the history of student demonstrations in The Gambia and that it was going to end in bloodshed and death.  I called my mother to find out how she was.  She informed me that she was fine but was worried about her staff who had gone to Banjul on an assignment.  She was also worried about what she saw as she had seen a unit of soldiers dressed in battle gear fully armed from Fajara Barracks running down the Bakau New Town Road towards the scene of the student demonstrations.  This worried her greatly as she could not understand why armed soldiers should be deployed to put down a student’s demonstration.  Staff of the Observer confirmed my mother’s story as they had also seen seemingly battle pass by the Daily Observer offices into Bakau New Town Road.

After speaking to my mum, I called my aunt in Kanifing.  Her home is at close proximity to Latrikunda School and there was a lot of noise in the background.  I could hear the pelting of stones, the shouts and cries of angry people and my aunt informed me that things had started to get violent.  She cautioned me to be careful as it did not seem that the peaceful demonstrations would end peacefully.  Journalists always want to be where the action is but in this case I had to stay in the Observer so that I could receive the news from the people on the ground.

Reports started to come in that the students had met with the Chief of Army Staff, Badjie and had asked him to get out of his car.  They removed his cap and made him walk some distance before allowing him to go.  Just this incident alone was enough evidence to prove that the students were not violent but were only seeking redress for two issues of great concern to their personal securities and protection.  Two of their peers had been harmed.  One was the beating and torture of Ebrima Barry by fire service officers which resulted in his death.  The other was the rape of a thirteen year old school girl by paramilitary officers at the Independence Stadium.  The Daily Observer had actually run both stories.  Unhappy about the outcomes of the investigation of both cases The Gambia Student’s Union (GAMSU) that had the responsibility to safeguard the interests of their membership and all students in the country organized a peaceful demonstration to bring their case to public attention.

GAMSU had requested a police permit to hold the public protest. This request was denied. Realizing it was their constitutional right to protest, the student leadership called its members to peacefully march toward the capital city of Banjul. This was their intention but they were viciously attacked by security forces who tried to dispel them with guns, tear gas and other methods of putting down riots.  The students resisted and it resulted in a raging battle between students in the Serekunda area to the Westfield Junction towards the Gambia Technical Training Institute.

The first report of shooting came in.  Omar Barrow a Red Cross volunteer/radio journalist was killed by a stray bullet in the grounds of the Gambia Red Cross Headquarters.  Omar had gone there simply to carry out his civic and humanitarian duty.  The practice for Red Cross Volunteers is to group together in times of crisis so that they give first aid to those who need it and evacuate the more serious cases to the nearest health facility.  He went there to offer help and lost his life instead.  Omar had recently married and had a young baby, named after a very close friend of mine, Fatou.  News of his shooting was received with shock as Omar was a very familiar face at the Daily Observer.

Even before we internalized this heart rending news reports of other shootings started to come in.  The horrific reports of the brute force that was being used were unbelievable.  In addition to the killings, beatings and sexual assaults of female students there was also large scale arrests of students. Anyone in a school uniform was arrested.  They stormed schools and scoured classrooms, went into homes dragging out the students they could find and threw them into their trucks to be driven to the nearest police station.  Scenes at GTTI and MDI were even more horrendous.  Students that were in class were rudely interrupted, beaten up, stripped naked bayonets used in the vagina of the girls.  Wounded and bleeding both male and female students were herded like cattle into trucks and taken into police custody.  They were put into cells without being treated for their wounds and denied access to their families.

There was a public outcry against the atrocities that were being inflicted on the demonstrators and non-demonstrators alike.   Finding a student in a class within an educational setting was not only a gross violation of their rights lives but also of education regulations.  Any student who registers in a school and is registered in a school is under the protection of the school for the period that the school is open for official business.  This was not the case on that day.  The schools and the colleges did not give the students the required protection.  The administrators stood by helplessly and watched the physical, sexual and psychological abuse of their students.  Parents also helplessly allowed their children to be dragged out of their cars to be taken away to unknown police destinations.

Not me however.  I responded with alacrity when Catherine, the then Secretary at the Daily Observer called out, “Ndey come quickly they have taken your sister.”  I looked over the verandah and saw my cousin Marie, whom I’d dropped home earlier in the hands of a soldier.  I flew down the stairs pulled her out of his hands and said to him: ‘she goes nowhere she is my sister”.  Taken aback by the audacity of my action the soldier let her go and I quickly pulled her after me up the Observer stairs to my office.  It would have been disaster if the soldier had come after me because there were several school children in the office premises whom I had harboured.

Luckily he didn’t and all the staff heaved a sigh of relief as the consequences would have been grave not only for the children but for the Daily Observer management.  However, that was the Observer of 2000, solidarity and support.  They knew the risks that were involved in my allowing school children to take temporary refuge in my office but this was a risk that they were willing to take as I had taken the action and they stood by me.  None of them complained, some of them gave the t-shirts underneath their shirts to the boys and not one of them alerted the security officers that almost a dozen school children were hiding in the Daily Observer premises.

Having reached the safety of my office and finding that there was no one in pursuit I now vented my anger on the day’s events on Marie.  Turning on her, I asked her what she was doing out in the streets during such a turbulent period and after I had made sure that they had got safely home.  Sobbing bitterly but I think more out of relief that she had been saved she explained that she was going to buy things for her cookery lesson next day.  I told her that she was out of her mind if she thought that there would be school the following day.  I asked her where my Mother was when she was going out.  She told me that my mother had tried to dissuade her but allowed her to go when she insisted.  She had escaped arrest narrowly but my niece (the daughter of a paternal cousin) was less fortunate and had to spend a fortnight in Serekunda police station in a cell with boys and other criminals. A member of the GAMSU leadership, she cried incessantly and refused to eat until her release from custody.

Coming back to the 10th April, Radio 1 FM offered a space for people to vent their anger and air their opinions.  Several people went to the radio station to speak in support of the students.  Others raised their voices against the students describing them as unruly and indisciplined.  Emotions ran high but the highlight of the evening was a televised address by the Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy, putting the blame of the violence on the students and accused them of shooting first, said they burnt down buildings and finally acknowledged the death of fourteen students.  How could students without guns be the first to shoot?  If they fired first how come no security officer died but only the students?  These questions remain unanswered just like the two incidents which led to the students’ demonstrations.

The strong divisions that split society over the student demonstrations were also translated into homes.  As news went round that the children were being killed some caring family members went round to visit their families just to check if everything was okay.  One of the people who embarked on this charitable act was a woman who went to visit her sister.  She said to the sister “I have just come by to see how things are with you.  The situation of the children is quite worrisome so I have come to check if yours are okay”.    The sister’s reply was most unexpected.  She retorted that the children got what they deserved.  They wanted to spoil the country and this was unacceptable.  The sister was taken aback.  She rebuked her sister and said “how can you talk like that. Other people’s children are lying in the mortuary and all you have to say is that they deserved to die. I am sorry that you my own sister can think and talk like that.”  She took her leave and left greatly perturbed that her sister could be so heartless.  At that time none of them knew that one of the bodies lying in the mortuary was the son of the hard hearted woman.

Later that evening when her son did not come home she started to make enquiries. She looked for him in all the places that she knew he used to frequent.  He was nowhere to be found.  She tried the police stations to no avail.  Someone suggested the health facilities and eventually she found her son at the mortuary in Banjul.   Weeping and wailing she called her sister.  The caring sister turned out to be just as unsympathetic.  She told her sister “you did not care about someone else’s child, why should I care about yours.   Is the pain that you are feeling more acute than the pain that the other mothers are feeling?”  She hung up on her sister and despite pleas of family members refused to attend the funeral or offer her comfort in anyway.   She was too traumatized by her sisters’ callous attitude to other people’s travails.

The incident between the two sisters shocked many as did the brutality that continued to the 11th April.  GAMSU had planned the demonstration well and in-spite of the severity of the crackdown had not called it off.  Students in other parts of the country came out in solidarity with their comrades.  They too were quelled mercilessly.  News reports came of a student who was killed in Brikamaba.  Others were detained.  Parents in the rural areas showed more gumption than their urban counterparts and put up some resistance to protect their children.  A state of emergency was declared and all schools closed.  The government maintained its story and unrepentant stance.  The truth was that they believed the demonstrations were politically motivated.  This was an insult to the leadership of GAMSU who were only doing what they had to do.

A Coroner’s inquest was opened, reporters such as Alieu Badara Sowe were relentless in their pursuit of the news but faced resistance.  The report was never made public and the Gambia Government gave a blanket amnesty to everyone who had committed violent acts against the demonstrators resulting in their death or maiming.  The courageous student leaders never gave up and fought for the release of their colleagues who were still in detention, weeks after the actual events.  The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD), chaired by Muhammed Lamin Sillah, then Amnesty coordinator in The Gambia, Paps Emmanuel Joof, Fatou Jagne, Satang Jobarteh, Mary Small, Sheik Lewis, Lawyer Bory Touray and my mother Adelaide Sosseh and others was formed to seek redress for the rights of the students whose rights were violated.

The NCHRD documented some of the horrendous crimes including rape of some of the girls, the lawyers within the group were to take up a case on behalf of the victims.  Just before this, victims, came in with their parents and stated they preferred not to pursue the matter further.  They called it an act of God.  The truth is they feared reprisals.  The reprisals that the GAMSU student leaders and the NCHRD faced until some of them had to leave the country.  Contrary to Gambian culture the names of the fallen heroes of the 10th and 11th April are not commemorated on GRTS or the private press.  They have simply slipped into oblivion.  Omar Barrow’s daughter is now a teenager, her father cruelly taken away from her.

Redress is still not late.  In a recent documentary on France 24 Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch praised the tenacity of victims and their families in bringing tyrants to justice after several years of them getting away with the crime.  Keeping the memory of the darkest days in student’s life alive in The Gambia means that the event will not be forgotten.  The argument that if perpetrators are threatened with prosecution they will not relinquish power, or will undermine a new democracy, deserves attention but is not a stumbling block that cannot be surmounted.  I am sure that if we persevere we will break the culture of silence that is destroying our country and will emerge to speak with one voice against dictatorship in The Gambia.

 

Ndey Tapha Sosseh

Secretary General

Coalition For Change Gambia (CCG)

Gambian Journalist Runs for his life

March 21, 2013
Fabakary Ceesay

Fabakary Ceesay

A Gambian journalist has gone into hiding for fear of being harmed, disappeared without trace or killed.

Fabakary B. Ceesay, a senior reporter of Foroyaa newspaper who runs a monthly Detention without Trial column on Foroyaa, has escaped unharmed.  The column was formerly anchored by Yaya Dampha who also had a similar experience.

Mr. Ceesay’s fleeing resulted after he had been tipped that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) issued a secret warrant for his arrest a day before the kidnapping of a protest-seeking journalist Baboucarr Ceesay.

“I decided to go into hiding for two days before finally fleeing to Senegal,” Mr. Ceesay told Kibaaro News.

The reasons for Fabakary’s arrest were unclear. Kibaaro News’ investigations extracted the chaff from the wind. “Fabakary has been under the NIA radar for so long,” a source confirmed. “The NIA is not at ease with reports on missing people and the court martial proceedings in Yundum Barracks. He was lucky because the initial plan was to pick up anytime he goes to army barracks for the court martial.”

Ceesay has been receiving threats since mid-February this year when he investigated the disappearance of some people in Foni in West Coast Region. The NIA were on Ceesay’s trail soon after interviewing the wife of a disappeared man.  The visiting agents demanded to know the whereabouts of Mr. Ceesay who later received tip off that the agents were searching for him. He sought refuge in a friend’s house before he had finally left the Gambia.

Security agents visited Mr. Ceesay’s home and office several times looking for him.

Frontline human rights defenders in the Gambia urged the government to “take all necessary measures to guarantee the security, physical and psychological integrity Fabakary Ceesay. They want the Jammeh regime to guarantee that “all human rights defenders in the Gambia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.”

 

Ends

Gambia Editor Battles Sedition Charges

March 14, 2013
Alhagie Jobe faces sedition charges

Alhagie Jobe faces sedition charges

Alhagie Jobe has become the latest Gambian editor to be arraigned for sedition charges.

The deputy Editor-In-Chief of the Daily Observer newspaper and his alleged accomplice in crime one Mbye Bittaye appeared before Magistrate Hilary Abeke of Kanifing Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday. Magistrate Abeke ordered them to be remanded until they appear in court on March 19.

Mr. Jobe was charged with seditious intent, seditious publication, possession of seditious publication, giving false information to a public officer, forgery, and making document without authority. Mr. Bittaye was slapped with unlawful inquiries to commit forgery charge.

Both accused persons admitted their innocence.

The prosecution read in court what appeared to be a revealing charge sheet. It accused Mr. Jobe of false publication on Daily Observer on December 19, 2012 alleging that “Major Lamin Touray was on the run from imminent re-arrest and detention and charge in absentia for breach of office ethics and by refusing to take orders in the execution of some people.”

His acts, among others, were committed with “intent to deceive, bring hatred and incite disaffection against the person of President Yahya Jammeh,” the court heard.

Mr. Bittaye’s single charge had to do with making inquiries at the Daily Observer with the “intent to make forged document on behalf of Lamin Touray,” an act meant to “deceive.”

Ends

NIA Frees Kidnapped Gambian Journalist

March 12, 2013
Baboucarr Ceesay

Baboucarr Ceesay

Officials of the feared Gambia National Intelligence Agency (NIA) have released the kidnapped Gambian journalist after repeated denials of having him in custody.

Baboucarr Ceesay, the 1st Vice President of the local press union was abducted on the streets of Tallinding last Friday afternoon and whisked into a waiting vehicle.

“Baboucarr was kidnapped when he was going home with his brother after attending Friday prayers,” family sources said. He was forced into a vehicle without number plate by unidentified men. “The vehicle sped away and soon disappeared into the thin air.”

Nothing was heard about him, prompting his family and press freedom organizations to launch a search mission which bore no fruit as Gambian authorities remained on denial until Monday afternoon when they muster the courage and allowed the journalist to heave an air of freedom. It then became clear that he had all along been detained at the mosquito-infested dungeons of the NIA headquarters in Banjul for three nights. Baboucarr’s release was without the usual threats that “our investigation is still not complete.”

Until his whereabouts were known, many people raised concerns about the safety of Mr. Ceesay whose kidnapping came on the heels of disappearances of people in the custody of Gambian security.

A secret agent insider, who confirmed Mr. Ceesay’s detention at the NIA, said the journalist was being interrogated on the circumstances leading to Abubacarr Saidykhan’s escape to Senegal. They asked whether Mr. Ceesay too is planning to toe along the same line.

It could be recalled that Babucarr Ceesay and Abubacarr Saidykhan were arrested and detained in September last year after they applied for a permission to hold a peaceful protest against the execution of the nine death row inmates in the Gambia.

They were charged with seditious intention but the state later recanted to national and international pressures and dropped the charges. But continuous threats on the duo led Mr. Saidykhan to flee into self-imposed exile.