By sheriff Bojang
In this edition of Bantaba, our guest editor and proprietor, Sheriff Bojang talks to Mr Ebou Sohna about his rather unconventional beliefs and about ‘Alhaji’ Adama Barrow and his government.
Could you tell us about yourself?
Thank you, I go by a 1964 date of birth. This is funny as it was made up for me at primary school when I was sitting for the Common Entrance Examination by a friend who was at the time more advanced than I was. It is unfortunate that most Gambians of rural and unlettered parents did not have a record of their date of birth. So, going by this 1964 date, I am 52 years old and was born at Munyagen village in the North Bank Region. I had primary and secondary school education in The Gambia, but not quite keen in sharing educational background, simply because I am not a believer of the conventional direct instruction, pass and fail academic educational method. I subscribe more to the Montessori constructivist or ‘discovery’ model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction, sometimes largely rote learning. I am married and have three children, my hobbies are reading and listening to music and quite well to the music of the late Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.
Of late you have been active on social media with your running commentaries on the Barrow government, could you take us back to your early years of political activism?
My early years of political activism are back in the mid-1980s with the then clandestine Movement for Justice in Africa – Gambia or MoJA – G.
So you were anti-Jawara and anti-PPP?
Yes, I was strongly opposed to the Jawara – PPP regime and that was why I joined the ranks of the then banned MoJA – G with the aim to topple the PPP regime by means of guerrilla warfare, that is, irregular military tactics of ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit and run tactics et cetera.
Apart from MoJA were you a supporter of any other political party then?
Those were the days of the National Convention Party (NCP) among others, but I supported none of the then existing opposition political parties.
You opposed Jammeh. Now Barrow is president but you have not let off; in fact, your opposition to him is as equally spirited, why?
Yes, I opposed Jammeh who is actually now history, and now the incumbent Adama Barrow, Alhaji Adama Barrow if you like. I understand he does not like the title added to his name [laughs out loud]. Isn’t he the one who goes round to every mosque in the Greater Banjul Area for so- called Friday prayers and as well went to Mecca to perform hajj? I have not ‘left off’ as you have rightly pointed out. As a matter of fact, my opposition to him is to borrow your words ‘equally spirited’ if not more spirited. My opposition to Adama Barrow started from Day One at the so-called convention that selected him at the Jaama Hall of the Kairaba Beach Hotel. It’s funny though, but my opposition then and still was triggered simply by his inability to read a statement before the assembly that selected him as presidential candidate of the Coalition. It was really shocking and unbelievable to me when he was declared the winner of the election. A candidate who was incapable of properly addressing his would–be voters as to why he was the best candidate. No doubt, a French journalist called him “an accidental president” and Pa Nderry M’bai also calls him “lame duck” president.
Which party do you support now?
Because of their mature, rational political party programme, I am a dyed in the wool supporter of the opposition People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS). This a party I briefly worked for as a militant from late 1988 to early 1994 helping with teaching at the party’s early childhood schools at Bundung and Ebo Town, as well as supported the printers of the party newspaper when they were printing on stapled A4 paper and printing manual on Gestetner machines.
Ebou, you are one of, if not the only Gambian to publicly champion gay rights in The Gambia. Many people may want to know why? Are you gay or bisexual yourself?
No, no, no, not at all, I am not gay or bisexual, I simply publicly championed LGBTQ rights in my days as human rights activist in The Gambia simply because I believe human rights is universal and indivisible and that as an activist I need not compartmentalise human rights in anyway.
So that is the only reason you felt you needed to stand up for the LBGTQ community in The Gambia?
I felt the need to stand up for the LGBTQ community of The Gambia because of the ill treatments they faced from the then government against their rights to exist and live in dignity.
Due to your LGBTQ activism you must have been privy to their network, are there many gays in The Gambia?
Yes, I have worked with a lot of them clandestinely giving them training in human rights at a number of secret locations in the Greater Banjul Area because of the hostilities of the then government towards LGBTQ persons. Sure, there are homosexuals and lesbians in all walks of life in the country and of all ages and sexes. I can remember during one of the training events a young male participant who is also gay revealed that his father too is gay.
About what percentage of the population, approximately?
They are largely a minority as in every country the world over, I cannot definitely quantify the proportion statistically in numbers and percentage but there is a gay and lesbian population in the country.
The Qur’an and the Bible regard homosexuality as an abomination, don’t you agree?
No, I don’t agree with any religious teaching that regards homosexuality an abomination.
Are there any prominent Gambians who are gay?
Doubtless, there are many prominent Gambians who are gay, just I have said earlier, the country’s gay community include the young and the old and in all walks of life and social standing.
Who are they?
I don’t think I can disclose names as you will agree with me being gay and lesbianism are taboo in The Gambia and would carry a lot of stigma to a person publicly answering to the sexual orientation, if not harassments and threats to safety and or to life.
Why would they choose to remain in the closet; it’s supposedly New Gambia, they are free?
The sexual orientation as I have said is regarded a taboo and people answering to it could be seriously stigmatised should they choose to come out of the closet. New Gambia, yes but I doubt if the government will undertake a commitment to protect people claiming to be gay and their right to live in dignity without threats of any kind.
Now tell us, why did you leave Gambia, was your life under threat?
Yes, I left the country owing to government and public persecution for my LGBTQ rights and atheist activism.
Who helped you to leave town and resettle in England, Stonewall?
I left the country because of former government and public persecution for my LGBTQ rights and nontheistic activism and advocacy.
President Barrow said homosexuality is not an issue in The Gambia, do you agree and would you like to see gay rights enshrined in The Gambia Constitution?
Well, I don’t know in what context he made the statement that homosexuality is not an issue in The Gambia. One most understand the context in which he made the statement, he may mean that the country’s gay community will not be subject to ill treatments or threats, that LGBTQ rights will be tolerated and that persons of the sexual orientation will be protected. I doubt this is what he means but if he means to deny that there are gays in the country then he must have been daydreaming. One must also understand the circumstances under which he was making the statement, at the handing over ceremony of 75 million euros grant from the European Union. The Gambia actually has a growing gay community largely in the closet because their natural sexual orientation once again is regarded a taboo and persons who identify with it risk stigmatisation, harassment and even death as the government will not protect anyone identifying with gay and lesbianism. Yes, definitely I would like to see gay rights enshrined in The Gambia Constitution, but I doubt if this will likely happen soon, surely not in the short term of the current government as prominent and influential people in it like Ousainou Darboe and Hamat Bah are quite hostile to LGBTQ rights.
Coming to politics, is tribalism a major factor in Gambian politics today?
Yes, tribalism and sectionalism are big factors in Gambian politics. Gambians vote for and support candidates at elections based on tribal and regional affiliations, this is a fact no one can deny.
Your critics say your own condemnation of the current government borders on tribalism, and that you are anti-Mandinka. Is that true?
What I hate is to see the use of tribal and sectionalist sentiments take charge of Gambian politics. I am not anti-Mandinka, what I am against is Mandinkanised, tribalised politics in The Gambia. Politics based on tribal sentiments, tribal and sectionalist affiliations is negative politics and should be discouraged in The Gambia by all means necessary.
Ebou Sohna, do you believe in God? Are you an atheist?
The idea of God to me is simply an illusion, for God is a failed hypothesis.
I simply do not subscribe to the arguments of the many monotheistic religions God, angel, hell … you name it … hypothesis.
You have the photo of the English evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin who theorised that humans evolved from apes on your Facebook profile page. You believe him than say the holy prophets like Muhammad or Jesus?
Yes. Darwin’s theory of biological evolution based on the argument that all species of organisms arise and develop through natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce appeals more rational to me than the monotheistic religions creation myths particularly those of Islam and Christianity.
Don’t you get any social backlash from people in The Gambia for your rather unconventional beliefs in our conservative society?
No, no social backlash from any Gambian, most Gambians may not know who Charles Darwin was and what his philosophy and world outlook was and therefore may not react to me having his photo as my Facebook profile picture. But generally most Gambians are conservative but largely limited in exposure, awareness and knowledge of a lot of things about the world and life in general.
Thank you very much Ebou Sohna.