Mr Baba Hydara, 37, is the eldest son of the slain journalist and co-founder of The Point newspaper, Deyda Hydara. Baba is currently the assistant managing director of The Point Newspaper Company. In this edition of Bantaba, he sits down with
The Standard’s Alagie Manneh and talks about his father’s legacy and related matters.
Can you recall the events of that fateful night of 16 December 2004 when your father was killed?
It was on the day of The Point newspaper’s anniversary. The Point was created that same date, which was also my mum’s birthday, December 16. Normally they organise a gathering for all the journalists who work in the newspaper and also invite couple of guests from what I remembered, because I used to work as a printer and also I worked a little bit as a journalist, sports. So normally they used to organise a little gathering, invite couple of guests and just talk about everything and just enjoy the anniversary. That same night I spoke to my mum who was also in contact with him. Everything was going well; they were having their little reception with the guests and everything. So I learned about the incident a little bit later.
At that time I was in Holland. So, it was really hard from what I remember because I was alone and I knew how bad it was going to be for my mum and the rest of the family. So I hated that I wasn’t there for them. And that is exactly what happened because my mum wasn’t around when it happened. And the fact that the only immediate family members who were here, were my sister Nellie and my little brother, Vieux… At that time Vieux was 13 or 14 years. And it was really, really stressing that they were the two present at that time and not me as the eldest son and my mum also was not here, as his wife. So just imagine how hard it was for us.
In addition, my sister, Marie and another brother Oussou, were all away. So it was really hard the fact that we were far, far away and we couldn’t be there for him, because we also wanted to say our goodbyes and everything but we couldn’t. So it was really, really depressing. Really. It was a mix of emotions; raging anger and disappoint and a lot of questions. It was just horrific, the whole thing.
How did you as a family manage, not just with his absence but the constant media attention his killing generated?
I told you I was in Holland when it happened, but just after a month I had to move to France. I moved because I felt I had to do something and not being in The Gambia and knowing the risk it would take if I decided to come, I decided to stay and fight from abroad, just like all these people that struggled during the impasse and everything. I started my part about 13 years ago. I moved to France in 2005. And one thing was my objective; start making noise. Tell people what kind of government we had in The Gambia because normally the Western world is more interested in places where there are certain riches, like oil, cocoa, like Ivory Coast. That’s why the French were there. Other places like Congo, have diamonds. But in The Gambia we don’t have anything. In my opinion that’s why the old regime stayed for so long, because the West didn’t have that much of an interest in The Gambia and also we are small. The only thing we have is tourism and for tourism you can always go to another place other than Gambia. So that’s why I felt I needed to inform the Western world about what was happening in The Gambia. And that’s what I did. I did a lot.
What exactly did you do?
I worked with Reporters sans Frontieres. I worked with Amnesty International, with human rights organisations, doing propagandas on radios and television in endless interviews, you name it. I did it, everything. And also online propaganda, saying things about Yahya Jammeh, what happened to my dad and everything. Also, I met a lot of big personalities. I met French senators and explained to them the situation in The Gambia and how the press is tired with all the [bad] laws they are implementing and how the dictator was just destroying our beautiful nation. So my focus the whole time was exposing what was happening in The Gambia. I was doing that for years. I had help, I should mention that. There was a guy called Leonard Vincent, he is now the reporter for RFI in East Africa. He did a lot, a lot. He was even denied access one time to come to The Gambia.
He works for Reporters sans Frontieres and RsF help journalists in trouble in the whole world. Actually I used to work with him at their headquarters in Paris and at that time he was the head of the Africa desk. He really did a lot, not only for my dad but just exposing the situation in The Gambia. So I did my part. My brother Vieux ended up going to the UK where he continued his studies. Vieux and my sister Marie started their own thing. In England, Vieux granted a lot of interviews. And he participated in a lot of demonstrations at that time at the Gambian Embassy in the UK, organised by groups that were also against the regime.
My sister Marie also wrote countless tributes on my dad and also participated in a lot of activism against the old regime. So yeah, everybody did their part, the whole family. We owe it to him. He was a good dad and a good Muslim. A lot of families he used to help. And also helped a lot of youths and mentored a lot of journalists, most of whom are now working with the new government. Some of them are doing their own thing. He built something with Pap Saine. Gambia at that time needed something like [The Point]. At that time there were no [real] newspapers… [the ones here] were printing on A4 [type] papers. So they brought something fresh. They started with nothing at the then The Point offices in Banjul. And that is a long time ago. I remember the office was so small and it was hard to survive but my dad had that hunger in him.
At a personal level, how do you remember your father?
Very stubborn and also temperamental! A little bit. But he needed that… as a journalist you have to have a certain personality. A characteristic of the person you are can determine your career as a journalist and I think he got that. He was always stubborn in getting the job done. And that temper not to allow people to dictate you in your job, he got that too. And you should be like that as a journalist. Yeah. That’s how I remembered him. And at the same time, he had that kindness in him. And he doesn’t jump on things. He listened to people.
Were you close to him?
No (laughs). Not even close, because he was really busy. Mostly dads and sons are closer than me and him were. He was so busy with his job and also he used to be a correspondent for AFP and also worked with a lot of major outlets in Senegal [then]. And a lot of other things. So it was hard for him, but he always made time for his family. He wanted something. He wanted to build something. We understood that also and that’s why we sort of not moan about not having time with him, but accepted what he was willing to do.
Why didn’t one of you, offspring, follow in his career and keep his legacy alive, after his paper, The Point, is still alive?
What am I doing here? That’s the answer to your question. Because I am currently the assistant managing director of The Point newspaper and I am trying to be busy with everything. I am trying to make the printing section better, the journalists, the quality of stories, and help out also how I can in that part at the same time also with typists, to see that the job is done well. I go everywhere I am needed. That is just a title (assistant managing director) but I want this thing to develop to something bigger, just to honour him, my father. That is how I see fit to put his legacy up there for what he has done for his country. We forget a little bit about that but people have to think about why he did all that, because he could have avoided all that and say ‘oh no, I am not going to die for Gambia’.
So why do you think he decided to die for his country?
He died for his country because he was trying to defy a dictator. And defying a dictator in a way, if you look at it, is like somebody willing to die, willing to lose his life for what he believes in and for the love of his country, not wanting somebody to come and destroy this country. By challenging him, in what he was doing, by asking questions that a lot of other journalist colleagues were not even willing to ask. So I can say that he did a lot for his country, and he started a trend, and that trend is defying. Defying. I can say also like [slain Finance Minister Ousman] Koro Ceesay, he was not a journalist or anything but he stood against dictatorship. They started that trend, saying ‘no’ and questioning things, and bringing in their own takes. So yeah, he was a person who did a lot for this country, whether people acknowledge it or not. We know what happened.
In your speech during the launching of the Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations, CVHRV, you demanded justice for your father’s killing and other victims of Jammeh’s alleged human rights violations What sort of justice will satisfy you for your father’s killing?
There will never be a satisfaction, because you lost someone. You cannot get anything that can bring you that feeling of, you know, satisfaction, because you lost. It’s even unthinkable to think that you can have a certain satisfaction from any justice that they can bring. That’s why what we are asking is to know the details, to know what really happened, to know the participants of every killing that happened during those 22 years. Yeah. That’s why the government has set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
When you said the pain of losing your father was hard to take and that it will always be there. How do you handle that?
You won’t know it until it happens to you. It depends also. Even me, I wasn’t that close but come on, knowing that the person who made you the man you are today lost his life in a gruesome manner like that, just imagine how hard you as a son will take it. Knowing that he is not around is even harder.
To be continued next Friday