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Friday, December 1, 2023

Breaking the omerta: One woman’s recount of her MOJA activism ( part 1)

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 A putsch claimed the lives of innocent civilians: military personnel both from us and from our cousins across the border. That was no pretty sight for those who witnessed tragedy unfolding in blood, wounds and for some death under their very eyes. Thus, to insinuate Gambians as cowards one needs to consult with some of the living actors on that stage and get a fragment of our history even if that history is based on a narrative of memory recollections. Young men who never saw a bullet not to mention a gun threw themselves valiantly in harm’s way all in defense of The Motherland! At Yundum airport, in Banjul, in Brikama they paid with their blood, their lives. They resisted!

I have read many an article from folks claiming to have been MOJA-G militants and writing on the history of MOJA-G. So far none has succeeded in doing so with accuracy. It has always been hasty notes here and there, of personal exaggeration of self-worth, which never did justice to a movement that coined the word JUSTICE, and that is no exaggeration.

 Thus their accounts/experiences can only be taken as a very minute fraction of the history of MOJA-G, nothing more nothing less. Never to be regarded as a full account of that which expired. Most of these writings are very much saturated with anger and bitterness, of scorn, malice, blame and disdain. MOJA-G was a FAMILY ENTITY. Despite all the internal and external contradictions the movement was faced with, there was much love, respect, compassion, sharing, and the acknowledgement that I am my brother’s/sister’s keeper. A group of very smart/intelligent young people who found a common narrative and forged a connection! Anybody who fails to bring out that uniqueness in their “autobiographies” must know their’s is a failed novel even before they got started.

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Well, this October morning, the Special Branch (SB) as they were called then (now, NIA) has just stormed the hiding quarters of the “Voice of the Future” which was the underground publication of the People’s Democratic Movement against Colonialism, Neo-colonialism and Imperialism in The Gambia (PDMCNIG). In concert with the raid, those arrested were Amie Sillah, Sam Sarr, Halifa Sallah, Pa Louis Sambou (may his soul rest in peace!), Adama Bah and Modou Gaye. Modou Gaye spent time in detention at the Banjul CID office. The rest were detained at the maximum security wing of the Mile 2 prison. They were to spend seven months behind bars.

Fifteen hours before, I was in Brikama, Salandingo’to. Taking leave of my maternal grandmother, whom I was named after, (actually the name is Jainabou), I had my small backpack stuffed with a pair of “Made in China” green slippers wrapped in plastic, a couple of tourists’ batik dresses, my wardrobe was no fancy, a towel, personal hygiene articles and a copy of “Unity & Struggle” by Amilcar Cabral. I told my grandma I was traveling.

With her we speak Pulaar (Fula), Mandinka and Wolof in a natural sequence of fluid lingua. She was born in Banjul, Leman Street and lost her mom at a very early age. Her father, a Guinean Fula remarried a woman called Ya Jola. My Grandma was brought up partly by this woman in a household where they speak Wolof. Her father could not speak the local languages well so he spoke Fula to Grandma. At the tender age of 15 she was married by my Grandfather, who was also an immigrant from Futa (La Guinée as they affectionately call Guinea) from the district of Kébou. In fact, my grandma always would call my mom: Jamie Kébou. After marrying my grandpa they moved to Gunjur, Kombo. There came the Mandinka influence in the family’s livelihood. One of my aunties is named after the late Fa Njundu Touray’s mother, Mba Kombo. My grandpa calls her Salimatou and my grandma went for Kombo. The Kombo Jallow stuck. I will come back to this story of my family in the coming articles.

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Grandma enquired where to and I responded: “A tour of the country”. She asked: “With who”? I answered: “With Sarho”. She was quiet for a moment and with a very serious look she went: “Tokora (namesake/toma) are you sure you don’t want us to send colanuts to Sarho’s parents?” To which we both busted out in hearty laughter! As she walked me to the main road, I told her Sarho is like my blood brother and then I broke the news to her: “Neneh”, (everybody calls her by that name) I said, “Sarho is already married to the most beautiful woman ever”. She was like “What?” Then I continued: “You want to know her name?” And I disclosed: “GAMBIA”. Without ever consulting Sarho, I assured my grandma that Sarho is a Laabé (Orthodox priest) who has risen above human frailties and never succumbs to satan’s machinations. I told my grandma that Sarho is never interested in folks called women. That he has dedicated his life to see The Gambia move to higher and better grounds. He inhales The Gambia and exhales the land. We reached the road and my grandma asked me to put forth my open palms. She recited a couple of verses, blew and I covered my face as she wished me to travel safe and cautioned: “Be careful!”

Two hours later I was sitting on a chair in Dumo’s room writing an article as he paces the room packing documents and “cleaning” the place off any subversive material. We were to travel the next morning: a tour of the country from Barra through the whole north bank to Songkunda at the very end of the country and back via the south bank. The idea was to visit all the existing cells of MOJA-G in the country, activate new ones and measure how much progress the movement has achieved in political mobilisation of the countryside. Cells were groups of between a minimum of 2-3 people to a maximum of 5-6. We planned to be away for two weeks as the journey would mean covering certain terrain by foot and some, by donkey-drawn carts.

I have written a full page when I took a break. I went to greet Dumo’s aunt – Ya Sarho of blessed soul! When I arrived from Brikama, she was praying. Like, my grandma, Ya Sarho too was optimistic of a prospective union between Dumo and myself. I used to help do the dishes and at times wash both her clothes and Dumo’s clothes. She was the cleanest person that ever treaded our planet earth. Cleaning her dishes was a four to five stage process: First you cleanse with just water, then you use soap to take away the grease, third you rinse and fourth you rinse again. If she smells soap you have to go for a fifth round. All dishes placed in a big basket and covered with clean towel/towels to dry. The same routine goes for the laundry. Now you can imagine the culinary arithmetic that would follow this sequence! Ya Sarho was unique! I greeted her and as usual she was happy to see me. We used to have deep conversations on life. She would ask me to “waytali” her (keep her company). Which I always enjoyed, listening to her was like reading a masterpiece in social competence. She comprehends life! Ya Sarho asked if I was hungry – she was always generous with food, and she can cook! Dumo and I relished the dinner.

I brushed my teeth and went to bed reading Cabral making an exposition on the social stratification among Fulas on the one hand, and the group without any defined form of state organisation, represented by the Balantas. He was explaining this as he teaches the social/ethnic make-up of the different groups in Guinea Bissau. That it was easier for the Balantas to accept the struggle and join the PAIGC than other ethnic groups like the Fulas and Manjagos because the former has a horizontal social set-up as opposed to the latter two who have vertical hierarchical social formations… I was reading this when I fell asleep. The time must have been after 3 am. Dumo, never went to bed. He sat on a chair facing the door packing papers, making the place neat and continued retrieving all “subversive” documents that may be incriminating. Dumo is a very clean and tidy person. And he does everything meticulously. Their compound was built in this way: When you enter you have a building on the left at sunrise. There, lived the tenants. These were Jola folks. Then to your right the “self-contained” family house at sunset. In between the two buildings is a big area of open space. The whole compound is always clean and tidy. The family house is built in such a way that when you arrive the main entrance door is in the front. You walk into a long living room. From the living room to your right is a bedroom, and from your left you can enter Ya Sarho’s bedroom and goal-keeper Sarho’s bedroom. Walking into goal-keeper’s room you turn to your right and enter Dumo’s bedroom. But, Dumo has his own door from behind the house. So, he has two doors to his bedroom, a window that opens to the living room and another beside the backdoor. He normally would lock the door to goal-keeper’s room and bring down the curtain, close the window opening to the living room and bring down the curtain and open his back door wide open. I am giving you these details because it will give you an idea as to what is going to expire within the next coming hours.

Before I slept Dumo and I were discussing issues ranging from political mobilisation at grassroots level, the cell formations around the country, the ORS (Organ of the Revolutionary Students); a student paper founded by Saikou Samateh (Dippa-Kunda, now living in Norway), Modou Mbye Jabang (Kartong), Alpha Robinson (Banjul, now in UK/Germany?), Pa Ousman Marong (Banjul) and my humble self. I will give you details about the ORS at a later date.

We talked about working with the unions and recruiting more females in our work. MOJA-G had only two female active participants – Veronica Secka and Jainaba Bah. Looking back, I can recall the first time I met Dumo I was still a student. It was at Latrikunda German; Sajo Jallow’s house and the meeting was how we the students present: Alpha Robinson, Modou Mbye Jabang and I could initiate our own student paper. In fact, MOJA-G’s name never came up at that meeting. 

As I continued reading my Cabral punctuated by our discourse into the night my anticipation of meeting with all the new people from the cells was at fever pitch. Even though I had grown up in Farafenni and had traveled to and fro during school holidays, this was to be my first trip of touring the length and breadth of The Gambia. The excitement was an inevitable factor.

There was a BANG at the door! Then a BIGGER BANG with the words: DUMO SARHO! OPEN THE DOOR! DUMO! OPEN THE DOOR! Then a third and much louder knock! I opened my eyes as I saw Dumo wrapping documents upon documents in a plastic bag. As he did so he responded: “I am getting dressed, wait a minute, I’m getting dressed! To me I could see Dumo was fully dressed. There and then in a split second it dawned on me that this was a raid. My heart started to beat and it actually felt like a baptism of fire! The adrenaline rush that I felt in my body for the first time was one that could lift a building, walk on water or fly to space, and on a broom too for that matter. Dumo Sarho was raided in connection with the earlier raid the day before. The patrol that came to get him had Daba Marena, Jatta Baldeh, Foday Barry and Daddy Jobe, who was the driver among them.

All material was bundled up. Dumo handed me the precious parcel. We shook hands and he opened the door to goal-keeper Sarho’s room. Sheriff Sarho, their younger brother was up and standing. Dumo signaled him to go and see if the road was clear. Sheriff scouted the main road, came back giving the green light and I passed Ya Sarho (who was already up due to the noise) with a nod and clutching to the parcel I left through the front door. I took a dash. In my mind’s eye I could see Sheriff closing the main door behind me and Dumo, gently closing the door leading to goal-keeper Sarho’s, bringing down the curtains and opening his back door to allow in the raiders. Later, I learnt that the patrol vehicle actually was making a u-turn when I left the compound. It came back and packed at the gate as Dumo Sarho was arrested without any of his rights read out to him.


Author: Jainaba Bah, Sweden


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