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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Breaking the omertà: The Story of Moja-G Part 3

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By Jainaba Bah

MOJA-G had some contacts in the barracks, that is to say members. Mustapha Danso was one among them. In-as-much as speculation has it that the movement at one time or the other contemplated on initiating or staging a military coup, this interest never lasted long as many people are made to believe. The truth is those militants who were aware of the planning of a military coup by Kukoi were working in the camp to discourage that from happening, waking up from the Mustapha Danso/Eku Mahoney drama.

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Ousman Manjang was not with MOJA-G at the time of the coup. This may be surprising to many, but the fact is a meeting in Sukuta to discuss how to forge a way forward for the movement resulted in Ousman Manjang’s resignation. A temporary resignation one must hasten to add.

 

According to a very close source, Tijan Koro Sallah was shot in Banjul in an attempt to liberate the city. At the time he was with Kukoi and Danso among others. That was when he Koro recommended that to free Banjul they needed more men and arms, and since Danso was a military man with the know-how, he should go to Bakau Barracks and bring arms and men. But Kukoi insisted he [Kukoi] would do that. That was the last time they saw him. The next time they heard from him was from an abandoned transmitter. Kukoi has a story to tell Gambians!

 

Moving towards the Central Bank, Tijan Koro Sallah was shot in the stomach. In a critical condition of near death experience, Mustapha Danso took Koro Sallah to the Royal Victoria Hospital and was staying guard at his bed 24/7. As Koro’s condition stabilised and the Senegalese forces were everywhere, Danso moved Koro to one of his [Koro’s] sister’s place in Perseverance Street. From there, being on security alert, Koro was moved to his other sister’s place in Half-Die at the imam’s home. Another source close to Koro disclosed that Koro was to spend some days at the family compound at Buckle Street. I was told his mum Ya Yandeh Nyane, (may her soul rest in perfect peace!) guarded and nursed Koro day and night, protecting him from the patrol searchers. That one day she barricaded herself at the compound gate offering to give her life in exchange for Koro’s and refusing to let in any patrol officer.

 

The same source further explained that Koro Sallah’s own elder brother, Abou Sallah (same mum and dad) was a diehard PPP stalwart. He had sworn Koro must be handed over to the authorities dead or alive! A family tragedy unfolded when their younger brother Nyanga Sallah (RIP) took a bullet and died instantly for no fault of his but simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Another source said he suffocated with others as they were grouped together in custody. Femi Jeng, The Gambia’s legendary host of the programme Your Quiz Competitors on Friday evenings at Radio Gambia also met a similar fate: death from suffocation. Nyanga Sallah was on vacation from Holland.

 

Having lost one son and ready to give her live to save the other, this amazing woman, Ya Yandeh Nyane, organised an escape route for her severely wounded son. On an unsuspecting night, a fisherman with a canoe paddled Tijan Koro Sallah in the guise of a Moor over the waves of the Atlantic to the border into Senegal.

 

I have asked Koro to give me a personal account of exactly what expired in his life during those fateful days between 30 July and 6 August 1981. But he gently declined, giving security reasons. I sent him the notes written here to confirm or reject. His comments read:
“Greetings,

I have seen the information and issues raised.
Yes it is important that issues and events raised are discussed.

 

The nature of the crisis of Moja demands that a disciplined environment and condition is created before a responsible dialogue of our common past, possible present and future. My advice at this stage is to start with developing a code of conduct that will guide the internal and external dialogue.
The nature of the crisis at home, the increasing fragmentation of the political opposition at home, the Diaspora and the Gambian masses requires self-critical analysis of the positive and negative experiences of our past and a way forward.

Best regards Koro”

When I insisted that I want his okay before I could dispatch the article and he knew I really wanted to send away the piece, he told me “It’s ok,” that he will take what ever price comes with that! I was laughing with him on the phone, but when we finished, I sat down and wept! The moment of truth is here….am I jeopardising his life? Should duty to country be a higher call than staying faithful to our avowed bonding? Time will tell! He knows, (like any other MOJA-G militant or non-member mentioned here) he has the freedom to come out plain and set the record straight.

 

Koro Sallah gave his first born son the twin names of his fallen comrade and younger brother. I held the baby in my arms as the imam recited The Azan and Fatiha, whispered in his cute ears and later announced to the gathering the name of such a bundle of joy: Mustapha-Nyanga: after the late Mustapha Danso and the late Nyanga Sallah (Both RIP!)

 

In the articles to follow I will give you a brief description of who Tijan Koro Sallah is. The man: I have had the fortune to live with him in a collective and seen him at very close quarters; a view that very few individuals have had access to.

 

Yes, after that fourth arrest, my trip with Dumo for a country tour is yet to take place, but I immediately hit the road with Comrade Saikou Samateh. We call him Saiks or Shakes for Shakespeare because he loves writing poetry. Poetry, depicting struggle. Here is one of them with his courtesy:

 

Be Firm
“Be firm
Brother be firm
Be firm sister
The hurricane is blowing, be firm
The wind is blowing, be firm brother
He who is firm shall never perish.
Be firm to your beliefs sister
Hold firm to your beliefs brother
She who is firm shall never perish.
Be firm
Sister be firm
Be firm brother
For he who is firm shall never perish”

 

Later we renamed Saiks Comrade Ho after the Vietnamese hero and icon Ho Chi Minh. Reason: 1 Clandestine work. 2 He is tall and very skinny, likes to smoke. Works very hard, dedicated and never complains. The trek with Saiks took us less than a week and we covered only a fraction of the original plan. We travelled from Barra to Berending and Darsilami on the north bank, where we met Sister Fatou Banja. She was also a MOJA-G member working with the Community Development Programme. If I remember correctly, her project involved salt making. She was very reserved and we used to visit her when she comes home in Dippakunda, west of Serekunda marketplace. From Darsilami we traveled to Kerewan, crossed the river and took another transport which dropped us on the highway. We started walking to Baddibu Mandori, where Saiks’ maternal grandmother hails from. We convened a meeting with the Mandori cell and then continued by foot to Baddibu Salikenni (home to both Saiks’ parents and the late Sheriff Mustapha Dibba). There too we had a meeting with the existing group.

Our journey took us through many tiny hamlets and villages around that area. Meeting different cells of able-bodied young men with much hope: the hope for a better tomorrow; one that would transform their communities and improve their lives. We addressed the need for their full participation in the work at hand. I remember being inspired by Cabral, his epic “Tell no lies; claim no easy victories” was resonating in my head all the time! And I delivered my lines to every cell gathering as if I was standing with Amilcar Cabral when he was addressing his comrades in arms in Baafata. Saiks being a “son of the place” made our work much easier than anticipated. He connected with everybody and the most remarkable observation I made on that trip was the mutual trust we shared with the people. That experience later made better sense to me when I got a book from Nana Grey Johnson: Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire.

 

On our return leg we dropped off at Kuntaya. Had a meeting and continued to Sambakala in a van. From Sambakala it was by foot through Kerr Cherno (Sare Cherno Alhaji Baaba), Kerr Mam’Ma (Sare Mam’Ma) and to Sika. We spent a night in Sika where we had a meeting with the village cell members. But first we were treated to a sumptuous dinner. It was chicken janing’dõ and a very tasty one with bara maano (chicken stew with home-grown rice) . As I sat eating with the women I could imagine Saiks taking epicurean pleasure in each spoonful. We’ve been eating raw groundnuts, canned beef and tapalapa most of the time. Throughout the journey, we were accommodated with a lot of hospitality at what our hosts could afford. When we ate a hot meal it was mostly futô/chéré/lachiri with salt and hot water or simple plain rice and some watery domoda. That was the best they could afford – the little they had – and they shared everything with us. That evening in Sika, after a long bath with Astral (my favourite soap of all times), it was like heaven putting my head on a pillow and closing my eyes on a bed.

 

The next morning we were on track again, by foot to Juffureh, Albreda and Sitanunku. My feet had blisters and the Bata sandals I was wearing have aged a century. Throughout the journey we were given lots of groundnuts as gifts. I remember telling Saiks I was going to either dump some on the way for passers-by, for hares, rabbits, monkeys and any other animal caring to nibble or just drop the whole lot in the next village. The weight was working my nerves. But with delicious fantasy images of plasas, mbaxali gërrté with okra and or jaxatu and domoda flooding my mind, hunger gnawing at my intestines I endured, heavily suppressing the urge to plead with Saiks to carry me on his back. On the outskirts of Sitanunku when an old truck offered to take us all the way to Barra it was like living in a dream. We were exhausted, dehydrated and very dirty covered with red dust. As the driver slowed down, we mustered our last energies, scrambled and flung ourselves and our backpacks in the rear….

 

To be continued……

‘I AM A HO$TAGE OF MY CON$CIENCE!
THERE I$ NO RAN$OM THAT
CAN EVER $ET ME FREE!’ (Jainaba Bah)

© Balang Baa Publications 2012

Jainaba Bah is currently The Gambia’s ambassador to Russia. She is married to former ambassador M Sarjo Jallow.

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