Flying Solo

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With Aisha Jallow

Flying solo means to do something without the aid or supervision of someone else.

Like completing a sale on one’s own, without being monitored by a senior member of staff, or flying a plane on your own for the first time. This is actually where this expression came from, because every pilot begins their training under supervision by an experienced pilot. The first time flying a plane on one’s own is a big achievement and something that will always be remembered by the aviator. It takes courage to do things on your own, to follow your own path and not be led by others. Courage should not be confused with fearless, because a courageous person is afraid but does what he or she has to do – anyway.

Some days ago I listened to a very interesting debate between the leader of PDOIS, Mr Halifa Sallah, and our well-known human rights activist, Mr Madi Jobarteh. Mr Jobarteh was not satisfied with Mr Sallah’s achievements when he was a member of the government. His opinion was that Mr Sallah and others had failed Solo Sandeng and the cause.

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Mr Solo Sandeng led a peaceful protest for electoral reforms in April 2016 and was arrested by agents of the defunct National Intelligence Agency (NIA) but died in detention after being tortured by the NIA and two other party members also died in custody later as established by the party.

Solo Sandeng’s remains were exhumed in March 2017. Saikou Omar Jeng, the director of Operations at the NIA led the police to Solo’s grave at Tanji village in the West Coast Region. The government of the Gambia announced the official burial of the remains of Solo Sandeng to January 10.

The funeral commenced with a procession from the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital Mortuary to the Never Again Arch, where a tribute service was held in his honour. Religious rites took place thereafter at the Dippa Kunda Central Mosque followed by final interment at the Dippa Kunda cemetery. Public officials, as well as members of the public participated, to show their remorse.

Mr Jobarteh shared his opinions about some of the public officials participating in the tribute service. He is a great activist, and very passionate about working for a change in the Gambian society, and I admire him for that. Hypocrisy is never easy to deal with, and seeing crocodile tears being shed can make even the most meek person upset. I listened to the debate between Mr Jobarteh and Mr Sallah, and from the sometimes many emotional outbursts I tried to understand Madi’s point of view. We are many who respect and admire Madi Jobarteh for his neverending contributions to the Gambian society. He is always up on the barricades, fighting for human rights and democracy.

There are also people who don’t like Madi, he is a thorn in their flesh and a reminder of their own shortcomings. Solo Sandeng was a thorn in Yahya Jammeh’s flesh and therefore he had to die. For a narcissistic person as our former president, there could be no one who was criticizing him without being punished. Mr Sandeng was a humble man, who didn’t bang his own drum. He was a member of the UDP and they arranged a peaceful protest, demanding electoral change. In a democracy that would have been a normal part of a democratic process, but even though The Gambia was not proclaimed a dictatorship, everyone knew that this was it.

Imagine the courage to still step out of the security of your home and protest. Leaving wife and children behind, knowing their fear, but assuring them that all will be fine. What else could he have said, knowing the mindset of Yahya Jammeh, but also knowing that the cause was too important to neglect? Solo Sandeng is now called a national hero, but as Halifa Sallah said in the debate between himself and Madi Jobarteh: Solo didn’t want to become a hero. He wanted change. He knew the risk, but went out anyway, hoping for the best. Mr Sandeng was very popular among the Gambian people, well respected and listened to. He became a threat in the eyes of Yahya Jammeh, he could have been the spark that lit the fire among Gambian citizens. That could not be accepted by Jammeh and the rest we know.

The tragic rest we know, but must never forget and that is what Madi Jobarteh is trying to remind us of all the time. A thorn in our flesh, or not, but he is worthy listening to. I know Madi Jobarteh very well, and I know how excited he can become when you have a debate with him. Keeping one’s calm is not easy all the time, but when you have a discussion with Madi, you need to keep your mind straight and mind your words. Madi is in many ways a living dictionary, so it is not easy to win a debate with him. This kind of people can be very annoying, but instead of trying to belittle them, it is better to try to raise to their level.

Getting rid of someone you dislike is an easy, but coward way to solve a problem. Yahya Jammeh chose that as his solution too many times, but for someone like that, there are no true friends. Someone like Yahya Jammeh had to watch his back all the time and rely on those he paid for protecting him.

With time, it is easy to develop a psychological disorder called paranoia, where a person distrusts everyone and sees enemies behind every bush. Look at the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, who is avoiding participating in any kind of gathering outside the safety of his living quarters. He wears a bullet proof vest under his suit jacket and has an employee whose main task is to taste a part of the food on Putin’s plate as Putin is terrified of getting poisoned. Putin is trained by the Russian secret police, the KGB, and he knows every trick in the book. He doesn’t want to suffer what he has forced his enemies to suffer.

Solo Sandeng knew that Yahya Jammeh had the habit of getting rid of his enemies, but he was hoping that he was not considered as an enemy. They say that hope is the last thing that leaves us, and if we didn’t hope for a better day to come – why should we keep on struggling? The country where I am born, Finland, is a very small country. We fought for our freedom, we were conquered by Sweden and by Russia, but we never gave up. After the second world war, Finland was invaded by Russian soldiers and the war kept on for some years. When I hear about the war in Ukraine, and the benefits the Ukrainian soldiers have of knowing their environments, it was the same for my people. We hid in the deep forests and even if we were few, we were tough and never gave up.

My friends call me a Finnish warrior, and I am proud of that name. Solo Sandeng was a Gambian warrior, but being a warrior is not mainly about fighting a war. It is about fighting the good cause and never giving up.

Halifa Sallah has fought the battles he has been able to, and Madi Jobarteh keeps on fighting. Instead of becoming annoyed when you listen to a warrior, try to understand what he or she wants to achieve. If you don’t have the guts to stand up for your opinions, at least don’t bash those who are tough enough to speak up. Lend them your ear, because it is not easy flying solo.