Khalifa Bajinka, a former major in the Gambian Armed Forces died on Monday in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.
He was 47 and is survived by his wife, Fatou Dibba Bajinka and three children.
Born in Brikama, West Coast Region, Bajinka joined the Gambian army in 1992 after completing his secondary school education. But due to his high aptitude score in the military examination, he was placed in the officer corps and completed the Basic Officer Course in Turkey in 1992-1993.
He also attended the Fuh Sing Kang College in Taipei, Taiwan in 1997 and earned a Diploma in Administration and Ahmed Bello University in Nigeria in 2005-2006 where he earned a diploma in management.
Bajinka first worked in close association with former President Jammeh from July 1994 to June 1999, when he served as the Aide de Camp (ADC) to the Head of State. He was returned to the Presidential Palace as a Staff Officer in the Office of the President from August 2003 to March 2004.
During this period, Bajinka enjoyed great relationship with Mr Jammeh, and was promoted to Commander of the Presidential Guard in March 2004. It was in this role as Commander that Bajinka fell out of favour with Jammeh.
According to information published by WikiLeaks, in early 2005, Bajinka learned that Jammeh was independently utilising members of his Presidential Guard for arrests, torture, destruction of property, and intimidation of political rivals. Specifically, Jammeh created a small four-man team, composed of members of the Presidential Guard who were frequently ordered to carry-out nefarious tasks. When Bajinka learned of the unit’s activities, he ordered his men to stand-down on several Jammeh ordered operations, which led to his abrupt reassignment to the Army Staff Headquarters in March 2005.
When rumors persisted in July 2005 that Jammeh remained unhappy with Bajinka, military commanders sent him to the Senior Staff Course in Nigeria from 2005-2006.
While in Nigeria, in March 2006, there was a failed coup attempt in the Gambia led by Colonel Ndure Cham. After several officers were arrested, Bajinka received word from the Nigerian Government that Jammeh had asked for his extradition from Nigeria.
Despite this request, the Nigerian Government refused, and Bajinka finished his studies in Nigeria. After the situation in the Gambia calmed slightly, Bajinka received vague assurances from military officers that Jammeh had seemingly lost interest.
Despite this, the Nigerian Government and Bajinka’s close friends all warned him against returning. However, wishing to see his family and wanting to prove his innocence, Bajinka returned to the Gambia.
Unlike his usual return from deployments, Bajinka was not officially met at the airport, and during his first night, two Gambian National Intelligence Agency officials came to Bajinka’s house requesting his cooperation in the investigation.
When the officers tried to arrest him, Bajinka resisted and threatened that he would not go without a fight. When the two men departed to obtain reinforcements, Bajinka fled by foot to the Senegalese-Gambian border. After crossing the border, Bajinka took a bus to Dakar, where he found refuge with a friend.
He later learned from family members and a former associate that armed men from Jammeh’s Presidential Guard returned to his house to arrest and likely imprison him.
After Bajinka’s departure, his wife and brothers were arrested and placed in prison for several weeks. Although all were released in mid-August 2006, they were asked to report on a regular basis to NIA Headquarters in Banjul for many months.
Bajinka did not know how or why he was implicated in the failed coup attempt, but believes that Mr Jammeh had contemplated arresting him even before his deployment to Nigeria in July 2005. And after reports that Mr Jammeh had asked for his extradition from Senegal, Bajinka applied for resettlement in the United States expressing fears that he would be tortured, and possibly executed, if returned to the Gambia.
After his relocation to the US, Bajinka kept a low profile. And while he had denied any complicity in the coup attempt and privately spoken of his despise of the Jammeh regime, he has never washed the dirty linen of the regime in public.