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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Of Gambia’s born-again activists

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By Yaya Dampha

The Association of Non-governmental Organisations (Tango) that had paid a deaf ear to Yahya Jammeh’s excesses has now taken a 360 degree turn. Some of its members who are on record for denying Inter-Party youths access to the Tango Building want to become the guardians of the very human rights they barely talked about during Yahya Jammeh days. They are the same people holding brief for the attention-seeking Gambia university political science lecturer.

These born-again activists want to make us believe that Dr Ismaila Ceesay has had his rights trampled or infringed. I don’t agree with this blanket accusation. As a human rights defender, I will protest if anyone has been detained beyond the 72 hours without being taken to court. I will also protest if a suspect is tortured, disappeared or murdered.

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However, I don’t think it is fair for these born-again activists to hijack our new breeze of democracy and turn it into an awkward or disrespectful being. In any civilised democracy in the world, the police have constitutional guarantees to arrest or question anyone who commits a crime or is about to commit a crime. Where is the abuse of power here? It simply doesn’t exist as long as the police do not scale over their powers. For our young democracy to work and function, we have to cool down tempers, withdraw into thinking spree moments and reason well. Let us be reasonable and allow the police to do their job. With all their degrees, this crop of born-again activists left Gambians in the cold while Yahya Jammeh was dragging them down the hill.

What is the use of one’s education if you cannot protect the rights of your oppressed people? The problem is their lack of bravery forced them to close their eyes to the evils Jammeh had committed. The fight would have been won long since had these noisemakers manned up. Why bringing your cache of arms when the very people you had abandoned fight their fight and won with dignity?
Some narrow-minded Facebookers questioned my human rights credentials, accusing me of condoning human rights violations. I am not a shaky type of a right defender. I do not in any way support the police arrest, but I will not call it unlawful arrest until the young man spends over 72 hours behind bars without being charged. It is also absurd for anyone to demand an apology from the police when they are not at fault.

What moral duty does Tango have to ask the police to apologise to Dr Ismaila Ceesay who refused to go home after questioning him?
Tango should be ashamed of positioning themselves as the face of the Gambia’s human rights today. Where were these noisemakers when they were badly needed? They glued their mouths, mumbled in silence and went into hibernation.

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Where were these Born Agains when we nicknamed Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh ‘Kemo Conteh’ during our Coalition for Change Gambia Skype conference calls? We gave him that name for his safety. Janneh was arbitrarily arrested, detained and jailed by Jammeh’s kangaroo courts! They all kept mute about the suffering of the masses as if they had no idea about what was happening. The people who betrayed the masses will not be allowed to steal the show. We all had the same opportunities to work and dine with Yahya Jammeh but some of us flatly refused to dig our hands into “the honey pot”. That would be at the expense of vulnerable, innocent citizens.

I do not think Dr Ceesay has committed any crime with regard to his newspaper comments. He is not guilty of committing any crime either. But I cannot exonerate him from blame because no responsible doctor will make such irresponsible comments at a time of security crisis. Dr Ceesay needs to answer to questions such as: Why do you make such a statement? What evidence do you or what do you know that will be beneficial to security agents?
Yes, one born-again even has the audacity to ask why I fled into exile. I am proud to be the first Gambian who took The Gambia’s case to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. With the help of Amnesty International, I gave the Jammeh government sleepless nights. I fled into exile but not until I investigated, documented and reported secret killings, tortures and detentions which caught the eyes of the United Nations and Amnesty International to the point of sending researchers to The Gambia to verify my stories.

I have observed that everyone, including political virgins and social media freaks, want to lecture President Adama Barrow on politics and administration. These are the same people who hurl insults at our leaders when they run out of topic of discussion. The same people are now throwing punches at President Barrow, accusing his government of failing Gambians. What has the questioning of a citizen by the police got to do with a government’s failure? It is normal for police to arrest or question people everywhere. Democracy does not mean police have no powers of arrest or that all the criminals are going to move to Equatorial Guinea or be sent to prison.

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