By Ebrima Baldeh
If we took the Barrow government to be the proverbial children portrayed side by side with the fictional character of the bogeyman, then, one can say without any iota of doubt that Madi Jobarteh, the civil rights activist, must certainly be that bogeyman who the children love to hate. That hatred is now being put to test, and by all accounts, it has already threatened freedom of speech, assembly and even political consciousness.
Unless, the government have something sinister up its sleeve, ( something that is not akin to what we’re thinking or imagining ) what is merely uttered by Madi Jobarteh through an interview with QTV is more than newstritious, to borrow this coinage by (Sheriff Bojang of the Standard newspaper ). Why should the police pounce on him, when there are other pressing issues that are even more significant than what Madi Jobarteh was arrested and detained for?
Here is my transcript of the QTV interview for the sake of the record:
“It has to stop. So, it is not just a matter of the United States and George Floyd or Momodou Lamin Sisay but it is to say that even in the Gambia police brutality has to stop. [ I mean ] the taking of the lives of Gambians, of Africans ah, in Gambia, in Africa and around the World has to stop. We have experienced in this country itself, many instances of Black lives being taken by the State under the former regime and right now under the current regime. We have instances of police brutality for which there has not been justice and accountability. We recalled the name of Haruna Jatta for example in Kanilai who was shot, we remember, the case of the UTG student Kebba Secka who was killed by security forces, we remember the case of Ousman Darboe who was detained and tortured by the anti-crimes unit, until today, there is no justice for that. So, all of these constitute the same story; like the case of George Floyd, or the case of Breonna Taylor, or the case of [you know] Trayvon Martin, the case of…
At the dawn of the so called new Gambia in December2016, the government had trumpeted lofty promises that it was going to be a break from the past. But this was not; indeed, in February 2018, a prominent political science lecturer, Dr. Ismaila Ceesay was arrested, detained and charged for inciting violence after the political science lecturer commented in a Gambian newspaper that the government needed to win the trust of the army. The charges were subsequently dropped, the police stood down, released Dr. Ceesay, and issued an apology after a sea of university students stormed the police headquarters in Banjul demanding their lecturer be released unconditionally.
So, like Dr. Ceesay, Madi Jobarteh has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Barrow government. He’s literary a thorn in the flesh of the establishment and has never wavered in his stance on all things that are abnormal, or a flagrant violation of the constitution. Jobarteh’s political commentaries are widely published in all the print and an online Gambian news media. And this could be the probable cause of his recent trouble with the Barrow government; thus, the police rushed in quickly to assail him.
It is absolutely worrying that the antics used by the former regime, are now being deployed by this government to intimidate voiciferous critics into submission or silence. And if the government succeed in jailing one critic, it will eventually deter others from speaking out- thus the Nigerian writer, Ola Rotimi’sproverb comes to mind: if a frog that leads in front fall into a pit others behind take caution.
Even the manner of Madi Jobarteh’s arrest was absurd; and Madi dealt the police a big blow by sending a message on social media telling all his followers while he was apparently in police custody. A volley of criticisms about the arrest and detention are now upping the ante mainly on Facebook. Being the astute journalist and activist he is, he knew the message has achieved the desired effect.
No one need to remind Madi Jobarteh about the diabolical moves of the former regime and its notorious torture chambers; Yahya Jammeh may have disappeared from the political system but its apparel is in place. After the abduction and grotesque killing of Saudi dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Embassy in Turkey, many journalists and activists are becoming more and more edgier whenever they are called for questioning by the security forces. So, Madi Jobarteh’s strike was effective; it was a smart decision on his part to spread the word so that in case the unexpected happened- the world will know.
I think the government should NOT worry about a diaspora counterattack; the Madi trial is happening under the veneer of a heightened global protest against racism and police brutality. And having tipped the Gambian diaspora as a strategic constituency, it seems the government is not only reneging its promise to appease the diaspora but in curing the wrath of the bloc to rebel against him at the polls in 2021. The groundswell of endorsement and solidarity with Madi Jobarteh is an indicator of the discontentment from the influential diaspora contingent. If, anything, it is also ammunition to the opposition camp to discharge their weapons at the right time and right place which is agenda 2021.
Any attempt to silence voiciferous critics like Madi Jobarteh is tantamount to controlling the present narrative, like the novelist cum satirist, George Orwell, states in his 1984 book, ‘who controls the past, controls the future, who controls the present controls the past’- It remains to be seen how the Barrow government will succeed in doing just that, when his predecessor attempted during his tenure to control the narrative which ultimately cost him the presidency.
It is never too late to make mends; it is always regretable if one keeps making costly mistakes or try to arrogate the notion that one is always right to settle personal scores with the harshest critics. Gambians thought they did the right thing by replacing dictatorship with democracy; anything sort of this; is a derailment of their ultimate sacrifices.