Many Gambians are very well deserving of commendations for an historic fight that defeated one of Africa’s most ruthless dictators in our generation. The biggest credit without a doubt goes to Gambians who paid the ultimate price for the freedom and dignity of a nation. The nation will forever be indebted to these brave men and women and their families who gave their lives willingly or otherwise standing up to a monstrous regime and its torturous and killing machine. These people just in comparison are The Gambia’s own Dr Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks. They shall forever be remembered for a sacrifice beyond anything imaginable. An historic museum and monuments forever displaying their heroism must be established and erected in their honour.
Gambian voters who bravely braced the threat and intimidation to cast decisive votes against impunity after 22 years of degradation, torture and human rights violations too deserve the medal of honour that is the pride of Africa. They manifested the true belief that power truly belongs to the people! The political leaders without a doubt who painstakingly put their political ambitions on hold for the national interest deserve commendation as well for putting the nation first. In every fight, especially as huge as liberating a nation and its people, there are silent heroes behind the scenes. These are the spouses, parents and families of the freedom fighters who had to endure the pain and fear of losing loved ones to a brutal regime. They too must be celebrated for their prayers and sleepless nights in being there for those who braced the woods to fight the bitter fight.
For over two decades noble sons and daughters of The Gambia refused to abandon their country to a brutal dictator who seized power and drove the best and brightest away to get his way. Nobility and patriotism however wasn’t a gift, it was earned through humility and bravely. Many Gambians in the Diaspora refused to give up, but continued to organise to find a solution to the nation’s predicament. There were disappointments and bitter fights for almost two decades; but those who refused to succumb to failure as an alternative continued to explore a path to political freedom. This is what led to the birth of Gambia Democracy Fund (GDF) – a group of Gambians with different backgrounds, political orientations and personalities.
After so many meetings, conferences and trial and errors with so many people contributing in one way or another, some new like-minded citizens bonded by a common destiny and sense of urgency formed a close net. They recognised that the fight against dictatorship would never be won without the necessary resources to fight against the dictator who had the nation’s resources at this disposal. A new strategy emerged to mobilise resources and dislodge the dictator using his own political game. This group of eleven Gambians faced adversity of trust and skepticism due to history of Diaspora organisations.
They would have to plough through the distrust and name calling infested in the Diaspora to earn the confidence of the people. History was on their side, as change never comes without the bruises to show for the fight. Backed by The Gambia’s strongest activists and citizens’ will to support on an organised path, GDF in collaboration with thousands of Gambians in the Diaspora found a niche to mobilise resources. This mobilisation was a success largely thanks to Gambians willing to put their money where their mouths were; the path was clear and the battle grounds were drawn leading to the historic defeat of Africa’s most brutal tyrant.
It is therefore important to bring out the personalities behind GDF to the public months after the sweet victory and with the people behind the group remaining humble and silent about their sacrifices and efforts. I feel obliged to celebrate each and every one of these people who have not taken a single credit for what may have been the last ditch effort to save a nation. I herein introduce to you the people behind GDF as until now many Gambians may not know who were the brains behind GDF. For disclosure purposes, the author has not sought permission to write about these people but felt obliged to do so.
Baba Colley a native of Kiang, has been the ad hoc Secretary General of the GDF. A young Gambian of the quiet type but highly intellectual who is a strategic thinker and pragmatic individual. Baba has never been in the public eyes during the struggle. He has always been a behind-the-scenes individual who deeply cares about The Gambia and what entails in the country. Baba is a strong believer in equality and justice and had always believed that when organised, Gambians can achieve amazing things. Baba’s leadership and crucial role in GDF was to get things real and as practical as possible. He was a strong voice of dissent on anything sensational or hasty decisions made with emotions.
Lamin Jatta is a native of Brikama and served as the chair of the political liaison committee and the link between GDF and the Coalition Parties. Lamin is a project manager and since GDF was an ad hoc project, Jatta’s expertise was of immense resource. Lamin is a well-measured individual who wants everything done through a clear and well-spelt out process. He doesn’t rush to decisions but takes his time to think and calculate the risks and consistency of every decision. Every butut that was sent to the Coalition passed through Lamin who ensured that the funds were not only received but documented accordingly for accountability. Though PPP leaning [his father Alhaji Dembo Jatta was a Minister of Education under Jawara and served as MP] in partisan politics, Lamin put The Gambia first, second and last. Never once did he put partisan interest over national interest.
Tukulor Sey, a native of Brikama and one of the most dynamic Gambian women of our times. Tukulor is an emotional being; but make no mistake, her emotions demonstrate her humanity and compassion for doing the right thing. Tukulor was the leader of the media committee and was largely responsible for all press releases, the social media war that was Yahya Jammeh’s nightmare. When Tukulor hits the Twitter handles and Facebook, Yahya’s demons hide under the table and run for cover. Tukulor is a rare gem who speaks and acts from the heart. A strong voice who was a money-machine, she was one of the most effective fundraisers in the Diaspora. Tukulor’s strength in mobilising resources and bringing people to raise funds was the success behind GDF’s fundraising machine.
Pata PJ Saidykhan from Jarra, is probably one of the youngest in the GDF. Pata was a voice of reason with fresh ideas and candor. He had a strong voice and was determined to see GDF successful in bringing the change we have in The Gambia today. Surprisingly, Pata had no political leaning and had never shown any political affiliation during GDF’s efforts to free The Gambia from political oppression. Pata too was part of the media group and was instrumental in sending out effective communications with clear and concise messages to the public. He cared for transparency and the reputation of the group. He openly and strongly defended the course of GDF and was not afraid to challenge anyone out there who either misunderstood or deliberately attempted to distort the very purpose of GDF. Many have contributed immensely towards the success of GDF.
Lamin Tunkara from Baddibu is another dynamic Gambian who loves The Gambia and has strong moral conviction in doing the right thing. Tunkara is a no-nonsense man who will say it as he sees it. He was and is still one of the signatories of the finances of GDF. Lamin has been a strong pillar of the struggle against impunity in The Gambia and was highly committed to dislodging the dictator. His quest for transparency and accountability is unmatched. Tunkara is another emotional member of the GDF but his emotions are rightfully in agreement with what he truly believes in. Lamin is a practical person who gets things done and when he promises he delivers. His integrity and eye for details are unmatched. GDF would not be successful without people like Lamin. He too never manifested any political leaning in his role in GDF. He is as honest and neutral as they come. For him The Gambia is first, second and last.
Omar Ann is another native of Brikama. Omar is the moral voice of GDF; he speaks with high sense of morality, honesty and integrity. A peacemaker who calms the tension whenever things are heated, Omar is also responsible for GDF finances and his stance on accountability and transparency is admirable. A leader in many ways, Omar served on the fundraising committee. He represented GDF in many media outlets and his honesty and integrity helped cement GDF’s integrity and public trust. Because of his high sense of moral character and integrity, Omar was also mindful of conflict of interest and would abstain from voting for the most part where a decision or vote may include his mother [the current vice-president]. He is another long time member of the struggle who would give up his life to free The Gambia. Omar Ann’s tremendous respect for others is contagious and as a result he earned the respect of every member of GDF. He is a citizen of distinguished character.
Kejau Touray is a native of Niamina Kudang and former lieutenant colonel in the Gambia National Army. Kejau is the only European member of GDF and has been one of the most instrumental members of the group. Kejau is an IT professional with some legal background who often counsels the group on matters that may have legal implications. A strong voice with and a man of high IQ, Kejau looks at things from different angles. Though he too has a political leaning, he never demonstrated for once any partisan thought in the GDF. He puts The Gambia first, second and last and is a great patriot who always advocated for inclusiveness. Kejau is the brain behind GDF’s website and was a member of the political liaison committee responsible for working with the Coalition. Being the only member of GDF in Europe Kejau had to deal with time differences but he was always there to attend meetings and contribute his time, his medium and resources towards the success of GDF.
Juka Ceesay is a native of Serekunda and also one of the youngest and most brilliant female leaders The Gambia has in the struggle. Juka is a businesswoman with high sense of urgency and focus on delivering results. She serves on the fundraising committee and is another effective fundraiser who knows how to set goals and deliver on time. Juka is another voice of reason on the team and was very much the one who kept GDF focused on the task and delivery. Juka is highly respectable and was a driving force behind GDF’s success. Her detailed orientation and sharp memory will not let anything slip attended. She kept the group on tasks that were not completed and Juka would not take no for an answer. She speaks her mind and asks relevant questions.
Momodu B Krubally is a native of Basse and one of the strongest leaders of GDF. Krubally does not only subscribe to the ideals of an organised group, but he believes in the power of social and political movements. Krubally is a member of the media and fundraising group and was one of the fiercest defenders of GDF. His quest for accountability, transparency and ingenuity in raising funds was second to none. Krubally is the pioneer for the GDF T-shirt printing idea, which brought GDF additional funding in the telethon. He speaks with clarity and his knowledge of the political landscape in The Gambia helped GDF focus on delivering resources to the Coalition. Armed with a high sense of business ethics and moral integrity, Krubally was highly focused on keeping track through spreadsheets of expenses and donations to GDF. His record keeping is second to none.
Saul Mbenga is a native of Bakoteh who is one of the most senior members of the GDF. If Tukulor is the aunty of GDF, Saul Mbenga is the uncle. The most experienced member of the struggle, Saul’s voice was a breath of fresh air. Very patient with a wealth of experience and knowledge of the struggle, Saul was instrumental in helping facilitate communication and resources needed to effectively deliver GDF’s agenda. Saul served as a moral voice who often redirected the group into thinking big and more strategically. He had a calming voice which injects sense of nationalism to whatever GDF was doing. Saul has respect for everyone and works patiently in delivering results. He was one of the most optimistic members of the group who will not let the group slide into chaos even in the most heated of debates. Saul was also a member of the political liaison group which was instrumental in helping deliver resources to the Coalition. Saul will go down in history as one of the best the struggle had.
Demba Baldeh is a native of Jarra and a member of the media in the struggle against impunity and the author of this article. Demba’s role was simply to complement the efforts of members of the GDF. He served as a member of the fundraising committee in the group and mainly helped chair meetings and asked relevant questions for transparency and accountability. A strong believer in the power to mobilise and organise, Demba was one of the strong defenders of GDF’s process and ideals. He often defended GDF against unnecessary criticism from perceived sceptics who never took the time to understand what the GDF was out to do.
For the first time in the history of The Gambia, contributions worth millions of dalasis were mobilised from the Gambian Diaspora through GDF. The story of GDF cannot be written without complementing the numerous online newspapers and radios who t took time to publish and help with hours of fundraising on the airwaves.
Author’s note: For disclosure purposes, the author did not seek any permission from members of the group to publish this story. The descriptions of the GDF 11 are the opinion of the author based on his experience of and interaction with the group.