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MoJA-G: The slow, painful death of a once potent clandestine movement in the Gambia – An insider’s memoir

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By Abdoukarim Sanneh,

Many Gambians who have been following the post 1994 military takeover of Government continue to lament that it’s MoJA-G (Movement of Justice in Africa- The Gambia) that contributed to strengthening the hand of the devil. Professor Arnold Hughes with more than 40 years of scholarship about Gambia’s political history and development stated that The Gambia despite its small size and population it was able to establish itself as a functional democracy for nearly 30 years after independence.
In the book Historical Dictionary of The Gambia, Professor Hughes and David Perfect stated The Gambia has avoided the common fate of other African countries, which soon after independence fell under authoritarian single-party rule of experienced military coups. In addition, its enviable political stability, together with modest economic success, enabled it to avoid remaining under British domination or been absorbed by its larger French-speaking neighbour Senegal. In July, 1981 it was able defeat an attempted coup, but ironically, when other African countries were returning to democratic government, Gambian democracy finally succumbed to military coup on 22 July 1994.

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MoJA-G was once the most radical underground movement, very critical of PPP in the 1980s and its painful structural adjustment programme (SAP). Even with the fact in some quarters, The Gambia’s SAP was embraced as a success, many have witnessed the gradual removal of agricultural subsidies in poor farming communities, masse redundancy in the public service, sectoral reforms of the Public Works Department (PWD), GPMB and other corporations and financial institutions of the government. MoJA-G was in the front campaigning against privatisation and the emergence of a new breed of bourgeoisie.

The MoJA-G section was operating as a clandestine organisation. It was advocating for a change of government through the means of national democratic revolution based on the foundation of Marxism /Leninism as its ideological base. MoJA-G used the Mandinka slogan Balanba to advocate for such a change. As a clandestine movement, it operated in cells of five and more people. The cells were the ideological discussion study groups in schools, villages, working institutions and towns. We shared among us bulk of literature materials from Rodney, Engel, Marx, Mao, Cabral, Nkrumah and many others. We built a bond of comradely love and relation.

During the rainy season, we ran cells in the farms in rural areas. For student militants, parts of our holidays are spent with seasoned comrades posted as government civil servants in the rural areas. In the summer of 1986, such initiatives led to my first journey to Basse when the late Ousainou Cora of Brikama (may his soul rest in perfect peace) worked at the PWD in the town. My grounding with the late Cora, his love for The Gambia, ideological clarity, dynamism, energy and motivation to wider issues of life was the best within the movement. It was not therefore, a surprise when Cora and David Jones the former Banjul South APRC MP resigned from the movement. The fact was that some of these comrades were discontented with how the internal wing of the movement was then operating within the dogma of know only what concerns you – lack of transparency and accountability while at the same time being so sensitive to criticism. They illusively operated in the mode of what Marxist literature defines as “democratic centralism” in which minority is subordinate to the majority and the majority in the congress.

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In our situation because of the clandestine nature of our operations and also with frequent arrests and regular monitoring of our activities by defunct NSS (which late became known as NIA) and CID, we were unable to organise a congress after that of Jokadu, which we organise at night in a remote forest park) to address the movement’s internal issues. The internal wing of the leadership became aloof and sensitive to criticism. Any militant that challenge their autocratic tendencies between the movement was seen as disloyalty to the movement. Many active members resigned, some were excommunicated from the movement’s activities because they were not happy with how things went while others were suspended from the movement and in some instances branded as reactionaries or collaborators with the status quo.

Despite all these internal struggles, MoJA-G as a potent clandestine movement kept functioning. In early 1987 during the hay days of the anti-apartheid struggle against racial segregation in the Republic of South Africa, the Gambia Anti-Apartheid Society was born as a sign of solidarity with the struggling masses of South Africa and Namibia. The Gambia Anti-Apartheid Society was a brainchild of MoJA-G. It was registered has a legal structure without the knowledge of PPP authorities to facilitate the political education programmes and mobilise progressive elements into MOJA-G. Another organisation was GYF – the Gambia Youth Federation up till 1994, operates as a local NGO in The Gambia. GYF became an effective grassroots organisation addressing development needs of communities in rural Gambia in the area of sustainable livelihood enterprise development, nursery school education, vegetable gardening and other areas of micro enterprise development.

The National Union of Gambian Students (NUGS) was also an affiliate body under the command, advice and direction of MoJA-G. It was in 1990/91 that we change the name from National Union of Gambian Student (NUGS) to Gamsu at a Congress at The Gambia College.
In the area of personal development of militants, some militants of the movement through the assistance from external wings in Sweden were able to get scholarships for overseas training in disciplines in former Soviet Union and Eastern European Countries to study the field of architecture, engineering, medicine, agriculture and so forth. Today, some of these individuals have returned to The Gambia, working in various sectors of our economy. People like myself, Ndey Jobarteh, Dr Abba Hydara, Mai Fatty, Jewru Krubally and so forth went to different congresses namely the All African Student Union, International Union of Students in different parts of Africa and the wider world. Many of us could say that our membership of MoJA-G was the source of our enlightenment and political empowerment.

In 1992 when Sir Dawda Jawara lifted the ban on MoJA-G, the exile group or the external wing of the movement based in those days in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, sent a fact-finding mission for consultation with the internal wing. During that, consultation process numerous things surfaced and this include allegation of mismanagement of funds sent into the country by the exiled group in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark. When the 1994 coup happened some of leadership of the internal wing of the movement joined ranks the soldiers and some of these elements went on later to indecently frame other militants whom they had seriously differing opinions. The consultation of the exile group of the movement when the ban was lifted in 1992 was to come and study the modalities to transform the movement into some political organisation like Senegal’s LDMPT, which during the leadership of Professor Abdoulaye Bathily, had a strong established relationship with MoJA-G. I could remember my first trip in Dakar in 1987 with Dr Abba Hydara on our way to Cuba via Soviet Union for 13th Congress of International Union of Student, we stayed with LDMPT and they facilitating our visa transaction to Moscow. In left-wing politics, a healthy working relation is seen as a sign of international solidarity of the global left wing movements.

In the first days of the 1994 coup, some of our militants were arrested. After their release, during my discussion with these individuals was that they were well treated and went on to mention that they had discussed with Yaya Jammeh. They continued to narrated that the chairman of the junta was part of us, we should support him with open arms and embrace the change. With the involvement of some, these members with the junta many cadres of the movement decided to distance themselves and keep a low profile. During the process of nationwide consultation for transition from military to quasi democracy led the formation of National Consultative Committee and that committee selected members of this committee included these arrested member of the movement whom later become active APRC militants.

That process saw MoJA-G’s daylight transformation of some of our members into a July 22ND Youth Movement. These was the beginning of slow and painful death of MoJA-G. Marxist theorist in their narration stated a lot about the lumpenproletariat and how they can be used to popularise a revolutionary struggle. I am still puzzled about how come some elements within MoJA-G surrender their souls to the butcher of Kanilai. Are they honest to those members who have lost their jobs, others arrested and others forced into exile to disband the movement without any formal meeting to that effect? These questions remain to be answered? To my reasoning, all is a classic example of what Scottish enlightenment philosopher David Hume in his historical work a treatise of human nature-vacillating human tendency.

When some members of the exiled group came back after the coup in 1994, I also began to know who was who among them. The only element who was unrealistic, unethical and blindly hungry to join APRC while setting his irremovable footprints in manufacturing his conscience about the event of April 2000 student demonstration, which will remain history, is Sarjo Jallow. I have much respect for Ousman Manjang and Momodou Dumo Sarho. Ousman Manjang has been a victim of bullying and harassment. He has gone through all forms of harassment and intimidation for nothing other than refusing the premises of Gamsen -Gambians for self-employment – for July 22 Movement Activities. To humiliate Manjang further some of this unprincipled members of the movement mobilised members of the 22 July movement to ransack the office of Gamsen. Another criminal action against Manjang was when his house was arson and no efforts done by the authorities to investigate and still nobody knows the culprit behind this criminal action. Gamsen was a resettlement package engaging Gambian women folks into sustainable development. Ousman Manjang and the determination of his team really improved the condition of Gambian women farmers from Brufut, Brikamaba to Basse.

The next target was Momodou Dumo Sarho. “Boka Loho” was and still is Mr Sarho’s brainchild, tirelessly providing skill training and discipline to vulnerable youth who could have been into the web of criminality because of no means. What happened after the April 2000 student demonstration? He was framed and for months unending, he spent in Mile 2 Prison, a nightmare for such a decent citizen of The Gambia. This is how MoJA-G once a potent revolutionary movement becomes impotent.


Abdoukarim Sanneh holds MSc in Environment and Development University of East Anglia, Norwich and a BSc Hons in Environmental Science at The University of Bolton in Lancashire. He currently works in public sector in North London.

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