But upon his return home, he was involved in the 1981 abortive coup and he fled to live in exile in Nigeria. After returning to The Gambia years later, he worked with Palm Grove Hotel rising to the position of front office manager. Then he resigned to do further research on mystical maraboutics. In this edition of The Bantaba, Sainey Darboe, the editor of The Standard started by asking him about his chequered early life.
Jallow: After seven years of Qur’anic studies in Senegal, I came back when my father died and unfortunately my marabout also died three years later. I decided to come and support my mother who was a trader and a farmer. She said I needed to continue with my education and called one Serign Jobe to teach me. One day I went home and found Serign ill and the wife did not cook because the husband was penniless. He used to sell some used clothes. So I volunteered to do the same to raise fish money for the family. I went to Kololi Njago area and met one man who had no money but he had paw-paws which he urged me to sell to toubabs on the beach. So I met with a guy and I asked him how I could sell my paw-paw in the English language and he told me to say ‘For sale’. So I went around carrying my paw-paw and saying ‘for sale, for sale’ but when the white people tried to expand the conversation I could not say anything. Later on I even forgot how to say ‘for sale’. I met a white man who called me but I couldn’t speak English so he called another guy to interpret. Unbeknown to me, he was the police commissioner of Sweden at the time. He asked me how much I was selling the paw-paw for and I said D2.50 then he said, “Okay, I will give you D5”. He asked why I could not speak English and I told him because I have not been to school. He asked me whether I wanted to learn and I said yes. He gave me D25. This was a lot of money because I was selling clothes for 75 bututs a piece. I gave the marabout his money and the rest to my mum. To cut a long story short, I enrolled at Sukuta Primary School and the white man paid for everything and even planned to take me to Sweden to complete my education but my uncles with whom I was staying said if I was taken to Sweden I would become a Christian and in the hereafter they would account to my father because my father was a big marabout. Unfortunately in 1981 the coup happened and we participated in the coup.
I participated in the coup and had to get out of the country after the coup.
Exactly what did you do in the coup?
I was a major member of the Movement of Justice for Africa (Moja) and then the Voice of the Future. We went around scattering messages in sensitive areas like police stations and schools. We were revolutionary-minded people who were inspired by Nkrumah through his books. We were trying to defend the integrity of black people. I had white friends but what was happening in South Africa frustrated most Africans at the time.
…And the coup?
Well, some members of the Labour Party were my close friends. They were the people agitating for the July 1981 Revolution led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang. They were not sure as to whether it would succeed and that was why they were not ready to expose themselves at the frontline. So they used people who were ignorant like drivers, mechanics. That was the idea. The first day we were invited and we submitted our names. They asked us to hand over our certificates so that after the coup they would give us positions. I was with a friend Ismaila Ceesay who was charged with treason and served 15 years at Mile 2 prisons before Jawara pardoned him in 1992.
What are your recollections of that fateful day in 1981?
It was a very sad day. I went to the Field Force camp at Bakau and later on I went to Banjul on the second day. I saw a lot of dead people. Even Kukoi was invited by the doctors to see the number of dead people for himself. When he saw the number of dead people on that day he fled. He spent the night in Bakau New Town and left early in the morning for Kartong. He took a transformer belonging to the Ministry of the Interior and put it in a blue Land Rover to address the nation. The Senegalese thought that he was in the radio station while in fact he was in a vehicle fleeing.
You met Kukoi, what are your impressions of him?
Yes, I met him three times. My friend David Joof was in the same class with him. I had stayed with Mr Joof for a couple of years. On the day of the coup, we met at Serekunda Market and the following day we met at Field Force Depot in Bakau. Later, we also met at the hospital in Banjul. He was a nice man even though a hardliner. The only problem was that he did not know The Gambia well because he spent most of his time outside The Gambia. He was in Russia and was only going in and out. He did not know very well what the people needed and he did not know what to do. He was entrusted the responsibility to execute the task of the revolution on behalf of the people but he did not know what to do. He was used by other people. He led the coup but he was not the leader. He was just being used by other people who wanted to come in after the coup had succeeded.
You sound pretty much as a Kukoi apologist. Would you accept that he made a mistake in leading that bloody coup?
Yes I think he made a big mistake. I see Kukoi as a failure in that area. He did not know how to go about fighting the cause he believed in. He was not organsied also because you cannot make a coup, take over the State House, take the president’s wife and children to Bakau leaving the State House empty. He left the capital Banjul and made his station at the Depot in Bakau.
Given the substantial loss of lives and property, do you regret your participation in the coup?
For us we were not interested in Kukoi but in change. I did not know him very well at the time but later on when we saw what was going on we stood back and became neutral. It was later that they started witch-hunting us to find ways and means of eliminating us. I did not take a gun and when I saw what was happening I started going round with Yusupha Joof who was the director of National Investment Board (NIB). We were even caught by the rebels and they were about to kill us when the loyal forces arrived to rescue us within seconds. The rebels were then disarmed.
Apparently a slow learner on the potential pitfalls of politics, you enmeshed yourself in party politics again with APRC after Jawara’s overthrow. Why?
I joined the APRC because everybody was longing for change due to the fact that Jawara overstayed. When you overstay, it causes more harm than good. The Gambia was at a very crucial stage. Everything was stagnant in terms of development. People were entangled with serious constraints like feeding, jobs and medication. The education systems was almost collapsing and those are the reasons people welcomed change. It was one morning when my wife came and told me there was a coup. Then I was staying with one lieutenant Yankuba Drammeh. When I went to see him about the coup I was told he had left the house and not available. The following day he was arrested and detained. By that time I also knew Basiru Barrow because my niece was married to Barrow’s friend Fafa Nyang. I knew Sadibou Haidara too because we stayed together in Dippa Kunda. I welcomed the coup because we had the same ideology. That’s why after the transition when Yahya Jammeh became president I became an APRC supporter because we had the same ideology.
What is the state of APRC revolution after almost two decades?
Well, when you say a revolution, it is a cause and a process .In every process there are results and you cannot expect to have 100% success. Although there are successes, there are failures in some areas to be candid.
Problems such as?
You see.. I said there cannot be hundred percent success.
Out of a score of 100 how much will you award them?
I think I will give them 70 percent success which is good.
The Vision Development Fund has been doing wonderful works. What is your motivation?
We have committed ourselves to render services to the community in order to eradicate poverty while also helping government to sustain development on the ground. The founder, Modou Turo Darboe, has been very generous and he is a brother and a friend. He had been doing it for years before we formalised it and came up with an NGO. We have been operating since 2000, 14 years ago.
You certainly do not harvest money from trees. Where do you get funding?
We get funding with the help of Mr Darboe and our sympathisers and colleagues overseas. We have Bokaloho in Holland who have been very cooperative and also Gamfood. Recently, we have also been working with Saro Construction Company who are our partners. They own the grader we are using now. We are working with these people hand-in-hand and we hope to do more. We also give support.
What challenges do you face?
Well, in life whatever you do you must have challenges and obstacles and we are no exception. But nonetheless, development cannot be done by one person so we are appealing to the government, institutions and NGOs especially the National Road Authority. The roads we are rehabilitating are the responsibility of NRA. The council is no more responsible for road rehabilitation but under the jurisdiction of the NRA. They should collaborate with us so that we can do more. There was the perception that people have that we are a political NGO. They said all our programmes are geared towards APRC. I say yes because we all have political affiliations. I support APRC and Turo Darboe also supports the APRC. But we don’t extend our political affiliation at the office level. We are non-political and non-religious. Our criteria for support is not based on whether you support APRC or UDP but our support is for the needy. That is our policy.]]>