By Omar Wally
On the 7th of February 1987 Ousman Bargie enlisted into Gambia Armed Forces (GAF), after graduating from Nusrat High School. After his basic military training, he was posted to then Confederate Battalion in Kudang, where he spent four years.
After completing his Junior Non-Commissioned Cadre, he was promoted to Lance Corporal and was posted at the Gambia Armed Forces Training School then in Farafenni, where he was teaching weapon minor tactics. The training school was moved from Farafenni to Fajara and Bargie was promoted to the rank of a Staff Sergeant.
In the late 90s, Bargie sat for the Officer Cadet Selection Board (CSB) exams and out of sixty eight (68) candidates, he came out third (3rd). During this period, he was skinny and he was advised to differ and eat good food, so he could gain weight.
In 1995, he sat to the same exams for the second time and came out 5th, then he had the correct weight and he was promoted to the rank of a Cadet Officer. In 1998, he went to Pakistan and did junior officer’s course. After returning from Pakistan, he served as platoon commander and Chief Instructor at Fajara Barracks.
GAF intakes 19 – 24 all passed through his hands. He started the Kanilai Garrison and became Aide- de -Camp (ADC) to former president Yahya Jammeh, at the time he was a Lieutenant. After serving for a while he was promoted to a Captain. His position was changed from ADC to Principal Protection Officer (PPO).
Bargie served in various capacities such as State Guard Commander, Commanding Officer Fajara Barracks, Chief of Army Staff at Defense Headquarters and Deputy Chief of Defense Staff. He was appointed Chief of Defense Staff of Gambia Armed Forces from 2012 – 2017, making him the longest serving Army Chief. Bargie served in GAF from 1987-2017, until he was redeployed to the Foreign Service to serve as the Gambia’s Ambassador to Cuba.
In this edition of Bantaba, Omar Wally talks to Bargie about his time in uniform and the aftermath of the disputed 1 December 2016 presidential Election.
Why did you enlist into Armed Forces when most young people want to become doctors, lawyers and engineers etc?
Yes, they want be lawyers, accountants, engineers and pilots, whatsoever. A lot of people consider the Army as a place for the uneducated or dropouts. When I graduated from Nusrat, I wanted to serve my nation through the Army, I love the uniform. It has ever been my dream to put on uniform and serve, but I had never wanted to put it on for the rest of my life. It’s a career that I wanted to experience and that’s why I joined the army.
You worked under Yahya Jammeh in various capacities, how was that like?
I served in Armed Forces well before he became president. I served when both of us were in the military and when he became president too. Serving under Jammeh is not difficult, in the Army, it is obey and complain, whether you like it or not. If you are given directive you obey and later see where you can complain, and it is not everywhere that you will complain. Under Jammeh or any other president you dare not question an executive order or whatever he tells you to do.
How does it feel being head of the military, yet you don’t have a voice and some military officers don’t even take Command from you?
Well, we have 1st Infantry Battalion, Guards Battalion, 2nd Infantry Battalion that is Farafenni and others are units attached to Farefenni, such as Basse and Kudang. In addition to that you have State Guard Battalion which is a Battalion of its own. Although I’m the head of the Armed Forces but most of the time they operate independently, without my knowledge which I cannot question. Even though Chief of Defense Staff is the overall boss of Armed Forces, including the Presidential Guard, but because they are directly under him, sometimes directives come from the president which I cannot question by writing or verbally.
Did Yahya Jammeh caution you when you declared loyalty to President Adama Barrow after the announcement of the December 1st election results?
Yahya Jammeh dares not to question me. He knows the Constitution and Electoral Laws. He accepted defeat and all of us accepted defeat. He came on air and the whole world heard him say he accepted defeat. This was why in the early morning of 1 December I was going around Yundum Barracks, when boys stopped me at Senegambia and I celebrated with them.
Luckily Al Jazeera was there, what I said was ‘yesterday was Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, today President Jammeh and tomorrow Adama Barrow will take over as President’. He did not call me and ask why I said that. I know he was president at the time but Barrow was president-elect.
But when Jammeh nullified the results you deserted Adama Barrow and went back to Jammeh
No, no. When he disagreed after nine days, I did not come from Adama Barrow and go back to Jammeh. I told them before president is sworn-in; he is president-elect; he is not in charge until he is sworn-in but this is what people failed to understand and they thought I shifted from Barrow to Jammeh. Come 19 January whether Barrow was sworn-in or not Jammeh was going to cease being the president of this country.
But Jammeh refused to leave and you couldn’t do anything, could you?
Who told you? There were negotiations going. It was a political problem and we allowed politicians to do their work. You have seen how many delegations came from ECOWAS and talked to Jammeh. As military officers, we could not jump into conclusion at that time. We allowed them to negotiate first and if nothing is done, then we see what will follow next. But as negotiations were going on, you cannot jump and do other things because then you will violate the Constitution.
All mediation efforts failed to persuade Jammeh to leave until he was forced out by ECOWAS. People said the Army failed Gambians because they could not remove Jammeh. Do you agree?
How did we fail them? We did not fail anybody; we did our job to the best of our ability. It was not ECOMIG who forced Jammeh out, he left and after four days ECOMIG crossed our boundaries.
If ECOMIG was here before Jammeh left, where were they in the Gambia, which barracks? To say GAF failed Gambians is wrong. I swear to God, if we failed people, we would have fought with ECOMIG, yes. When ECOMIG came in, I was the one who led them into State Guard and all the bunkers where the arms were kept. And they have seen for themselves what we had. Thank God, if we had fought Gambia would have been worse than Liberia, Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone. Did you hear any fighting among us even before ECOMIG came? Not under my watch, anyway.
There were reports that you were offered money to topple Jammeh and take over during the impasse. Who contacted you?
These are very confidential things. I was approached about three times and I was offered money in Dollars and Euros, in cartons and I said no, I’m not going to sell The Gambia and I will not take over this country. I am not elected by the people and I am doing my job. I assured them that by the grace of God, Adama Barrow will take over but they doubted me.
So you did so many good things for the Gambia but people did not know, you said no to those people. Which country or group of people are they?
I said it is confidential. You are the second journalist to ask me this. But confidential things should be kept confidential. These are not issues that have to be brought out for the world, because if it is gone public that country is going to be shamed and I don’t want to expose anybody or any country.
Are they African or Western countries?
Well, they are both African and Western countries (laughs). You are pushing me to point at a particular direction.
How much millions did they offer you?
At the beginning I was offered 75 million Euros. The second time I was offered 250 million dollars and the last offer even annoyed me and it was lot of money. But what I said to them, I will not repeat because Allah will punish me because I was out of my mind and annoyed by the fact that another country will ask me to sell my country. That was how I was feeling. It would have been blood money, I swear to God that is not me. I will not use blood money.
How much was the last offer?
7.5 billion euros.
During the impasse, you were often seen at St Therese’s Church on Sundays. Why were you doing that?
I’m a Muslim by birth but I equally believe in the Bible. This was why during the political impasse, I used to go to Church to pray and when I go to Church I meet my fellow Muslims. Then people started saying that I am crazy. I went to pray for God to bring peace into this country and for God to guide me in the right path and not plunge our beautiful country into chaos.
Some people thought you were crazy when you started using too much amulets during the impasse.
Were you crazy?
Never! I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t sick. If I were sick, I would have been killing people. I used to drive myself until daybreak. I wasn’t mentally sick, I was showing the world that the message people are sending out that the country is insecure and unstable is untrue.
Nothing was wrong with me; I was just applying what I learned at the Staff College: crisis control method. If I didn’t apply that, then it means my going to Staff College for one year is zero. I know how to manage crisis and give confidence to people who think that they are going to be set on fire. If the head of Armed Forces can drive alone, go to club, people will say, ‘they said Gambia is in insecure why is Lieutenant General going in town alone without body guard’.
How did you feel when Jammeh sent your younger brother Ensa Badjie (Former IGP) to jail and later sentenced him to life imprisonment while you were serving as Chief of Defense Staff?
Blood is thicker than water, I felt it. The same mother and father and he did not do anything as far as I’m concerned. When he sent my younger brother to jail, I know people were sentenced to death and God rescued them.
Lot of people called me to quit, because the next is going to be me and I said if I quit, I don’t have faith in God. I’m not in the Army because of my younger brother and I will not quit because he was sentenced to life in jail.
If blood is thicker than water as you claimed, why didn’t you visit him while he was in jail?
I’m covered by the Constitution and Gambia Armed Forces Act. I was in uniform. If I were a civilian, I would have visited him a million times. But because I was in catcher, I’m forbidden by GAF Act to move or visit, even not my younger brother but anybody else in prison, sentenced for allegedly committing an offence. That was why I couldn’t visit my brother in Mile II and some of my relatives who were incarcerated there.
You are also a Jammeh victim?
Yes, directly and indirectly, a very big victim. In my mother’s line we are two boys and the rest are women. So, if he could sentence my brother to life in jail for something everybody knows is unfounded, but the law says he was guilty, who am I to say he is not guilty? I had to swallow the bitter pill and move on.
On two different occasions, you tendered your letter of resignation while you were CDS but ex-president Jammeh refused to accept it and he told you not to be afraid he will not fire you. Why did you decide to write a resignation letter?
The way things were going, I wasn’t happy. I know, I’m not the Commander-In-Chief, but I was in charge of the whole Armed Forces. So certain things should not happen, even if it happens, I should be informed that A, B, C and D had happened.
But I felt what they say in Wollof ‘Johehbopa nga rochi lameng’: give somebody head and pull out the tongue. So, I wrote that letter because things happen in the Armed Forces and I will only hear it from people. I wasn’t happy with some of the activities which were going without my notice as CDS.
What were those things and activities?
What is going on now, is it not the Commission of Inquiry? And some people have disappeared. I am not saying because I don’t know anything about it, but they hurt me, which made me write one or two or whatever letters of resignation. But again I think of the people of The Gambia, it was Gambians doing those things not foreigners.
It was reported that on the night of 30 December 2014 attack you went to State House in mufti and slippers. General Musa Savage was very angry with you and he asked you to marry the ground. Was that true?
Yes, because I was the Chief of Defense Staff and State Guard inclusive. It is true that I went to state house in mufti and drove myself. Yes Savage wasn’t happy and is true he shouldn’t be happy because that moment everybody was confused; there was total chaos at State Guard Battalion.
So you eventually married the ground?
Yes, I married the ground because it is an order and it can happen to anybody. You must marry the ground, because you don’t know who is who. You don’t know whether I was part of those guys who tried to take over the government.
Were you aware of the activities of the ‘Junglers’ when you were CDS?
What I know was ‘Junglers’ were a separate set of security at the State House. They are a separate set of security that put on black-black that I’m aware of.
So were they taking command from you?
Then who were they taking command from?
God knows. But not from me, probably from Yahya Jammeh or he must have delegated somebody to command them.
Did you take any steps to stop their menace?
This is why I tendered my letter of resignation. That is why I said if I hear stories and I am not in the picture, it makes me frustrated. Even if I’m not given command, inform me that such things are happening in the Armed Forces, I’m the CDS.
You and General Saul Badjie were not on speaking terms until you hugged each other when he was leaving for Equatorial Guinea. How did you two work?
Haha…. I’m the CDS and I’m the most senior in the Armed Forces. I shouldn’t take command from anybody who is junior to me. I was Lieutenant General three years before General Saul Badjie was promoted Lieutenant General, so I senior him. So if he does not pick telephone to say ‘hello CDS, how are you doing’? I will not take my telephone to say ‘Saul, how are you doing’? Despite we are all Lieutenant General and he was closer to Jammeh than me. That was not how I was trained.
Who was more powerful?
On paper I’m more powerful because I’m CDS, he was under me. When it comes to directives, well there might be some directives that may be given to him, which I may not be aware of.
Did you kill anybody in your 30-year military career?
No. I have not got even single charge sheet in my file. Even a chicken, Mandinkas call it ‘Cesay’ I have never even hurt a chicken, much more a human being, I value life.
It’s my pleasure.