By Ebrima Baldeh
July is usually not a sacred month, however, from 1995 to 2015, a revolution hatched by former leader Yahya Jammeh and his army colleagues was celebrated in grand style annually. In those days, even among young Gambians, it was almost inconceivable to say that there will never be an end to the talk, and extraordinary grandiosity by the new rulers of The Gambia.
If you think, the month of July belongs to Gambians, because a ‘saviour’, from nowhere ‘salvaged’ us from a ‘corrupt’ and ‘maligned system’, then you are missing out on a very important lesson in history. Cuba’s revolution masterminded by a Castro-Che Guevara alliance was orchestrated on 26 July, and it went on to captivate the world, and some overzealous African nationalists were caught in the trap. The Castro-Che Guevara camaraderie mesmerised the critics, but the change that was conceptualised by the two idealists evaporated as soon as the real power started to create ripples.
Why did former rebel leader, Kukoi Samba Sanyang calmly wait till July to unleash havoc on Gambians after he and his rag-tag rebels attempted to use force to dislodge Jawara and the PPP government in July 1981? Ghana, where Kwame Nkrumah hailed from, is notorious for its military governments, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It was a certain JJ Rawlings who went down in Ghana’s history as the only individual who ruled Ghana twice as head of state. While Rawlings’ first and second coups were not hatched in July; the year, 1979 and 1983 are significant to note here.
The Gambia’s young lieutenants were watching from afar, how the army in Ghana succeeded; if anything, there is no established or known college or university where the military is taught how to oust a government. Thanks to the power and influence of the ‘mighty’ BBC Focus on Africa programme, Africa’s fresh minds listened with rapt attention to the information being relayed by the media. If anything, JJ Rawlings’ obstinacy and crude tactics inspired many soldiers and commissioned officers in West Africa; while Nigeria, and Sierra Leone had their own fair share of the pie.
Another military government that took Africa by storm, and became popular, was Thomas Sankara’s down-to-earth theatrics and sharp bashing of the West. A mentee with an elephantine ego, will hardly appreciate and acknowledge how inevitably the mentor played a role in his thinking and actions. So when the new rulers of The Gambia marched triumphantly to State House to paint a new image of the country; they carried along with them the speech Thomas Sankara made before Burkinabes that ‘ours is military government out to correct a system, we will surely go back to the barracks as soon as we are done’.
This was music in the ears of the ardent Gambian supporters gullible or unsuspecting to the new system that had almost promised to deliver everything Gambians needed. The July revolution that hit Cuba was supposed to serve as a warning to anyone who thought a revolutionary theory is the same as a revolution in government. As soon as the popularity contest ended acrimoniously, Che-Guevara, looked the other way; the man knew he had to go because a revolution usually dies as soon as it is born.
Thomas Sankara defied all odds against perceived wisdom that the military is corrupt, angry and vindictive; but the revolutionaries whom he had ascended to power with, thought Sankara will have to go first before the spirit of the revolution will be attained. (Boom, he was assassinated!) There were disturbing scenes in Burkina Faso as the country mourned the loss of a dear leader who in theory appeased the masses and sacrificed himself to uplift the morale of ordinary people. Wherever he had traveled; Sankara will not mince his word; lashing out against the big brothers and praising the continent and the efforts being made to develop Africa.
His sudden disappearance from the political scene created a huge impact in Burkina Faso, but novices like the young Gambian soldiers who conspired to ascend to power, appeared to be Sankara’s children in spirit. They had religiously followed Sankara and the legacy he left behind; which was why, during the early days of the July 22nd coup, the leaders were beating their chest: ‘There was no bloodshed on J22 1994’, but the dictum that revolutions die as soon as they are born, was a truism in the case of The Gambia. Barely five months after assuming office, the new rulers of The Gambia were again on the famous BBC Focus on Africa programme. I can still vividly hear Sana Sabally, apologising to Gambians in the wake of the bloody coup attempt by soldiers at the Fajara Barracks, for giving residents of Bakau and Fajara a sleepless night, a night to remember.
Fast forward on what’s special in July at the personal level. In July 1999, my first article was published by the Daily Observer with a screaming headline: ‘Thieves make away with CFA 700,000’. In the same month, uncompromising editor, Ngaing Thomas intimated freelancers and rookie reporters by reading their draft reports aloud, and never hesitated to disgrace anyone whose writings were poor. He used to berate: ‘Go back to high school, I doubt whether you passed English language?’.
Brilliant essayist with a creative mind Sheriff Bojang penned an acerbic poem, entitled: Canny Lie, and went ahead to publish another powerful essay, on how three men visited God, Yahya Jammeh was among them. The rest as they say is a return to the past!
Ebrima Baldeh is the managing editor of GRTS-TV.