By Lamin Cham & Alagie Manneh
A massive cross-section of Gambians yesterday bade farewell to slain opposition activist, Solo Sandeng, six years after his brutal murder at the hands of state agents under the tyrannical regime of exiled dictator Yahya Jammeh.
Sandeng’s only crime was holding a peaceful protest asking for electoral reforms. Protest of any sort was taboo under Jammeh who responded by unleashing a brutal terror torturing Sandeng to death and gravely injuring many others.
The martyr’s body was exhumed from a desolated corner of the secret police’s compound in Tanji and went through a court process which ended in life sentence for the head of the notorious NIA and four others, prompting way for the slain activist’s remans to get a befitting burial.
The Gambia government staged a state funeral yesterday at the now renamed Never Again Arch where politicians, government officials and family paid tribute to the hero of the nation.
In a rivetingly moving tribute, Alagie Mustapha Darboe, a representative of the Sandeng family, said since his demise, the family of Sandeng remained neglected by the state. “He died for the cause of this government, yet no one came to his family’s rescue since his killing,” he alleged, shaming many of Sandengs’ now powerful former colleagues.
Muhammed Sandeng, son of Solo, said although his father epitomises peace, tolerance, and sacrifice for a greater cause, his legacy is yet to be honoured.
“In our loss, a country found an opportune moment to unite towards a new beginning, towards a progressive nation through the selfless and true actions of a man who was fully conscious of the gruesome consequences that may befall him despite the frightening realities of coming in contact with the callous and brutal nature of that dictatorship. Solo Sandeng decided to give his life up for a greater good,” young Muhammed said.
He added that the nation must reflect on how far it has come towards achieving the true meaning of the values that led to the sacrifice of his father and colleagues. “Are you happy that after seven years we are here respecting the legacy of Solo Sandeng without the electoral reforms that he died for?” he asked.
In his eulogy, the secretary general and party leader of the UDP, Ousainu Darboe, described Mr Sandeng as an ordinary citizen who achieved an extraordinary outcome for The Gambia through selfless devotion to principles he believed in. “Those principles were anchored in his firm belief that democracy was the best form of self-government for all who valued freedom,” Mr Darboe said.
He said that Mr Sandeng, like many other Gambians who lived under the tyranny of Jammeh, was conscious and aware of the death, torture, and disappearances that were the hallmark of that cruel regime. “But he was never the one to be cowered. He believed that the price of freedom requires sacrifice, and he possessed the courage to face the dangers that stood between what obtained and what he aspired for. Solo believed, as long as there exists a Gambia, there must be Gambians ready and willing to fight for its freedom.”
Mr Darboe said Sandeng died in the battle for freedom and democracy, and that it is “our duty to hold his legacy and that of others who fell in the battle for a better Gambia.”
“The best way to honour the sacrifice of the fallen is to live up to the principles of freedom and democracy for which they paid the ultimate price. Naming monuments after them, and giving national funerals to Solo is of symbolic and optic value, but legislating good electoral laws, and more importantly, by demonstrable conduct, manifesting the core principles of freedom and democracy he advocated and believed in would be a more befitting tribute to him,” Darboe concluded.
The ceremony at the Arch was followed by prayers at the Dippa Kunda mosque and burial attended by a massive crowd, including religious and pollical leaders and diplomats.