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Testimony of a Gambian Retired Military Officer and Diplomat

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By Retired Lieutenant Colonel Samsudeen

Scheduled for publication around mid-April 2024, this book is a culmination of my experiences and insights garnered over decades of service to The Gambia. As a former Gambian military officer, commander of the Gambia National Army (GNA), and deputy ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.), my journey traversed two distinct eras of government administration, spanning from the presidencies of Sir Dawda Jawara to that of Alhagie Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh.

Despite retiring before President Adama Barrow assumed office in 2017, I remained engaged, witnessing and gathering crucial information throughout the transition to the third republic, which is integral to the completion of this book’s final chapters.

Similar to my first book, “Coup d’État by the Gambia National Army” which I published in 2007, I felt compelled in 1999 to address the numerous misconceptions surrounding the 1994 military takeover in The Gambia. As both an eyewitness and an active participant in the coup, I sought to provide an accurate account of the events. Similarly, the motivation behind this current book stems from the necessity to rectify the records that have been inaccurately portrayed about the past and present events in post-President-Yahya-Jammeh Gambia. Unable to remain passive while in exile in the USA in 1999, I refused to silently witness writers, academics, and self-proclaimed storytellers speculating and conjecturing on an event they had little understanding of in terms of its circumstances, motives, and timing.

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Many individuals, particularly within the international community, boldly disseminated misinformation about the historic coup staged by the GNA junior officers in 1994. It’s noteworthy that a significant number of these writers and speakers were foreigners whose initial major misinformation revolved around the false notion that the GNA soldiers who orchestrated the coup were disgruntled veterans of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) forces deployed in Liberia between 1990 and 1994. However, it is crucial to clarify that all four junior officers—Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, Second Lieutenant Sanna Sabally, Second Lieutenant Sadibou Hydara, and Second Lieutenant Edward Singhateh—never served a day in Liberia as ECOMOG peacekeepers.

Furthermore, Lieutenant Jammeh, who later became the leader of the military junta, had served as a paramilitary officer and member of the Gambia Police Force (GPF) until two years prior to the coup. Contrary to popular belief, he was not until 1992 a member of the GNA (Gambia National Army). Jammeh was also not part of the coup plotters and only assumed the role of chairman after being selected by the group of four mutineers following the takeover, indicating that he was not the initial leader of the coup idea and operation.

In my book “Coup d’État by the Gambia National Army”, I extensively explore into the true causes and repercussions of the 1994 coup. Drawing from my experience as a senior military officer during the event and later as the commander of the GNA in 1998, I provide detailed accounts of the events leading up to, during, and after the coup. Not only do I share my firsthand experiences, but I also include the testimonies of other witnesses, elaborate on key events, identify active participants, highlight significant locations, and provide precise dates and times for each occurrence.

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Published in the USA by Xlibris Publishing Company in 2007, “Coup d’État by the Gambia National Army.” faced a ban in The Gambia under President Yahya Jammeh’s administration. However, the book was widely recognized for its authenticity, being hailed as the most reliable source of information on the 1994 coup, especially given my position as a former commander of the GNA.

President Yahya Jammeh, whom I extensively discuss in various passages of the book, publicly denounced me in February 2015, labeling my work as a collection of falsehoods. Ironically, two months after his denunciation, in April 2015, he appointed me as the deputy permanent representative of The Gambia to the United Nations in New York, USA. This appointment marked the beginning of my diplomatic service at the UN from 2015 to 2017, leading up to the end of President Jammeh’s government following his defeat by Adama Barrow in the Gambia’s 2016 presidential election.

Following President Adama Barrow’s ascension to power in 2017 as The Gambia’s third president, the new administration in 2018 established the “Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC).” This commission was tasked with investigating, identifying, and recommending appropriate punitive actions against individuals found culpable of committing crimes against humanity and violating human rights in the country from 1994 to 2016. This period encompassed the tenure of Jammeh’s regime, from his rise to power until his government was ousted.

However, after years of thorough discussion on the issues investigated by the TRRC, it seemed paradoxical that my colleagues, including those who were all along hesitant to speak about the 1994 coup, were the ones invited to testify.

Despite my efforts to testify and correct any inaccuracies presented to the commission, I was unjustly denied the opportunity to do so. In response, I felt compelled to document my experiences from 1994 to 2024 in another book.

Titled “Testimony of a Retired Gambian Military Officer and Diplomat,” this book serves as my symbolic testimony to the TRRC, from which I was unfairly excluded despite my attempts to participate and clarify the false allegations made against me. Accused of various negative offenses, including the grave accusation of being a torturer during my tenure as deputy commander of the GNA in 1996, I believe it would have been fairer for the TRRC to allow me the chance to defend myself, as they did for others accused, even those residing abroad.

Worst of all, upon the completion of proceedings, the TRRC recommended punitive actions against me, citing my alleged involvement as “a torturer of one Balo Kanteh,” whom I believe was coerced to fabricate falsehoods against me. I possess conclusive evidence to refute Kanteh’s accusations, meticulously detailed within the pages of this thirty-one-chapter book.

In the inaugural chapter, I journeyed back to the crucial moment of 22 July 1994, labeled “Day One of the Coup D’état – 22nd July 1994.” Subsequent chapters, spanning from two to six, chronicle the inceptive chaos of that fateful morning, recounting my first encounter with the three mutiny leaders as they advanced towards Banjul to overthrow the government. I elucidated the subsequent events following the overthrow of President Dawda Jawara’s government, including the first meeting organized by the coup leaders and the narrowly averted Senegalese military intervention later that night.

Transitioning to the following day, July 23, 1994, Chapter seven examines the diplomatic engagement of the newly formed military government, hosting members of the diplomatic corps in the morning and later in the evening the Gambia’s religious leaders at the Statehouse.

Chapter Eight probes into the events of Sunday, July 24, 1994, marking the culmination of President Jawara’s departure from The Gambia. Second Lieutenant Edward Singhateh’s stern warning to President Jawara against any attempt to reclaim power punctuated the failure of diplomatic efforts by the American Ambassador Mr. Andrew Winters to thwart the coup and reinstate the PPP government on suggested conditions. This marked the day President Jawara embarked on his journey to Dakar, Senegal, aboard the USS Lamour County, anchored offshore since the initial events of July 22nd.

That same evening, Chairman Yahya Jammeh engaged in a cordial telephone conversation with President Abdou Diouf of Senegal, an event I witnessed firsthand.

Chapter Nine reveals the first working day in the country under the new military government named the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC), led by Chairman Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, then holding the rank of lieutenant.

In Chapter Ten, I recount the shocking experience of being arrested and imprisoned at Mile Two Central Prison alongside Major Malick Njie, Captain Mamat Cham, and Assistant Superintendent of Police Abubacarr Jeng by Second Lieutenants Sanna Sabally and Sadibou Hydara, key figures in orchestrating the coup.

Chapter Eleven reflects on my journey from being a qualified school teacher in The Gambia to becoming a military officer, while incarcerated in a cell on death row.

Chapter Twelve details the brutal torture inflicted upon three detained military officers on the night of 6 September 1994, masterminded by members of the junta: Sanna Sabally, Sadibou Hydara, Edward Singhateh, and Yankuba Touray, all of them self-promoted now to the rank of captain.

Chapter Thirteen recounts the hopeful but soon tainted release of some of us, labeled “Security Detainees,” followed by the tragic events of the infamous 11th November 1994 failed counter-coup, resulting in the summary execution of over 15 suspected GNA soldiers without due process, their bodies buried in mass graves at Yundum Barracks.

Chapter Fourteen narrates the arrest and imprisonment, six months after the coup, of Captains Sanna Sabally and Sadibou Hydara by their fellow council members, Captains Yahya Jammeh and Edward Singhateh, shedding light on the treachery within the military leadership.

In Chapter Fifteen, I described my release after ten months of imprisonment and reinstatement to the GNA. Chapters Sixteen to Twenty-One went into subsequent events: my return to work, a poignant trip to Liberia in June 1995 to repatriate fallen soldiers left in Monrovia since their death during the ECOMOG peacekeeping mission in September 1990, and a stint at the Ghana military academy for a staff college course. Upon completing the course, I assumed the role of deputy commander of the GNA following Major Dennis Coker’s sudden resignation and self-exiled to the USA. However, 1996 bore witness to the shocking attack on Farafenni Military Barracks by Gambian mercenaries from Liberia, intent on toppling the AFPRC government—an event detailed in Chapter Nineteen. Chapter Twenty unfolds the crisis leading to Chairman Yahya Jammeh’s seizure of Vice Chairman Edward Singhateh’s powers, thereby dismantling their equal power-sharing arrangement since 22 July 1994.

Chapter Twenty-One unveils Jammeh’s adoption of mystical beliefs and practices, which later influenced his governance and policies, posing an existential threat to the military, government, and the nation at large. This chapter elucidates how Kartong Military Camp suffered another deadly attack eight months after Gambian-Liberian mercenaries surprisingly assaulted and murdered six GNA soldiers at Farafenni Barracks. Paradoxically, the Kartong assault occurred despite President Jammeh’s weird implementation of mystical rituals aimed at warding off all future surprising armed incursions into the country after the deadly Farafenni incident.

Chapter Twenty-Two highlights the myriad challenges I encountered during the transition of the Jammeh government from military to civilian rule. This tumultuous period culminated in my unexpected and premature retirement from the army in 1999, followed swiftly by my voluntary exile with my family to the United States of America.

Chapters Twenty-Four through Thirty-One present fresh insights, notably in the first edition’s addition of “Coup d’État by the Gambia National Army.” These chapters unveil a shift in dynamics, marked by familial connections intertwining with political influence. Over time, my relatives forged business ties with Jammeh’s administration, including the marriage of his younger brother to my wife’s niece.

The narrative unfolds as I recount my journey toward reconciliation with Jammeh, spurred by encouragement and persuasion from concerned parties to extend an apology to him which I ultimately did. The special moment of our reconciliation transpired in September 2014 during a rendezvous at the UN General Assembly in New York City. Prominent figures present included Gambian entrepreneur Amadou Samba, presidential press secretary Lamin Manga, presidential Secretary General Karl Bayo, and President Jammeh’s brother Ansumana Jammeh, now my brother-in-law.

In Chapter Twenty-Six, I briefly touch upon the failed December 2014 armed incursion by Gambian dissidents abroad aimed at toppling the Jammeh regime. I revealed the sponsorship, participants, and the perceived flaws that thwarted the mission.

Chapter Twenty-Seven narrates my daring return to The Gambia in February 2015 after sixteen years in exile, defying myriad threats and obstacles. Despite President Jammeh’s attempt to publicly discredit me upon my arrival, he subsequently invited me to return in April and appointed me the Deputy Ambassador to the UN signifying a remarkable turn of events. This role saw me representing his government until 2017.

In 2016, I revisited The Gambia to observe the general elections, which saw Jammeh’s defeat. Despite not possessing a voting card to cast a vote, I was nevertheless fortunate to be at the Statehouse on election night, courtesy of my colleague, Ambassador/Retired Lt. Colonel Momodou Badjie. It was there that President Jammeh and his ministers gathered to tally the votes from the 53 polling stations across the country. By midnight on December 1st, 2016, the records from the polling stations, received at the Statehouse, unmistakably indicated Jammeh’s loss to Barrow in the elections. He graciously conceded defeat and pledged to do so officially the following day, 2nd December. The entirety of these events is detailed in Chapters Twenty-Eight and Twenty-Nine.

Chapter Thirty-One marks the beginning of the book’s conclusion, explaining how Jammeh’s ambassadors discreetly agreed to distance themselves from his government in the coming days. Initially kept unaware of the involvement of the Senegalese government, led by Macky Sall, in collaboration with The Gambia’s foreign diplomats to pressure Jammeh to peacefully abdicate on January 19, 2017, or face coercion, I gradually uncovered these intricate dealings. The covert collaboration between Senegal’s government and Jammeh’s ambassadors was conducted at The Gambia Mission Office in New York, with detailed accounts provided in Chapter Thirty.

In summary, Chapter Thirty-One shifts focus to the new government of President Adama Barrow, which earlier emerged as a coalition of seven opposition parties in 2017 but later fractured, leading to Barrow’s ruling party the National People’s Party (NPP) eventually aligning with the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party of former President Yahya Jammeh, now led by Fabakary Tombong Jatta. Apparently, Jammeh remained in exile in Equatorial Guinea. This final chapter also underscores the challenges encountered by the Barrow government from both external and internal forces, reflecting on the political and security hurdles prevalent in the nation. Additionally, I offer insights into rectifying these shortcomings based on past mistakes committed by the preceding two governments. Furthermore, I emphasize the importance for the Barrow government to closely monitor political developments in Senegal, where an entirely new government and administrative system, unprecedented in its nature, is anticipated to emerge in 2024, potentially differing significantly from the amicable and closely intertwined relationship enjoyed during President Macky Sall’s tenure.

In the concluding sections, I underscored President Barrow’s achievements and highlighted his unique democratic principles, contrasting them with the previous regime’s practices. These distinctions have garnered him widespread admiration and recognition globally.

I believe that “Testimony of a Retired Gambian Military Officer and Diplomat” is essential reading for both Gambians and non-Gambians, particularly those interested in understanding the trajectory of leadership in The Gambia since gaining independence from Great Britain in February 1965. The book features images of the three presidents who have led the nation: Dawda Jawara, Yahya Jammeh, and Adama Barrow, on its cover and first pages.

Scheduled for launch in mid-April 2024, this book holds significant historical value and presents factual and engaging content. I wish to extend a heartfelt thank-you to Mrs. Hope Mubanga, a Zambian consultant and writer, whose meticulous editing over the past two years has ensured the high quality and readability of the material. Additionally, I am grateful to a select group of Gambians whom I consider reliable friends and supporters for their genuine and well-appreciated assistance in this endeavor.

Among these individuals are former Major Dennis Coker (GNA officer) from North Carolina, the USA; Mrs. Fatoumata Jahumpa Ceesay, currently serving as The Gambia’s ambassador to South Africa; Mr. Batch Samba Jallow, a political commentator and writer based in Atlanta, Georgia, the USA; Mr. Assan Njie, a dynamic political activist from North Carolina, USA; and indeed my friend Mr. Ebrima G. Sankareh The Gambia government spokesman and President Barrow’s advisor on Diaspora Affairs.

Most importantly, I express my profound gratitude to His Excellency President Adama Barrow for his sponsorship of the book’s production and publication. Without his invaluable support, this project would not have come to fruition. President Barrow, I extend my heartfelt thanks to you a million times over. May the Almighty Allah bless you and your family abundantly for your generosity and kindness. I am forever indebted to you.

I anticipate the support of all Gambians, especially historians, scholars, and students who value insightful literature. I urge them to acquire and read this book, or preserve it for future generations of young student.

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