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Friday, December 4, 2020

The Gambia – Two weeks after 16 years

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Obviously after being away from my original home country for sixteen years, my appearance alone in the midst of my family members and friends epitomised the importance and success of the trip which, among other things, triggered deep emotions of joy and sadness, hard to express in words. I met with several wonderful people and was touched by their good actions and remarks especially those close kinfolks who wept and confessed their surrender to the hopelessness of ever seeing me again. There were tears of joy later translating to that of deep sadness when I was escorted to the Serekunda cemetery to finally see where my mother, grandmother and brother who all died in my absence were buried. I prayed on my knees by their tombstones and ask for their forgiveness for the defiant and troubling life I had lived in the past that culminated into the suffering they had endured in missing me to the end. I also assured them of my evolvement from that kind of negative mindset that had always burdened me with the weakness of doubting God’s predestined handiwork. I later took a walk around the cemetery and was amazed by the number of acquaintances including friends from the Serekunda community who had also passed away in my absence. Some of them were my age group, others my seniors and a lot of my juniors as well. The feeling I felt was like being followed by an unseen force that was offering me the orientation of death in a way I had never contemplated it before. My younger brother Lie Sarr was a fun kid who had loved people and was always laughing until the day he left this earth in 2007. So to finally have the opportunity and come to where he was buried and prayed for him was more than what I had bargained for when I reconciled with President Jammeh in New York in September 2014. I cannot express the feeling I had when I stood by where Aja Rohey Gaye (my mom) and Ya Anta Ndow (my grandmother) were laid to rest in 2004 and 2005 respectively. That was after all the primary purpose of my efforts to have resolved my difference with President Jammeh, and I couldn’t be more fulfilled in realising that objective. I therefore couldn’t leave the graveyard without praying for him, his family, government and the whole Gambian people for everything they wished for in that beautiful nation of peace and love.

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Yes, The Gambia in general is beautiful by every meaning of the word. I was in fact not quite ready for the overwhelming structural development, social harmony and political stability I found in the country. But before going into the details of what I exactly mean by that, I would like to uncurl some of the misconceptions spread around concerning the trip. I have read a lot of garbage written about it and, as usual, with so much slander thrown at me from the online radios in the USA. But the person who surprised and disappointed me most was Dr Abdoulie Saine, a colleague I knew since we were very young. In fact, I had always considered him a friend and have made attempts for him to join me in my quest to adopt the reconciliatory route with the Jammeh government without any strings attached. He knew my parents, my family members, where I was born and raised and was aware of how serious I was about my intent to go back to The Gambia and see where they were buried. And when President Jammeh assured me that the difference we had had in the past that prevented me from returning to The Gambia was over, Dr Saine was among the first I informed of my plans to go home at the first possible opportunity. I guess he couldn’t hear me behind the noise from the cynics who tried everything to scare me from taking the trip. Saine, who knows me better than most of those out there could have been the perfect voice to let the ignorant elements know that I had no traceable roots from Sierra Leone when they started calling me an Aku-Marabout from Freetown. Not that I have anything negative about Aku Marabouts who are wonderful people in every respect; but when lies are being told about a person you termed your friend and you claim to be identified among the righteous, I think the proper step to take should be to dispute the source. Saine has both my home and cell phone numbers and would often call me just to talk like the old friends we were; and I think he could have called and asked about the nature of my trip before making up his own version based on the usual irresponsible yapping in the air. No, Dr Abdoulie Saine, I was not officially invited to The Gambia for the celebration of the country’s 50th independence anniversary. Of course there were verbal invitations from some government officials both at home and abroad which started and continued since President Jammeh granted me amnesty five months ago; yet none was necessarily official. I was the Gambia National Army Commander until I left the nation in 1999 and was quite familiar with how an official invitation looks or goes like. I simply went home to see my family on my own expenses which coincided with the golden jubilee celebration.  I would have been absolutely fine with not being invited to any event and was therefore flattered to receive invitations to attend many state functions organised for the celebration. The warm reception I had from the Gambian people was overwhelming and even embarrassing. I couldn’t believe that the journalists were interested in me or what I had to say about my experience in the country. And on the three occasions I met President Jammeh in public, he showed me nothing but kindness and friendliness. I don’t even think he was even aware of my visit until I arrived. So for Dr Saine to be dragged into the gutter of political junkies characterised by fellows addicted to misinforming the public on subjects or people they have no clue about was a serious disappointment to me. 

These were the very people who had wished me arrested, jailed, poisoned or killed with prayer vigils conducted on the radio for my demise only because I wanted to pay my dead parents their final respect. I have said it over and over that I had no influence over why and when God created me and how He would end my life. So trying to scare me with death is a mere waste of breath and time. What I am sure of is that my life could end at any minute or any day even before finishing this paper I am writing which I hope the true believers will interpret as divine occurrence. The least Dr Saine could have said about me, as an old friend, from his hobbyhorse of intellectualising everything under the sun was to wish me well against the ill-intended proclamations made by the prophets and imams of doom. Because of those vultures, there were, albeit few, people I had considered my best friends who avoided me like the plague until it was all safe again. I only hope Dr Saine did not fall among the category of those lost souls who were shocked by my survival of the journey and were left with no other option but to assassinate my character on what they think was my failure due to their prophesies.

It is however my understanding that after the coup in 1994, for their hate of the former president Jawara and his PPP government, the likes of Dr Saine (don’t know whether he was necessarily among the group-self-appointed political and academic gurus in the USA), wrote a petition to the Clinton administration urging them to give chance to the military government in The Gambia. But when they later realised that President Jammeh will not fall for their seductive attempts to lecture him on how best he must run his government based on their beliefs acquired through “their-always-perfect-Western education”, they quickly retreated back to their anti-establishment habits, which with all the hopelessness, anger and misery it brings them remains as addictive as illicit drugs. And believe it or not if there was another change of government in The Gambia today with President Jammeh replaced by their best choice of candidate, if such person would ever exist in their discriminatory faculties, give them a year or less of trying to seduce that government, and they would before you know it succumb to their more familiar lifestyles, obsessed with living to undo the deeds of the Almighty God. 

Let me make another quick reference to another amazing critic, Mr Sidi Sanneh who only those who don’t know his past activities in the so-called struggle will take him seriously. I think this is a man so deficient in principles that identifying him with a voice of reason borders on insulting people’s intelligence. Just ask Mr Joe Sambou about what kind of low-blow puncher Sidi Sanneh could be and he will choke with disgust for mentioning that name to him. Sanneh was the father of the anti-Jammeh struggle throughout the early ’90s to the point of deceiving many of his believers and admirers into thinking that he would in the near future be the ideal replacement of the Gambian president. Then one day to the shock of everyone, he accepted an appointment from President Jammeh to serve as his government’s Foreign Minister, a position he took without the graciousness of explaining himself to his devotees. Anyway, I don’t know why, but he was soon demoted from that position and deployed to Dakar Senegal as the Gambia’s ambassador. The ambassadorial position didn’t last too long either where after being recalled he decided to go in to self-exile to the USA where he jumpstarted the revolution all over again with perhaps the expectation of attracting followers ignorant of his deceitful past. It blows my mind whenever I hear or read his comments critical of President Jammeh and his government and baffled me beyond comprehension when I saw his recent postings where he censured the messages of felicitation from world leaders to the Gambian head of state as not necessarily being meant for public consumption. Really? When did Mr Sidi Sanneh know that? As far as I could remember this was the norm since the PPP government era and continued throughout, including the very period he served as President Jammeh’s foreign minister and later ambassador. Did he ever express his objection to the standard procedure? I don’t think so. Call it the embodiment of quintessential disingenuousness and I bet you wouldn’t fall far from the exact description of who this person really is. I think these comrades need to get off their high horses and be more realistic than they would care to admit. 

The Gambia I visited was a very happy and successful country. In the short two weeks I spent there, I saw a government well appreciated by the people. The country is developing for the better by the day. It is a nation where the desire for peace and tranquility is far stronger than any attachment to misery, the ego or the need to be right. The true Gambians are not like those unfortunate souls who care more for being right than being happy. Let us not forget that it was not until 1543 when Copernicus proved the whole of mankind wrong in their chronic conviction that the earth was the centre of the universe and that the stars and sun revolved around it. Therefore people since the dawn of civilisation have been living and dying with strong beliefs or concepts nurtured by those judged at the time as being the most “intelligent” and revered but were sooner or later proven totally wrong. However, many hapless people in those days fatally fell victim of attempting to question the inconsistences of the conventional wisdom. You know how many people were dragged in the streets of medieval Europe and burned to death for merely doubting the religious and political beliefs of the elites and intellectuals of the society who intransigently thought that the world was flat and not round? What about the ridiculous practice of the church for over a thousand years where Catholic priests fraudulently collected fortunes from families of the dead who were told and convinced that the souls of their relatives were stuck in Purgatory, a place in the sky between earth and God’s heaven? And that in order for those souls to proceed to their final resting destination, prayers from the priests requiring huge sums of money paid to the church must be provided first, with no guarantee that one or two prayer sessions would cleanse them of the sins holding them back. It is said that many families had to go bankrupt before the souls of their loved ones were finally pronounced free to proceed into paradise. Questioning the practice at the time was blasphemous, a crime punishable by death. I had to bring all this up for the mere purpose of reminding ourselves that the strong beliefs we hold so dearly in our hearts could possibly be proven wrong someday which could happen well after we are dead and gone. As a result I think being compassionate, humble and tolerant to our fellow human beings without judging each other in ways that causes nothing but friction will help us a lot in our quest for enlightenment, mutual respect and happiness.  

But that requires the first task of detaching ourselves from the mentality of dogmatically thinking that we hold the right answers to humanity’s every political, religious or social dilemma without ever being tested in any capacity of leadership in those areas. With that, I am sure we will all start appreciating the beauty and exceptionality of The Gambia and its people in the form acknowledged by the virtuous populace. You will understand how nice the country is and how the people are generally satisfied with their lifestyles, political system and environmental stability. Thousands of productive Gambians living outside the country frequently visit and invest at home in huge projects with great success that if the country was otherwise as hopeless as it is constantly portrayed by the few frustrated individuals in the diaspora, not even a fraction of them would be attracted to the great nation. I flew into The Gambia with quite a number of such dynamic people, well-educated, fully-employed and dearly in love with their country. They are not part of the emotionally unstable, angry with anything that seems to favour the wellbeing and welfare of the Gambia. They see the facts on the ground and will therefore never fall for the deception and hate spread around. 

I cannot in fact believe that these losers will pull their hairs over the letter of felicitation sent to President Jammeh by President Obama over The Gambia’s 50th independence anniversary, arguing that the letter was not for Jammeh but the Gambian people. Are these people kidding me? The Gambian people voted him into power, a reality known to Obama who congratulated the Gambians through him. It was a customary gesture made between friendly nations that the USA and The Gambia mutually consider each other. Obama will never send such messages to North Korea and Venezuela. Those are enemy countries to the USA. And about the human rights concerns from the US government? I don’t think Saudi Arabia, China, Bahrain and many other countries around the world hold better rating than the Gambia when it comes to such records. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, women are still treated as second class humans, the wrists of juveniles are constantly chopped off for petty theft, and drug-dealers are beheaded like chickens for dinner. I will not even talk about what holds in China and other countries that are nevertheless treated as friends of the USA. So spare us the baloney of peddling cheap shots about Obama not felicitating Jammeh as if the Gambian leader needs the validation to survive or run his country effectively. President Jammeh is not a puppet to any foreign leader and is cognisant of the desire of his opponents to force him into becoming one, like most of his predecessors and counterparts on the African continent.

As Americans living here, we face a lot of political issues affecting us more than what is happening in The Gambia. It would have been more attractive if our online lecturers would educate us about what it means, if not racism, for the Republicans to invite Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister to go and address the US Senate and Congress without consulting President Obama about it? Or they could have discussed the pervasive silent racism deeply affecting the law-enforcement agencies, business establishments, communities and educational institutions in modern America. 

In my next paper however, I will share more details about the good times I spend in The Gambia with the good people I met including of course the great President, His Excellency Sheikh, Professor, Doctor, Alhaji Yahya AJJ Jammeh. Long live The Gambia and long live the people of The Gambia.  


Samsudeen Sarr is a former commander of the Gambia National Army and the writer of several books including the popular novel Meet Me In Conakry. He now lives and works in Newark, New Jersey, USA.


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