Feeling more bewildered after the Gambia Police Force’s press briefing on 15 September 2023 regarding the perplexing shooting and resulting deaths of two Gambian Police Intervention Unit officers on 12 September, I felt compelled to express my ongoing personal insights into this tragic incident.
Beginning with Deputy Inspector General of Police Sowe who addressed the conference, I found his account of the known facts about the 12 September shooting unnecessarily convoluted and deliberately vague. He spoke in a highly technical and coded manner, implying that only those fluent in his specialised language, replete with grid references and precise geographical coordinates regarding the suspect Ousainou Bojang’s location on the night of the shooting, could comprehend his intended message. This raises the question of why a public gathering with ordinary journalists was convened to shed light on an incident still veiled in mystery.
Fortunately, I was among those equipped to decipher and comprehend his statements. From his narrative, I deduced that Ousainou’s telephone calls from the night of the shooting up to the point of his arrest and subsequent detention were digitally tracked, revealing his whereabouts and communications within the twenty-four hours following the shooting. It unveiled the extensive network of individuals he conversed with until his departure from The Gambia to Casamance, southern Senegal. The DIGP Sowe asserted that armed with this crucial information, they invoked the “hot-pursuit defence agreement” between Senegalese and Gambian security forces, swiftly apprehending the suspect, Ousainou Bojang. Really, DIGP?
For those seeking clarification on the term “hot-pursuit,” it essentially refers to “the immediate and continuous pursuit by law-enforcement officers of a fleeing suspect whose possible escape justifies the failure to obtain a warrant before making an entry, search, seizure, or arrest”.
Therefore, according to the DIGP Sowe, Bojang attempted to escape through Casamance from the moment he was identified as the shooter that night, but was promptly pursued and captured in Senegal. This account seems contradictory to the events that transpired the day after the shooting, as the president, in a live video from the State House, discussed the case with security chiefs, emphasising the imperative of employing all means to apprehend the “unknown suspect” who was still at large. Considering DIGP Sowe’s narrative, one must question the need for the president to offer a one million dalasi bounty for the identification and capture of the assailant, which was presumably aimed at expediting the resolution of the case.
Moreover, the incident unfolded in a different light, thanks to the Internet and extranets. A lady from Diouloulou named Adja Mama Diaby seemed instrumental in the breakthrough. She was the first to share the suspect’s picture on social media, ultimately leading to Ousainou’s initial arrest by the Senegalese gendarmerie in Diouloulou before he was handed over to the Gambian authorities. I firmly believe Ms Diaby deserves the president’s pledged reward.
Many of us had anticipated a police press conference on 13 September, or at the latest, 14 September, while the country remained on edge over the unknown shooter.
Left in the dark, a journalist from Kerr Fatou reached out to Ousainou’s family after his picture surfaced online as he was facing extradition to The Gambia, a stark contrast to the narrative of capturing him through a “hot pursuit” as alleged by DIGP Sowe. Although his elder brother, Famara Bojang, attempted to sow doubt regarding Ousainou’s capacity to commit such a heinous crime, his efforts were unconvincing.
Famara attempted to depict his younger brother as someone grappling with a mental health issue that the family, especially their father, contemplated seeking psychiatric assistance for in Ziguinchor, Casamance. He was unaware of when and how Ousainou crossed the border to Diouloulou, precisely on a day when Ousainou was expected to be at home. Famara asserted that at around 9pm, Ousainou was at home with him, and they received the news together.
In a subsequent interview with Casa TV’s Kemo Kanji, Ousainou’s co-worker, Famara Badjie, clarified that he was stationed at the lodge where they both worked as security guards from 7pm on the day of the shooting. Famara was “certain” that Ousainou remained there until relieved at 7am the following day. This raised questions about the credibility of Famara’s assertion regarding Ousainou’s presence at home around 9pm.
When Kemo interviewed, Ousainou’s father shortly after, vehemently denied Famara’s claim regarding his younger son’s mental health issues. However, he affirmed Ousainou’s presence at their house around the time of the shooting that night.
While both brother and father expected Ousainou Bojang to be in The Gambia and at home the day after the shooting, they were shocked and dismayed when shown his picture in Senegal while on the run. Ousainou had not informed them of his departure or when he left. What was undeniable was that Ousainou was now a fugitive, and it was not a matter to be taken lightly.
I had anticipated that the National Security Adviser, Mr Jeng, would have shed more light on the case. However, all he could provide was information about Ousainou Bojang’s previous affiliation with the MFDC, where he had acquired the weapon used in the fatal shooting.
I wondered about the relevance of this information to the investigation, expecting more comprehensive insights from Ousainou’s confessions, which came three days after his detention. The type of weapon he claimed to have acquired as a rebel and used in the killing remained a mystery, leaving room for speculation. When a journalist asked about the MAB handgun used in the shooting, instead of a detailed explanation, they accused the journalist of lacking knowledge and evidence. Despite the crime scene being immediately secured for evidence collection, the kind of weapon used remained undisclosed. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was intentional secrecy or a failure in the investigative process.
I also yearned to learn more about Ousainou Bojang’s background—who he truly was, how, at the age of 31, he acquired a Gambian ID card as a former MFDC rebel, and what motivated the attack. The whereabouts of the murder weapon after the shooting remained a puzzle. With numerous unanswered questions and the constraints of time during the Friday afternoon press conference, I rated the event a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. It was evident that a more comprehensive and elucidating press conference needed to be organised soon.
Do you remember how we used to conduct such conferences at the GNA HQ in the ’90s when the country faced similar crises of deadly shootings?
Lastly, I want to vouch for Mr Ebrima Sankareh, the government spokesperson. Throughout the incident, he based his statements on information from what seemed to be credible government sources. Although he may have been mistaken about the specific location, he was accurate about Ousainou Bojang’s career as a security guard. From my long acquaintance with Mr Sankareh, I can attest that he is not the kind of person to fabricate stories that could jeopardise national security matters.
Retired Lt Colonel Samsudeen Sarr, is a former commander of the GNA, diplomat and author of several books including the classic Gambian novel, Meet Me In Conakry.