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Monday, September 28, 2020

The story in detail: Jammeh Vs Darboe

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And my brother from another mother informed the people of Kambia village about it. Dead silence rocked homesteads. Gathered at the Bulundala were spectators, and of course, the committee of fierce arbiters. Curious ones snatched a glance at my face. The innocence on it hasn’t diminished. The harmlessness looms. The smile as infectious as ever! They wondered what in the world has gone wrong between the leader of Katanga and this loyal messenger of our land. 

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When he set about to discredit a credible reportage, his political strategists should have advised him against barking up the wrong tree. But he apparently had none. The world understands that. Or, he should have had a hunch. He had. After all, he’s one of most intelligible sons of our land. Why did he allow his colossal nerve to prevail? Now, what the consequence is. Jaw-jaw! Jaw-jaw! Jaw-jaw!

Ndeysan! If not for the age-old Sanawu-yaa between the Jammehs and Darboes, the battle lines of Kaabu would have been redrawn. The composition of the chedo or turubang kelo pieces would be amended. The composer would be Jaliba Kuyateh, not Koriyaa Musa or Jali Madi Wuleng. But alas! Our ancestors knew this day would come, but there should be no more women throwing themselves in the wells for fear of enslavement by the Futankes. So, they bound us to the oath: No Jammeh should harm a Darboe lest he faces the wrath of his ancestors. It’s vice versa. I doubt though if the president of Jammeh Sansang kept to this oath.    

In my seven years-plus career in journalism, I have interviewed Mr Ousainou Darboe, one-on-one, at least seven times. The number of times that I attended his news conferences is more. We discussed wide-ranging issues, from our politics to our economy. Familiarity can breed trust. It does to me with Darboe. He has become my first point of contact on issues that warrant the comments of someone like him. There’s no accident, no biases. He’s the figurehead of the main opposition party. What a down-to-earth man; always a telephone call away. The past, our past is full of memories of smiles and laughter, exchange of jokes, and journalist-politician businesses on issues of national importance. Alas! Koche Baarma was right: Bour amul mboka. 

But, let’s treat history as history. What’s current is a football match between You-said-this and I-didn’t-say-that. The contest had no referee. No spectators. And Darboe said I cannot provide any proofs to the comments attributed to him in the story I authored. But, if my recorder has the voice of a man, it would use its ‘mancrophone’ to say: ‘Mr Darboe, ah I am here.’ Without that option doesn’t mean there’s no evidence. The 21st century journalist has better opportunities to prove it is worth the tag, either in a court of law or a court of public opinion. What’s recorded in a digital recorder stays in the recorder; it can be stored on mobile, on computer or online and easily accessed from there.  

The ethics of my upbringing dictate that I should not go that far. The elder’s words are sacred and final – kebba koumo mu solu bowo leiti. But, thanks to a world of Njundu Drammehs, even children now do have a voice that must be heard and respected as much as the elders’ and the world has not turned upside down. The sun still sets and rises in its rightful places. But what’s at stake is more than my voice. 

I love comedians. It was a comedian who defined my profession as one that ‘afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted’. Much as I hate to accept this, he was right. It was a comedian who exposed the lies of Hilary Clinton when she ‘misspoke’ about her Bosnia trip that she evaded a sniper fire. Imagine what the comedian, Comedy Berlusconi, did: He went to Kenya and asked thousands of patriotic Kenyans whether they believed that their president, Mwai Kibaki, as ugly as he is, was indeed made in the image of God. He returned to Nigeria without a hiss. Then, Pablo, a Ugandan, on the influences of one’s profession on terminologies. That if someone seized the mic he was having on stage, a lawyer would say that’s unlawful; a police officer would say that’s disorderly; an accountant would say that’s unaccountable; and a house wife would say that’s bad behavior. But at the end of the day, Pablo says, what they were all trying to say was that what the person had done was wrong. 

Darboe has problems with my usage or anyone’s usage of the word boycott to describe the actions of the political parties’ staying out of elections. He prefers the term ‘pushed to not to participate’ and wants to impose that upon every soul. The term, we were told since 2012, is different in meaning from the word boycott and more appropriate in the scheme of things in The Gambia. Apparently, ‘pushed not to participate’ has since become a new term in the Gambian politipedia. The word boycott no longer fits in the political discourse.     

What really is the difference?  According to the dictionary of the Oxonian with double PhDs, to boycott means ‘to refuse to buy, use or take part in something as a way of protesting.’ In the Darboean definition of ‘pushed not to participate,’ blame is put on the IEC and the government for not creating a conducive environment for their participation. 

No journalist should decide for the politician what terminology to use, but also no politician should claim to know better than the journalist what terminology is more precise and understandable to the reader. I decline to use not-to-participate because in the art of journalism, the principle of economy of words dictates that I must not use two words where one word suffices. I boycotted not-to-participate because I’m required to write in active voice, not passive voice. And I did ‘not participate’ in the christening of ‘pushed not to participate’ because in my style of journalism, objectivity is cardinal. When I put one’s comments in quotes, one has his spade as in SPADE. In paraphrasing or interpretative journalism, I use simpler terms.

What a sympathetic response from my brothers from another mother. And through them I testified to the Boulundala committee of arbiters that Darboe has a right to his opinion on my reportage and he has a right to be respected for that opinion of his. But, here, we are not talking about opinions. Jamaicans would put it: facts me say. The fact is I went to Darboe, interviewed him and reported it as he told me. 

Now, the story in detail and this is excerpted (word for word and I have the digital copy, which I will make available on my Facebook page) from the interview I had with Darboe, focusing on the questions and answers relevant to the story I wrote which Darboe sought to disabuse.   

 

Saikou: Your party members, political activists are being clamped down on and political observers are suggesting that the space for opposition politicians is shrinking ahead of the polls. What’s your take on that?

I certainly agree that the democratic space instead of it being expanded is constricted, restricted and is shrinking. There’s no justification for denying any political party permission to carry out its legitimate activities. Let me say that my party has not been denied permit since the exit of the former IGP. But then there have been efforts by some overzealous officers to clamp down on us. 

 

Saikou: [Lasana] Jobarteh had been convicted. What’s your take on the outcome of that case?

Darboe: Well, I had given an interview to The Standard and I said that I was shocked by the judgment. I do not want to say more about that now because it’s a matter that’s sub judice because we’ve filed an appeal and I will be measured in what I say. But I just have to repeat that I am thoroughly shocked by it. I have never known that the laws of Gambia have extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Saikou: If the trend continues, I mean the clamping on your militants and other party members, how would it impact your 2016 election campaign?

Well, it will turn out to be an election that’s not free and fair. I want to think that the government of this country, or the ruling party would want to make sure that elections are conducted freely and fairly and transparently. And that the rules that are in place for the holding of free and fair elections would be adhered to or implemented. But certainly, if what has started continued, then we might as well call it quits. There’ll be no use in contesting an election that will not be fair. You don’t go through the motion of electioneering when in fact what is done they are farce and mock elections.”

 

Saikou: With regard to the political situation, what do you think should be done to address the situation? 

Darboe: We need a comprehensive electoral reform and the institution that has the moral courage to ensure that the electoral laws as reformed will be implemented. You can reform the electoral laws to govern the conduct of election but if you have a rogue institution, the usefulness of reform will be questionable. So, we just don’t comprehensive electoral reforms, but we also need men of integrity to be in charge of the electoral process. Men who will look at you and say ‘you comply with the rules otherwise you will not play ball with me. It’s as simple as that.”

If this was a slip of the tongue on the part of Darboe, he should have told me during the interview, or even after. He should have told me that he did not mean what he meant. I am known to be considerate. If Darboe insisted that he did not make these comments, then Gambians should know that he has a clone. Darboe was right in saying that at some point in the interview, he did tell me that it would be ideal that no party goes into boycott unilaterally. Not capturing that important statement could be a shortcoming on my part. I agree. But one has to understand that journalism is all about decision-making. When Darboe told me ‘we might as well call it quits’ he did so in his capacity as life-affirming presidential aspirant of UDP, a registered party. When he told me about the ideal situation, he did so as a member of a loose grouping of divided political parties, of which he in fact is not the spokesperson and repeatedly referred me to the spokesperson of that group of matters that has to do with the group. Angling of the story is my discretion. I did it without any bad faith on my part. 

For Darboe to distance himself from the comments I attributed to him in my reportage is regrettable and I am for the first time ‘pushed’ to doubt the credibility of a man who seeks to captain the Gambian ship in the dangerous sea of Lampedusa. 

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