By Samsudeen Sarr
My serialization of the events of the July 1994 coup, halted at its sixth part, is more or less about reliving what had already happened over twenty-five years ago. I believe addressing the current events of the country while sill fresh should take precedence over that past incident. After all, most of the information in the series is readable in my book, Coup de tat by the Gambia National Army published in 2006 by Xlibris publishing company in the USA. Except that I am now rewriting the same facts but with better control of my emotions than in early 2000 when I wrote it with a degree of bitterness from unexpectedly losing my job in June 1999 as the Gambia National Army (GNA) commander and leaving the country on self exile to the USA.
By 2010, however, with my life and that of my family’s transformed into the best thing we had ever expected, and my children constantly thanking me for taking the decision of providing them with the golden opportunities exploitable in America, my anger and frustration gradually subsided into a feeling of real joy and victory. It was like turning my scars into stars and accepting everything as a preordained destiny. Like sometimes said, when the gods are helping you, you feel like they are hurting you. That’s why I keep on saying that if I were to rewrite the book I would have written it from a more tolerant or accepting perspective than reflected in my judgment of my characters in particular and experiences. That was what was misconstrued as if I had said that the whole book was not true; I could never dispute the day the coup happened, or who took part in it, where it happened and other telltale incidents that had to do with realistic situations still verifiable if checked.
Considering the ultimate positive dividend of what transpired, I could no longer blame those whom I thought offended and “forced” me into exile in 1999. I have with all sincerity reconciled with everyone, seeing them more as my saviors than as the enemies I had thought them to be at the time.
If I were to relive the past all over again, I wouldn’t want anything to change including my past “traumatic” experiences including my incarceration at Mile Two Central Prisons for ten months after the July 1994 coup. I was pretty much inclined to believe that my incarceration in July 1994 rather than being the unacceptable punishment I had initially taken it to be, basically saved my life.
After all, it was the late Lieutenant Basiru Barrow (RIP) who on that fateful evening of July 22nd 1994 recommended me together with Mamat Cham to stay with the coup leaders at State House and help them map out a plan to normalize the chaotic situation following the success of the coup. Mamat Cham didn’t want to say that but there were several officers present at the State House that evening when Lt. Barrow suggested the idea and was endorsed by Jammeh &and Singhatey, the only junta members present then. But thank God we all survived it after all.
Coups and counter coups as means of seizing political power just like wars have never been conducted in clean or orderly operations. Soldiers do it with the awareness of putting their lives on the line to kill their opponents or be killed in the process.
That said, I find it essential to comment on the statement made by Mrs. Adelaide Sosseh Gaye vice chairperson of the TRRC on her intolerance to persons attempting to obstruct the work of the commission and to those trying to distract them from their work by trying to vilify their integrity. I wish she was more specific although I have the inkling that the snipe on the obstructionists was directed to Yankuba Touray and Fatoumata Janhumpa Ceesay.
I may be wrong in thinking so; but taking Touray and Jahumpa to court and charging them with obstruction of justice because of the testimony of the confessed-serial-killer Alagie Kanyi at the TRRC who accused them of making certain remarks to him, remarks interpreted as obstruction of justice that culminated into arresting and charging them by the state, puts the duo squarely in that reference index. My knowledge of the law is nothing to boast about but I think that Touray and Jahumpa would have been best viewed as justice obstructionists if at all they had said something to Alagie Kanyi that definitively stopped him from appearing to testify. But by Alagie Kanyi merely saying that they told him not to mind the TRRC which both could deny, the case may turn into a precarious one, hard to determine whose credibility will pass the test of judges, Kanyi against Touray and Jahumpa.
Kanyi has already lied under oath by accusing Yankuba Touray of taking part in their killing orgy of GNA suspected coup plotters at the Sefo forest on July 11,1994. We have long since debunked that rumor once circulated outside the GNA.
Nonetheless, by the same evidence, I suspect to be on the crosshair of Mrs. Sosseh Gaye’s shot when she echoed her sentiment on the TRRC’s intolerance of critics trying to vilify them. But again I may be wrong in concluding so, although I have adopted a firm resolution of continuing to be very critical of the TRRC’s conduct and intentions.
By all honesty, I seriously have my doubts over the fairness of the TRRC to bring about the ultimate political reconciliation desired by Gambians if folks like United-States-Army Captain Alagie Barrow continue to serve as their principal investigator in their quest to establish the truth. In the first instance, this guy has not lived in the Gambia, for God knows how long, and was among the foreign-sponsored dissidents who in December, 30, 2014 waged an armed incursion into the country purposely to overthrow the APRC government by force. I also have no idea as to why and how Captain Barrow was appointed to the important position of chief investigator of the TRRC. The criteria to do so should have at least required contenders to live in the Gambia for a reasonable period as required of all political candidates contesting elections for public office.
We shouldn’t ever forget that that doomed armed incursion of 2014 in which he was a key facilitator that caused the death of his colleagues was indeed condemned by the whole world including member states of the United Nations, the African Union, ECOWAS and certainly the USA government for its criminality and terroristic mien. He was as a result jailed in the USA for the crime.
So unless it is proven to me that there is no person in the whole Gambia qualified enough for that position, appointing Captain Barrow will ever remain a questionable phenomenon in my mind. I think the job should have been reserved for an officer who had served in the GNA /GPF with better familiarity of our service acts and the terms and conditions of our services with a clean record. Such a person would have done a better job than Captain Barrow.
Yes, it seems evident that the main objective of the TRRC is to portray the entire past administration of the APRC government as being fraught with nothing but evil and bad deeds which I think will eventually culminate into dividing the political spirit of the country rather than reconciling us as expected in the final process.
We were never at war with each other or in a genocidal situation like what happened in Rwanda or after the dismantling of the century-old Apartheid system in South Africa that required genuine Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Nigeria and Ghana had experienced more coups and counter coups with consequences far more deadly and destructive than what ensued in the Gambia; yet they never had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to denounce a past government no matter how ugly its legacy was.
We aught to recognize that after twenty-two years of the APRC government the Gambia in 2016 simply went through a free and fair general election where three major political parties contested, i.e., the APRC party led by the incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh, the GDC opposition party led by Honorable Mamma Kandeh and the opposition Coalition Party led by His Excellency President Adama Barrow.
In the end with all the controversy surrounding the tallying of the final votes the results favored President Barrow who won by 227,709 votes while the APRC & GDC got 208,487 and 89,760 votes respectively. It is still arguable that if Honorable Mamma Kandeh a former member of the APRC had not broken away from the APRC and formed his party taking along a good number of the the APRC votes the incumbent would have won again. However, the opposition was all ready to accuse the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of rigging the votes if that had happened.
Pretending as if the APRC as a viable contender was totally obliterated with nothing left of the party but gruesome memories of a regrettable past that failed the Gambia and its people and therefore must be exposed by a TRRC is at best disingenuous and at worst a political distortion of the realities of a major political party in existence that still enjoys the love and support of over two hundred thousand Gambians who will remain a strong force to reckon with for a very long time.
At a time when there is so much uncertainty in the political trajectory of our nation especially in the wake of the fragmentation of the opposition Coalition Party in power that had, when fully united, won the APRC by less than 20,000 votes, the idea of the TRRC’s continued attempt to destroy the image of the party will, I am afraid, result in creating a bigger political divide in the country than reconciling the feuding parties.
We cannot expect the APRC to be unreservedly approachable for conciliation from the government that sponsors a two-year commission with well paid Mullahs and “Mullahresses” to vilify their party’s legacy and recommending the arrest and prosecution of its prominent officials.
From a genuine assessment of the Gambian situation, I believe we have far less animosity among ourselves than the TRRC is trying to model out of their controversial witnesses. Our problems of internal security compounded by constant political squabbling is more of a immediate problem needing immediate attention than the distraction it is causing to these urgent problems. Instead of working for better solutions many public officials idly spend valuable times in their work places watching the proceedings on TV. That’s why I will continue to scrutinize the TRRC activities as long as I have the time and energy to do so. I have a stake in ensuring that the Gambia is peaceful during this delicate transition times.
And don’t get me wrong, up to this moment, my criticism of the TRRC when examined thoroughly has everything to do with the commission’s frequent tendency of inviting doubtable witnesses and not asking them the right questions when they plainly sound deceptive.
While at certain times the councils’ questioning methods seem like a well choreographed ploy that leads witnesses into saying stuff they really don’t want to say.
Plus the idea of trying to confirm from every witness ever detained or imprisoned the taste of “cherreh” served for dinner in prison is becoming too monotonous and boring. Or should I just consider it as a time-killing strategy to stretch the program into the two year timetable?
I have raised certain questions on testimonies made by dubious witnesses directed on me with no hopes of getting any answers back because of the damaging effects the answers will bear on the credibility of the star witnesses.
Indeed, I am still opened to the debate that the truth cannot be established if for instance four different witnesses testifying under oath about the same event, happening the same day and time but with each giving a completely different versions. Somehow, only the very stupid will believe that the truth can be obtained in that manner. I may sound like a broken record by repeating the same concerns; but as long as the TRRC keeps on allowing low-IQ folks to be denigrating me for their selfish intentions I will continue to register my apprehensiveness. Establishing my madness “beyond reasonable doubt” with silly evidences from witnesses without any medical background is enough character assassination for me.
I will however conclude by looking into the story of Private Mafugi Sonko whose appearance at the TRRC ostensibly made him the poster child of the evil consequences of the November 11, 1994 counter coup. In the first place, with Doctor Benneh Minteh’s admission that the operation that night was certainly a counter coup and not a rogue exercise intended to eliminate the most feared GNA officers and soldiers by the AFPRC government as entertained by many people for so long should now be laid to rest.
I found it hard to understand how Private Mafugi Sonko, a functional illiterate who had never been to school and couldn’t understand basic written and spoken English got himself enlisted in the TSG in 1993. I am really interested in who enlisted the fellow and why.
The time he got enlisted in the TSG in 1993 an acronym he has no clue about what it means, there was no more such unit as the Gambia National Gendarmerie in the country; but he kept on referring himself as a Gendarmeofficer and not a TSG personnel.
It is understandable that there were carry-over Field-Force officers from the defunct armed-police unit at Fajara Barracks during the Senegambia Confederation who had never been to school and couldn’t read or understand spoken English; but they communicated in an idiosyncratic broken English understood by all of them. Private Sonko was none of these folks. In fact, if Mafugi was enlisted after 1994, the chances of blaming the APRC of enlisting unqualified Jolas would have fitted the then conventional narrative.
But for the TSG to enlist someone in 1993 with no schooling at all, broke all the rules and regulations of the enlistment criteria for operational drivers. The Senegalese would never have hired Mafugi in the Gendarmerie they established.
He was not even on duty the night he was detailed by Lt. Binneh Minteh to drive the officers to their journey of doom to Yundum Barracks. Who was the duty driver that night? He probably never asked; it’s a question that I believe was a good one for Counsel Faal to ask Private Sonko. He was not even in full uniform that night bearing in mind his statement that he only had his slippers on when he boarded that vehicle.
The soldier who is given a driving mission without understanding what the mission is all about has no right in taking employment in the military and should never be in uniform.
He explained how the officers he was driving talked among themselves all the way from Fajara to Yundum but couldn’t understand what the heck their conversation was all about until they arrived at Yundum Barracks and ran into their nightmarish ambush. That is when he realized that he was in a disastrous mission.
Even when captured and declared innocent by Lieutenant Peter Singhate, Sonko lacked the basic vocabulary to explain himself out of his troubles when “Samba Batch”, a relatively very junior soldier forced him to remain detained.
For the nine years he was imprisoned without trial while his salary was regularly paid,no one can convince me that he was not just a forgotten soul who couldn’t talk himself out of the bondage he got himself into by securing a job he had no business seeking for. Why pay him half salary when he was under custody? That’s not even possible! My sixth sense tells me that whoever was handing over his salary to his wife was probably cheating her half the amount with the understanding that both husband and wife will never know.
Captain Alagie Barrow should investigate that, and in the process check for the copy of the dismissal letter of Baboucar Jeng that the jackass said was written by Captain Samsudeen Sarr. I said that he lied about having the copy in England and will never send it as promised. Prove this madman wrong!
In the end, Sonko was nothing but a collateral damage in a conflict of forces beyond his understanding and control. He was lucky to be alive and I wish him the best.
Ironically, the people he was expected to blame for his misfortune are not the ones he identified; to him it was only Lt Binneh Minteh and “Samba Batch” another serial killer only comparable in viciousness to Alagie Kanyi who put him through his ordeal.
I heard Counsel Faal asking him the interesting question of whether it didn’t feel unusual for him to be ordered to drive those lieutenants from Fajara Barracks to Yundum Barracks and he gave his honest answer in the negative. Lt. Basiru Barrow was at the time deployed at the Army HQ in Banjul and for him to come to Fajara Barracks to join a group of lieutenants for a late night operation to Yundum Barracks was enough to raise a red flag of something very unusual happening. Any sober operational driver will stop to find out the purpose of that mission. Maybe the duty driver knew and avoided taking the task.
With Private Mafugi Sonko, a vehicle could have been rigged with high explosives and handed him over the keys for delivery to a national convention for detonation to kill innocent people and he will drive it there and even get killed along without finding out the contents of his merchandise.
Saying that the imprisonment of Private Sonko for nine years was a very serious matter didn’t get into my emotions at all. What about those numerous officers who were suspected, arrested and executed without any form of trial? Whose demise was more serious? It was a counter coup folks.
I think the TRRC investigators, thanks to Captain Barrow, knew that going into the depth of Private Mafugi Sonko’s enlistment history in the TSG will reveal a fundamentally flawed process that will either expose him as a fraudster or show an institutional corruption blamable to the superior officers in charge at the time.