The much talked about Raleigh Conference is now history. The analysis; the debates, disagreements, the optimism and skepticism will continue in different directions sometimes heated and other times embraced. Raleigh to us was yet another opportunity, another chapter in the history of our country for citizens to gather; exchange ideas, share a meal and stories that many of our citizens have and continue to endure in the last two decades.
The Raleigh conference could not have come at the worst time in the history of our country. Almost every Gambian is in agreement in one way or another that what currently exists in Gambia as we speak is a cause for concern for any sound minded citizen regardless of our political leanings or perspective. Many if not majority are also in silence agreement that the continuous deteriorating Human Rights, economic, political, social, and democratic values in our country if not interrupted will lead our tiny Gambia into an ungovernable, crises ridden and fail nation.
It is in the prism of these impending governing crises intended or otherwise that the Raleigh Conference was convened. It was to witness the gathering of many prominent Gambians young and older whose contributions to the shaping of our nation’s history cannot be honestly discounted. Leaders of various political parties, Civil Society groups, media houses, experience and seasoned diplomats, professionals and youth activists all convened in Raleigh for this conference.
History teaches us that successful nations and societies are shaped by ideas, commitment and dedication of its citizens. That war and violence can bring change in a country but it is ideas and sound minds from serious citizens who step up, put the interest of the nation in the forefront and help shape a viable future for that great nation. Without the realization that a nation is bigger than one man, one party or one group of people or tribe a country can only be led by people who tumble and become accidents of history but eventually become footnotes that anyone would wish ever not to remember.
Raleigh therefore was a venue that accorded Gambians the opportunity to honestly and openly discuss the future of the country. It presented an opportunity for all political leaders who are the most viable option and vehicle for effecting peaceful political change in the Gambia, to discuss openly and honestly face to face their role past and present in shaping the political destiny of the Gambia. These leaders in many Gambians’ minds have been the tumbling block to bringing political change or exert maximum pressure on President Jammeh to change the political narrative in Banjul. Many of the leaders took that opportunity, came to Raleigh and face the most vocal and active constituents in Gambian politics – the Diaspora. Thus Gambians witnessed the bitter exchanges and self-confessions if you may from the leaders. It was uncomfortable, but necessary to overcome so as to open a new chapter in moving Gambia forward. The attending leaders got the message loud and clear that Gambians were not willing to settle for anything less any more. As Fatou Jaw Manneh would put it to the leaders “Come together to change the political landscape or please get out of the way and allow Gambians to take on the President and bring change to Gambia; that Gambians are willing to go home now to join the political fight” The message couldn’t have been clearer and the leaders could not but turn to Fatou and said “we need you”- meaning we need every Gambian in this fight.
So Raleigh in a nutshell was an opportunity for a dialogue, a historic gathering that must be replicated time and again to continue to explore ideas and solutions in bringing lasting political change in Gambia. It was also a missed opportunity for many Gambians to join the dialogue, add their voices and meet people who have contributed and continue to contribute immensely towards the shaping of our political destiny.
Gainako couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunity to join our fellow Gambians in Raleigh. If anything, we were thrilled to have met so many fine Gambians we have been working with in the frontline but never had the chance to meet face to face and strengthen our relationship. In fact, we are tempted to ask which Gambian would not trade anything for an opportunity to meet people like Honorable BB Darboe former minister of finance, who came within a striking distance of being President of the Gambia as VP; who would not be happy to meet Alhagie Ousainou Darboe leader of UDP, a prominent lawyer who has contributed so much to shaping our legal system and putting his life on the line for the past decade and half. Who would not be eager to meet honorable Hamat Bah vocal leader of the NRP who was ready to meet and confront Diaspora Gambians for what he called “discriminating against his party” How about Drs. Amadou S. Janneh Coordinator of CCG. Dr. Sedat Jobe seasoned Diplomat presenting a nightmare for President Jammeh, and Dr. Aboulie Saine a successful political science professor, author of several books on Gambia and one of the finest resourceful intellectuals Gambia ever have. Who would trade the friendly and down to earth company of Honorable Omar Jallow (OJ) former agriculture minister and one of the most dynamic speakers and fierce critic of the Jammeh regime, Ms Adele Sosseh Gambian Human Right activist who traveled all the way from Mali to attend this event, many other Gambians who we can’t exhaust naming here. It was simply uplifting to meet so many fine citizens including Fatou Jaw Manneh, founder of Mafanta, Sigga Jagne and many other young women and men fighting for equality, liberty and freedom for all in the Gambia.
One of the most memorable events at the conference which emotionally moved almost everyone to tears was the narration of the ordeals and torture of Journalist Musa Saidykhan former editor of the Independence and now managing editor of Kibaaronews. Musa’s recount of his torture and the trauma he had to go through was enough to see the audience visibly drop tears because of the cruelty he had inflicted on him by his fellow Gambians in the name of defending President Jammeh. What Musa had to go through is enough to rally every Gambian with Conscience to the course of the struggle against impunity in Gambia. His story was just one of many Gambians have to go through in the last decade the latest being that of Imam Baba Leigh. Raleigh therefore from our perspective was a successful event noting that there is always room for improvement and inclusion and as we seek to change the regime in Banjul we must strive to do better and look beyond our differences. Raleigh perhaps is the beginning of the end of impunity in Banjul by beginning the process of bridging gaps that exist within various constituents.