By Yero Jallow
Mr. Alhagie Saidy-Barrow, one of the architects of the December 30th 2014 “military expedition” against Yaya Jammeh’s tyrannical administration in the Gambia grants his first interview ever. Barrow, a resident of Tennessee, was a former Captain with the U.S Army. In the one-on-one with Gainako, Barrow said “We wanted nothing other than the freedom of our brothers and sisters in The Gambia. We all knew the risks involved but Gambia is worth it for us and those that see themselves in our endeavor.” In the rare interview, Barrow gives us a little inside of their effort to dislodge Jammeh and some of what transpired in their much talked about trials by the U.S Government on charges of an old U.S law, “Expedition against a foreign Government” militarily.
Below we reproduce the whole interview…
Gainako: Welcome to Gainako, Alhagie.
Mr. Barrow: Thank you Yero. I appreciate your time sir.
Gainako: You have been so silent, and now let us get you out of your shy and comfort zone. This would be your first interview even to where you refused to talk to certain foreign journalists, some of whom reached out to some of us to facilitate an interview but you turned down all requests. Why?
Mr. Barrow: I didn’t grant any interviews because there is a time for everything. I just didn’t think it was time for me to do any interviews until now. But that does not mean that I have been quite. I chose to express myself in a different way. I promised you back in 2015 that if I decide to do an interview, I will be honored to have you ask the questions. I wanted to talk on my own terms and talk to the people that matter to me. That is, The Gambians.
If you will, please allow me to pay my respects to my brothers that gave their lives for their motherland. May they all rest in peace and make their loss bearable on the little children and family members they left behind. I will forever be indebted to Jaja, Lamin and Njagga.
Gainako: For informational purposes and the many that don’t know you, kindly introduce yourself to our readers.
Mr. Barrow: My name is Alagie Saidy-Barrow. Born in Kiang to Mamadi Barrow from Wulli Jahkunda and Fanta Sisawo from Sandu Kuraw, my earliest memories of life were in Banjul on Old Perseverance, I grew up in Bundung and spent my formative years in Basse where I went to high school. I came to the USA in the mid-nineties and currently reside in Tennessee with my family.
Gainako: Walk us through memory lanes; were you a stubborn pupil and/or youngster? What kind of personality are you in terms of family, ethics, nature, personal, etc?
Mr. Barrow: I don’t think I was stubborn but I am sure some people I grew up with will disagree. I grew up in the typical Gambian family home with my mom and dad and some cousins here and there. My mother, whom I credit with the better side of me, ensured that I stayed out of trouble and nurtured in me a sense of caring for everyone that I come across. My dad, was a happy go lucky type of person and hardly ever came into any hardship that fazed him. I learned resilience from him.
Gainako: What is your educational and professional background?
Mr. Barrow: I like to consider the Gambia L and Post as the institutions I attended for my education especially on Gambia. I am a proud product of Serrekunda Primary School and Nasir Ahmadiyya Muslim High School in Basse. I am a student of life and what I learn from my interactions with my friends is far more than any university can teach me. My career has been with the US military from 2000 until 2014
Gainako: You attained the rank of a mighty Captain in the army. interesting! Alhagie! Did you work for the U.S intelligence as many suspect?
Mr. Barrow: Hahaha.. There is nothing mighty about being a Captain but to your question, I have always been with the US military. I was never been an employee of any intelligence agency.
Gainako: Let’s talk about December 30th 2014 and its significance in Gambia’s history. You are one of the architects based on what I gathered. Tell us about this undertaking?
Mr. Barrow: Well I was invited to join the group after they had already conceived of the idea and built the foundations. I will be eternally grateful to Njagga who invited me and asked me to join in. He trusted me and ensured that he never left me behind on anything. I met Sanneh here in the US and met my Tomma Jaja Nyass back in Gambia. All three of them are extraordinary human beings and considered me a brother from the day I started interacting with them. They wanted nothing other than the freedom of their brothers and sisters in The Gambia. We all knew the risks involved but Gambia is worth it for us and those that see themselves in our endeavor.
Gainako: Your friendship with some of them like the Late Captain Njagga Jagne is an open secret. Who were your team members? What was your role specifically?
Mr. Barrow: Njagga is my big brother and my friend. I am also close to Lamin Sanneh and when I was in The Gambia, Jaja Nyass and I became pretty tight. I consider all of them as my brothers. Modou Njie, Musa Sarr, Cherno Njie, Dawda Bojang, Abdoulie Jobe, Lamin Njie, Papa Faal, Bai Lowe, and a few others whom I prefer not to name all have a special place in my heart and I am grateful for their friendship and brotherhood. My role varied depending on what the team needed me to do and I worked with the brothers to do whatever was necessary to see our mission through. I was not tasked with any specific role in that we all did whatever was required to be done.
Gainako: A U.S Prosecutor accused you of being the author of the group’s memorandum, citing certain military terms like, “boots on the ground,” any take on that?
Mr. Barrow: Yes, the prosecutor, in order to label me as a danger to society and in his quest to exaggerate my role said I wrote the plan but that’s not true. I modified the document and sent it out to the email they found it on and so naturally, the metadata had my fingerprints and so they claimed that I wrote the plan. I contributed to it but it was not something I developed alone.
Gainako: Looking over the whole thing, what would you or any of your team do different? Were you guys power-hungry in anyway? What vision did you have for the Gambia? What was the inside structure like? How about return to constitutional rule?
Mr. Barrow: Well, we did not fulfill our ultimate goal of toppling Yaya Jammeh. We got betrayed by the USA and some soldiers that Lamin Sanneh trusted. When Yaya was informed that we were in country, not knowing where we were and what capabilities we had or what our timeline was, he packed his family and ran to the Middle East. Saul Badjie was left in charge of the country and he went into hiding. Modou Njie and myself tracked him to few places he frequented but he kept changing cars and staying away from home and any other place he frequented. And no, there was none among us that was to be in power. Cherno Njie, whom we chose to lead us, actually came in the picture after we had already formed the team. We approached him to lead us and some actually were reluctant to continue the mission unless he agreed to become our leader. We all met him and his position as leader was initiated by Sanneh who spoke to Njagga about it and the two of them called me to get my opinion. It took some convincing and conditioning to get Cherno to accept. Power was never the issue with us. The freedom of our brothers and sisters back home was our only motivation. And we had plans to secure the nation and prepare the ground for free and fair elections within a very short time period. I lost my brothers in this endeavor and that is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I would do anything if I could bring them back.
Gainako: Many citizens really applaud your undertaking of risks. Others felt an overthrow like you tried to do was too risky. Others are even way too critical against your move citing it as criminal per the constitution of the Gambia. Others argued that you were ill-prepared and ill-advised. What is the balance point?
Mr. Barrow: Of course, it was risky. But Gambia was worth all the risk for us. If what we claim about our love for Gambia and Gambians is true, no risk is ever too great for the love of Gambia. As far as those that say its criminal, it is only criminal to the extent that it did not succeed. Yaya Jammeh forced himself on Gambians and kept killing, raping and stealing from our people. Apparently, that is ok by some people but I think that says a lot more about those that endorsed him. We understood that Yaya will never leave Gambia unless if forced out. And I think time vindicated that position in that even when he lost elections that he himself said is tamper-proof, he refused to leave. It took military forces from neighboring countries to force him out. On being ill-prepared and ill-advised, that’s a matter of opinion. Considering the challenges we were up against and what we were able to accomplish, I completely disagree with that position because I am intimately familiar with all the work that was done for over a year. Not many people in The Gambia would have dared do even the most basic of things we did in Gambia. That took a lot of planning and preparation.
Gainako: You were charged with an old U.S law, “expedition against a foreign government,” in this case the Government of the Gambia. Do you feel guilty per this part of the law?
Mr. Barrow: Guilty? I pled guilty but no I don’t feel any guilt whatsoever. The US can encourage or tolerate White Americans to go and fight in Libya and other Middle Eastern countries in the name of Christianity but come after us for trying to free our country from a tyrant. I am proud of my actions and proud of everyone that was associated with me. I regret that I lost my brothers and I will do anything if I could bring them back but no I feel no guilt whatsoever for being found guilty by the so-called justice system. I urge you to read The New Jim Crow or Three Felonies a Day and you will have a better understanding of the sham that justice has become here. Far better men than me have been abused by the very system put in place to ensure justice and equity. So no I have no guilt sir.
Gainako: Barrow, you made a very emotional speech on the day of the sentencing. What message were you trying to send?
Mr. Barrow: I just wanted them to know that I take full responsibility for my actions but that I offer no apologies. I didn’t expect them to understand but I wanted them to know how I felt.
Gainako: Was this coup leaked, and who leaked it? We heard some supposed participants “chickened out.” We also heard there was some leadership in-fighting on this? What is your take on that?
Mr. Barrow: Well, you saw the article from the Washington Post that said the US Government leaked it right? And yes, I think it was a well-known secret that we were up to something but we guarded our timelines, capabilities and personnel with our lives. Everything was done solely on a need to know basis. I am not aware of any leadership infighting. I read where Banka Manneh is reported to have said he was sidelined by Cherno Njie and while going through the court system, my lawyer also told me that Banka said he was not part of our group. That he had left the group before we departed for The Gambia. I told my lawyer that as far as I knew, that was inaccurate because no one ever communicated that to me. In fact, when I left The Gambia after we failed in our mission, Banka was the first person I called to inform him that our mission did not go through and told him to make an announcement about all of us making it out. At the time, we still had two people in The Gambia and I asked him to send out that message so as to throw off the search for them and thankfully, they both made it out of country safely. Neither Njagga nor Sanneh mentioned anything to me regarding Banka’s withdrawal from the group. If Banka withdrew from the participating in the mission, it was a decision he kept to himself as none of the key players knew anything about it. I cut off communication with everyone except Sanneh and I didn’t update anyone on my whereabouts or movements because everything was on a need to know basis. They say loose lips sink ships and I was in The Gambia by myself with most of those weapons and conducting surveillance. It was paramount that I maintained radio silence.
Gainako: In Cherno Njie’s testimony, he implicated U.S Government, citing an embassy attaché in Dakar working with your group. Was the U.S Government playing double-standards?
Mr. Barrow: I am aware of the communications between said attaché and Lamin Sanneh. I wouldn’t put it past the US Government to do just that. Jammeh did them a favor before by illegally imprisoning innocent Muslims in The Gambia for their rendition program. So there is no telling. The attaché knew of our plans and so did the FBI as revealed in two interviews they had with Sanneh, one just before he left for Dakar. So I will not put it past them.
Gainako: There are few serving Gambians in the U.S military who reached out to me then to caution associating with your group or showing sympathy, citing that the U.S Government was investigating on the matter. The person posed as an insider privy to information. It turned out to be false after I interviewed the Minneapolis FBI Spokesperson on their “intimidating” interaction with Gambians in the U.S at the time. Any take on such people?
Mr. Barrow: I am not surprised by that Yero. Sometimes, even when things are not about us, in order to garner some attention or relevancy, we try to make things about us. I have people I considered friends here in The USA that also naively bought into the hubris that I am a terrorist. Some of them distanced themselves completely from me and one of them actually credits me with saving their life. I am proud that I did not reach out to most people because I know how folks can be sometimes. You shouldn’t have been surprised when the tales of your friends turned out to be false. I also got all kinds of people who claim they were interviewed by the FBI and some also reached out wondering if they could use our case to get political asylum but they wouldn’t even call from their own phone. People can be ridiculous sometimes.
Gainako: Oh well, a new Government is here. Politics is messy and comes with lots of problem. Any take?
Mr. Barrow: Yes politics can be messy and it may come with lots of problems but usually these are problems of our own undoing. Thankfully, I am going back home on December 30 to pay my respects to my fallen brothers and to spend time with my ailing mother. I also intend to get a better understanding of what obtains back home because our people have suffered long and hard and deserve a breather. I will take the opportunity to meet a broad section of the community in order to get a better understanding of the challenges we face as a nation and how we can move forward.
Gainako: Recently, a Facebook commentator, Nanama Keita noted that the Gambian Government should hire some of you. The caution is that jobs needs to be advertised and qualified and competent citizens should take it, for equal employment opportunities for all citizens. What is your take on this? Under what circumstance will you accept a job in the Gambia?
Mr. Barrow: I have never met Nanama but I thought that was very considerate of him. I actually reached out to him and thanked him and also informed him that as things stand, I am not looking for a job with the government and I am not interested in one. My passion is the military and or teaching in a high school. Teaching is still a possibility but I am too old for the military. I do send in suggestions to the government when I see the need to do so.
Gainako: There is a lot of divisive politics currently, lots of interest groups, and lot more on the way. What would your administration would have done different to unite citizens?
Mr. Barrow: Any administration taking over from Jammeh faces enormous challenges of governance and a broken economy. We had a solid transition plan which would have included constitutional reforms; a human rights commission; civil service reform commission; security services reform commission; an electoral reform commission; and anti-corruption and assets recovery commission. In making cabinet and other appointments, we would have been guided by the person’s competence, integrity, and love of country and not by political affiliation or other considerations. Enablers of the Jammeh regime would not have been part of our administration. It is important that we see our country first because when its all said and done, that should be all that matters.
Gainako: Hopefully not the last time to talk in an interview; I do thank you for your time. Any last word?
Mr. Barrow: My condolences to the families of Jaja, Sanneh and NJagga. I am honored to have been a friend to them and proud to call them my brothers. May their souls rest in peace. They stood for Gambia and Gambians and even as their sacrifice has become a footnote for some who are quick to forget, their bravery and undeniable love for Gambia continues to sustain those of us who will be eternally grateful for their sacrifice. I thank my family and friends who stood by me and my brothers through these dark times. I never felt alone because I had a few dedicated brothers and sisters who never let me walk alone. Those overseeing the December 30 foundation and all those who took up our cause, I am thankful.
I thank The Gambians in Minnesota who stood with me when I refused to leave jail with the ridiculous sex-offender conditions they tried to put on me. Gambians in Minnesota made that battle much easier for me to fight. I am grateful to them. GDF, AGERRA, some of the online papers specifically those that help us commemorate December 30 yearly, and anyone that has ever wished us good luck or prayed for us, I am grateful to all of them.
And thank you Yero. When I got to Minnesota in the dead of winter, I knew no one there. But I never felt cold because you (Yero), my older brothers Cherno and my wife Amienata Jagne Bah, Pa Ann, my little sister Sigga Jagne, my brother Sana Sanyang and my wife that he stole from me Fatou, Sai Papa Faal, my big brother in Sterling Heights, my twin brother in Madison and my brother Mbemba Ceesay in Atlanta, I can never thank enough. My neice Jobe Jubba in Nashville and her husband Bass, I am thankful to. All the Gambians in Minnesota and Tennessee that came to support and show solidarity to us during our sentencing, I am grateful to all of them. You all fed and clothed me and made sure I never wanted for anything. That is the Gambianness I knew and grew around. My tribe didn’t matter, where I was from in The Gambia didn’t matter. All you saw was a Gambian brother in me. That’s how my mother told me it should always be like. That is The Gambia I grew in and The Gambia I desired so much that I was prepared to die for. I pray we make it that Gambia again! Thank you sir.