By Saul Saidykhan
Phones are buzzing, and Gambian Social Media is agog about Alagi Kanyi’s testimony at the TRRC. Kanyi is being called ‘killer’,’ murderer’, ‘sadist’, ‘monster’. These are all labels he deserves! But a little perspective might help the discerning understand how he came to be the person many are now so upset about.
Alagi Kanyi is no stranger to me. He comes from the founding Kabilo of Jarra Sankwia, the same clan that hosted my ancestors when they arrived in Jarra West 14 generations ago. My people converted Alagi’s people to Islam. To this day, our villages, Kanikunda, and Sankwia pray all Islamic Eid together and one of our imams ALWAYS leads the prayers. Quarreling, land disputes, and marriage between our families is FORBIDDEN. No Saidy-Khan is allowed to marry a Sankwia Kanyi or quarrel and argue with him/her about anything especially land. In matters of land, we defer COMPLETELY to the Kanyis. Since they are our hosts, whatever they say about land around us that someone on our side wants, we respect and accept whatever decision they make on the issue! And if our side has problems or issues with others – however serious, when the Kanyis intervene and ask us to drop it, we do immediately. Youth from the two villages form Fulang Kaffo (age-group social clubs) that are life-long. The Kanyis were also the host of the Fofanas with who they became so intertwined by marriage that we call them both Fofana-Kanyi. The real Kanyis like Alagi are now a minority in Sankwia – relative to the Fofanas. Many of us from Kanikunda -including myself, have mothers who come from that Sankwia Fofana-Kanyi clan.
So does many other ‘comers’. A good example is current Army CDS, Masaneh Kinteh who is a first-generation Jarranka. His mom is a Fofana-Kanyi from Sankwia, but his dad is actually from the North Bank. Anyway, for all practical purposes, Sankwia and Kanikunda are the same community. Nothing of significance happens in either village – good or bad, without the involvement of the other. Kids play football on the same pitch, hold Eid prayers on the same prayer ground, hunt small game together, and engage in all manner of rascality together. So has it been for Centuries.
Since 1978, the two villages have shared Kanikunda Primary school located between the two villages.
When I got accepted at Pakalinding school prematurely (a story for another day,) for the 1972-73 academic year, Alagi Kanyi, who like everybody else was older than me, was in my class. In fact, for the first two years I was in the school, I was the youngest boy in the school.
Fast forward to late 1986. I was doing my A’ Levels at the time when I met Alagi and a mutual childhood friend in army uniform in Tallinding. (Alagi had an older cousin – a driver, who has a compound near the Buffer Zone near the Ahmadiyya hospital in Tallinding.) I couldn’t suppress my trouble-maker side. I said “Midi (we call him Midi), the army is for real men. What are YOU doing there?” He wagged his fingers at me telling me to behave myself. We all laughed, chatted a bit, and went our separate ways.
Here is the relevance of this anecdote. Back in Pakalinding School, Alagi stood out for several reasons:
1. He was a very slow learner. No need to add anything here. We started Pakalinding Primary in ‘72/73, Alagi finished in ’81 per his own testimony. Just add 1+1.
2. He was very weak physically – lousy at football, lousy at other physical activities. Alagi was right in saying no one who knew him will fathom how he was able to join the army. This is an honest and accurate self-assessment! If you doubt his or my word, please ask any of the following Pakalinding School mates from the time: Pa Amaady Jallow, Landing Bojang (current DIG), Sedy Kinteh (fmr GFA Prez), Jibril Krubali, Kausu Dampha, Modou Kah, Alieu Kah, Ngorr Secka, Modou Secka, M. Bambo Fofana (Fo), Omar Jobe, Ablie Kujabi, Bunanbas Camara, Sedy Fofana (GPA), Bakari Conta, Bakari Darbo, Sedy Darbo, Serign Jarjusey, Awa Mbye, Musu Ndure, Kintending Kinteh, Sedy Keita, Jereh Sisay, Fatou Dibba, Fatou Kah, Ndey Ceesay, Awa Sabally, Dudu Njie, Sherifo Njie, Mba Sireh Saidybah, etc. So many witnesses if need be…
3. He was a complete wimp and would cry at the snap of a finger. Alagi was one of the few Jarra boys I know who couldn’t fight back to save his life. This was EXTREMELY unusual in those days. As boys, we used to settle almost all our disputes with the fist in Jarra. Someone says the sky is blue, another says it’s yellow, and it quickly morphs into ‘you calling me a liar’? ‘Let’s go to the field’ or ‘let’s go behind the toilet’ or ‘wait ‘til after school’. And if you run away from a fight or lose to your age-mate, one of the ‘big boys’ on your side will whoop your behind for being a ‘girl’. And nobody wants that. Literally, every single day, some boy would get whooped at Pakalinding School by a peer! Seriously. Unless the aggressor is someone older, you’re told to stand and hit back anyone who hits you. After a few years of that, you don’t fear much. Alagi was one of the few exceptions who could never do this. One punch, and he’ll cry like a baby. And for some reason, when he cries, he’ll shed tears and drool copiously.
4. Alagi had a very low self-esteem. He would often remain mute and try to hide in class just so the teacher doesn’t call him out to answer a question. And sometimes when he gets called on, he would stammer and start tearing up.
After watching Alagi’s testimony twice now, I believe almost everything he said. This is one man who is confined by the prison walls of his conscience. This is the Alagi I know from 46 years ago. The tears are real, as are the emotions. Like he openly stated, he turned to the bottle at Edward’s behest to avoid seeing the ghosts of the innocent people he helped kill. I saw him in both 2004 and 2007 when I went home to visit. I don’t believe he killed Basiru Barrow or D.O.T Faal. More importantly, I believe he is totally sincere about his confession. I saw several flashes of the dull, easily frightened, and innocent young boy from Pakalinding School. Even as a boy, he was terrible at lying. Unless someone else is guiding Alagi, he couldn’t get away with mischief. He was simply not smart enough. He still isn’t. Those who think he’s play acting don’t know the man. It takes a certain level of intelligence to act a character. Alagi’s gifts are in other areas. So, what do I think happened?
I believe Sana Sabally terrified the bejesus out of Alagi by telling him his life is on the line because of his fellow Jarranka coup plotters. Knowing Alagi’s slow thinking capacity, and wimpish nature, it is my strong belief that he truly felt and feared that Sana and co will kill him unless he PROVES to them that he does not have anything to do with his fellow Jarrankas’ coup plot. Edward Singhateh mischievously took advantage of that fear to rein Alagi into the senseless cold-blooded murder conspiracy of Ousman Koro Ceesay!
Alagi’s behavior is cowardly, or dastardly in that instead of opting to go run to exile, or risk going to jail by defying illegal orders, he sheepishly obeyed them and callously help murder his colleagues and an innocent civilian professional. So Alagi is essentially the coward I remember clearly from both our Elementary School days, and other extra-curricular venues at home, but he is NOT the sadist many mistake him for. He simply lacks the brains and balls of that label. He was a terrified wimp playing Rambo for his puppeteers (Sana Sabally and Edward Singhateh.)
This is not meant to be exculpatory, or even rationalize what Kanyi did. But it should clue the discerning in on Alagi’s character and possible motivation for his actions. He clearly never benefited from his cooperation with Sana Sabally and Edward Singhateh financially, or career-wise. Like he accurately posited, he was “used as a tool” due to his slow wit and lack of wisdom.
I feel terrible for the families of his victims. But I feel bad for Alagi as well because I know he is a victim of manipulation. I hope the unbottling of the terrible secret he had hidden in him for two decades will help him come to terms with his sordid past.
The main lesson here – for me, is something I wrote about years ago: we give powerful weapons to people with very little education or sense (mostly near dyslexic school drop outs, and poor performers), who ordinarily lack the basic courage to even approach a girl and chat up when not in uniform because of self-concept or self-esteem issues, but we’re surprise when they turn their guns on those they’re envious of in society or those mismanaging our collective weal. The current reforms in our Security sector must include setting Basic Standards that each Applicant should meet. These Standards should include not just physical evaluation, but both Psychological and Academic Tests as well. Failing this, we’re deluding ourselves about Reforming our Security Services. If a Security officer (Military, SIS, or Police) cannot read and COMPREHEND, his Terms of Engagement, or his rights and obligations vis-a vis those of fellow citizens, we’ll always have the Kanyi-like situations where smart seniors will use less gifted juniors to perpetrate illegalities.
We can do the normal Gambian thing of ranting and raving about Alagi Kanyi. This is easy and as we love easy things, we can continue to play ostrich. However, what is dumber than Alagi’s behavior is to pretend that he was an isolated character in our Security services. One can only pray for poor little Gambia!