By Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu, Sotuma Sere, Jimara, URR, The Gambia
I want to start by thanking all my fans, families and friends at home and abroad for standing by me during my arrest at Gambissara and detention at the Bakadaji Police Station on Wednesday June 12, 2013. I thank all the online, social, broadcast and print media houses through their editors, moderators and publishers for keeping the heat on. My sincere gratitude goes to all the international organizations or groups and advocates of civil liberties that wasted no time in mobilizing the requisite global public opinion on my behalf. The members of my German Pirate Party in Cologne wasted no time in activating solidarity action for me. To my critics and detractors, I say a big thank you for your field day of calling me all sorts of names.
I thank and reaffirm my endorsement of, and solidarity with, President Jammeh of The Gambia for swiftly ordering my immediate release from detention. He was not aware of my detention but the moment he got the balanced security report, he ordered for my immediate release.
So far unruly elements of The Gambian security system have been disturbing for no reason. There is no directive given to uniformed or uniform security outfits to disturb me but some are taking the law into their own hands whenever they see me near an APRC or Jammeh Government gathering. I therefore indulge the kind attention of President Jammeh and the Gambian National Security Council to direct their state security people, official and unofficial alike, to leave me a lone. The chicanery should be stopped in the name of national peace. The former Presidential Affairs Minister Dr. Njogu Bah once told me live at the funeral of the late GRTS DG Momodu Sanyang: “the guy am monitoring.” Officially correct or wrong, after spending eight months in The Gambia, I do not think genuine Gambian security apparatuses would report that I have been involved in illicit or subversive activities that are detrimental to the state interests. I am a prominent citizen with a visible name and face. Anything I do easily comes to the surface. If I cannot get support for the productive ventures I set out to do in the Gambia and wrote directly to President Jammeh about them, I should just be left alone.
Before proceeding, I would like to congratulate my Baddibubka Sanawuo and fellow prolific writer Momodou Sabally on his promotion to the position of Acting Secretary General (SG). It is an advanced blank cheque of trust and confidence from the President of The Republic. Being at the centre of power is not an easy task anyway. I wish him a very successful tenure, with an enviable legacy, peace of mind, good health and protection from the machinations of evil and detractors. SG Sabally how can you take the title of “The Gambia’s Pen” without consulting your Sarahulleh man? It should be my title too as I am also an author of published magnum opus on Africa (just google, the Africans: a triple uselessness) and other publishable works (watch my GRTS interview with Malick Jones). No worries. I recognize your title of “The Gambia’s Pen” while I take the title of “The Gambia’s Brain” in our common strive towards transforming The Gambia into a land of thinkers and innovators.
Had GRTS approved my proposed TV programmes, SG Momodou Sabally would have been one of my first guests for an educative battle of ideas that would have “wowed” the nation.
“I WANT YOU TO WORK WITH THE APRC”
These are the words from a prominent National Assembly Member (NAM) of the ruling APRC. Of all the stalwarts of the ruling party, this man, has so far been the most welcoming, motivating and progressive guy I met. I withhold his name for now before he is victimized out of envy. So far many APRC top people and even senior government officials created the false impression that President Jammeh will either fire or demote them when they mention my names to him or are seen with me in public. This APRC NAM interacted with me openly at Kanilai and other places and I am yet to hear that he lost his status within the party and the National Assembly because of me. He felt very bad about my arrest and detention. Left to him, I would have long been on the official list of presidential tour delegates.
Though I said I am not going to be politically active in The Gambia, open-minded people like this APRC NAM could make me change my mind but I am being VERY careful. I am currently facing too much envy, sabotage and blockage in The Gambia as many people think I am here to take their jobs and privileges. The level of political maturity in our Gambia is not yet optimal for one to just jump into things like that.
My brief detention at the Bakadaji Police Station was another learning moment. At first the police were pumped with lies that I am a crazy person and the order to detain me came from the highest authority of the land. When the most senior police officer observed me, he communicated to his superior that I am mentally fit, very smart and well educated and I am just a victim of politics. He wanted to release me but he did not get the order from his immediate boss who was away.
The police officers were laughing over the lies that I am mentally sick. They said that they were brewing attaya green tea and observing me and could not read a single abnormal thing from my behavior. They even took the risk of leaving me a lone in the police compound free for hours and nothing happened. Will you leave a mad man alone for long or sit down with him without handcuffs and straightjacket and expect no trouble? As I was relaxing on the platform or bantaba and enjoying a cup of tee, a goat came to keep me company. It licked my feet and had great fun kicking them with its head and horns. I did not disrupt its fun as I started philosophizing on the relations between human beings and other creatures of nature.
As time moves, the police started sympathizing with me. They became my fans and gave me very good lessons about life that no university would give me. One old police officer told me that I am a political asset not just for my Jemara district but also for the country. I should expect more fights but he gave me some additional tips on how to prevail and stay resilient.
THE LIES AND POLITICS WITH THE OFFICAL LISTS OF DELEGATES FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL TOUR
Before embarking on my second working visit to The Gambia, I wrote to President Jammeh on the 4th of February and 6th March 2013 when I was in Germany. In that letter I expressed my interest in joining the next meet or dialogue with the people tour should it meet me in The Gambia. I told President Jammeh that he is the President of all Gambians and some marginalized communities, including mine, have been badmouthed and misrepresented far too long. They should be given the fair chance to be heard as they have proven their critics wrong in the last presidential, parliamentary and local government elections. They also allocated first class land to the President on a very enviable location.
Every reasonable government or presidential adviser will not hesitate to recommend the content of my letter and stated requests for approval as they will enrich the government but for whatever reason, I go no serious response. People are not just fighting my projects, they are blocking my access to President Jammeh as if he is their personal property they planted at State House like a robot that should just be functioning for them and their families or friends. When I came back to the Gambia on March 08, I studied the system and concluded that as long as some people are around to President Jammeh, he will not approve my letters no matter how good the contents will be for the country. I decided to maintain my patience, self-discipline and the security distance. Can you imagine? I have been in The Gambia since March quietly working on my mission. Instead of checking on me through my mobile phone numbers, email address, face book pages or Sotuma Sere village address to know my location and state, some officials just minuted away that I left The Gambia!
Losing hope is no option for me. When the Presidential tour was announced, I started working to have my names on the official lists just to save me from unnecessary harassment from security people. I contacted the officials I knew from the Office of The President but no response. I told myself in a system of fairness, my name should be among the top 50 official participants or delegates of the dialogue with the people tour as I expressed my interested far ahead of time. Just a day before the tour took off, I got a message from a senior official from State House that the official list for the tour comes from the APRC and I should contact the party. I told him to connect me since am still new in the country and not fully connected yet. He did not reply. I later contacted the APRC figure Fatoumatta Jahumpa Ceesay (FJC). She told me she would be going to Mali on an ECOWAS fact-finding mission and she might not be around for the dialogue with the people tour.
I took the initiative of meeting the APRC National Mobiliser Alhagie Yankuba Colley who doubles as the Lord Mayor of the Kanifing Municipality. He told me he gets the list from State House. I told him a State House official told me something different. Yankuba Colley then told me, it was late and he could do nothing for me though his body language showed he could still get me on the list if he had wanted. The list is subject to modification since it is not a Bible or The Quran.
Mayor Colley claimed that Presidential Jammeh finalized the list and he could not go back to him. I told him I am no stranger to the Jammeh Administration. President Jammeh is a very reasonable and understanding man. If you tell him, the Sarahulleh man, Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu, wants to officially join the tour he will approve it since I wrote to him about it in February and March 2013. I have a file in the Office of The President (ref: OP353/457/01/TEMP: (74)) that the current Cabinet Secretary and his Deputy are very familiar with though my stated requests are not being granted for reasons I cannot say. I told Yankuba Colley I will be very useful to the tour especially when we reach the Sarahulleh communities. I am also Sarahulleh Youth Development Ambassador carrying a very useful message for APRC and the Government. Yankuba Colley was talking as if moving mountain Kilimanjaro was easier than getting my name on the official list. I just thanked him and left.
Later I sent my frustration to the top State House official that I am confused by the gross insincerity. I FELT BERAYED! I did everything according to protocol and followed up things through the proper channels but one official will tell me this and another person will tell me that. It looks like some officials in Government or APRC cannot be upright men or women enough to tell the truth. It is no surprise that when some of them get fired or jailed, they get zero public sympathy.
I contacted the Director of Press and Public Relations of State House Madame Fatou Camara so she could at least include me in her official Press Corp list but I got no reply from her as well. I also contacted the Managing Director of The Daily Observer and again no response.
I then tried the Director General of GRTS Alhagie Lamin Manga but his line was busy throughout. Anyway communication between GRTS DG Manga and I broke down since the day a GRTS whistleblower opened a can of worms on the ugly side the national broadcaster. My last follow-up message on my programme proposals I sent to the GRTS DG, his Deputy and the Director of TV Programmes, after the whistleblower report, remains unanswered to date!
SURVIVING THE FIRST DAY OF THE PRESIDENTIAL TOUR
As I was not sure if I could still make it to the Presidential Tour, I did not formally announce it to my family and friends. My wife visited me in the evening. I just told her I would be traveling but I would call her the next day to confirm. I gave her money for her school fares and personal maintenance.
On the first day of the tour, I woke up of early, bathed, prayed, packed my things then told my brave host good bye. I boarded the commercial vehicle to Westfield and from there to Banjul. When I reached the State House gate reception, I told the Security people that I want to be part of the tour. They said I should call the officials concerned so they could help me. Before I could use my phone I sought the permission from the military officials wearing the MP (Military Police) badges and they said I could use my phone. I then sat near a small canteen that specializes on food for the soldiers. I jokingly told the lady I want to buy breakfast but she caters only for the soldier and what those guys eat this early morning was too powerful for my stomach.
I continued using my phone to follow up. I sat at one place and made sure the soldiers were fully conscious of what I was doing. I contacted the Director of Press and Public Relations, the Cabinet Secretaries, the Chief of Protocol, The Managing Director of The Daily Observer and the APRC National Mobiliser again but no one of them responded. I did not give up till I go to the Chief of Protocol who said the vehicles are in Barra and I should go there.
I wasted no time by walking straight towards the ferry terminal. On my way, a young man intercepted me and took me to the traditional boats. We crossed to Barra early. There I asked for the most senior official in charge of security in the region and they directed me to one military commander. I told him about my wish to join the tour. I showed him my African Donso headgear that I will be wearing from time to time. He said I should notify all other security personnel on the various regions and if they tell me to remove the headgear, I should. I thanked him. He then told me, he got only security vehicles and they don’t carry civilians just like that but he connected me to an APRC man in charge of logistics. The guy was very arrogant towards me. He told me on my face that would not put me in a vehicle. I should pay my own fare in normal commercial vehicles from Barra to Farafenni!
Later the Minister of Health Bala Garba Jahumpa arrived and told him about my wish to be part of the tour. He said I can either wait for more officials from Banjul, the Governor of North Bank Region (NBR) or talk to Honourable Paul Mendy but I was later told that Honourable Mendy is dead! So I would have waited for a dead man to come and allocate me into a vehicle for the tour!
When the Governor of NBR arrived, I greeted and told him about by wish and that the State House protocol chief said I can join vehicles from there. The Governor said he got vehicle problems. His own vehicle broke down and he is moving on alternatives. He told me to join a pickup should I wish to. He directed his orderly to take me to one vehicle. I threw my luggage behind and driver was very supportive. I enjoyed his company to Farafenni.
As I was not yet fully embedded, I banked on my experience in the past presidential tours I participated in to swerve my way through. Experience taught me, the first day is always the most difficult and sensitive but once I survive it, I will make it through to the end of the tour. My priority was not to get too close to the presidential inner circle on that day but to get noticed buy the security. Once the security men and women got aware of my participation on the tour and my noble reasons, the rest will be smooth. I would be added to the updated official delegates list and I will be in a dedicated vehicle.
While we waited for the President to arrive, I went to the Internet café and posted the first report for the facebook social media. As expected the reactions were mixed in both negative and positive ones.
At Farafenni, Freedom Newspaper’s Editor MBai called me on the number that the whole world knew that is: 002206774620. He wanted to interview me on the tour. I told him for security reasons he should not. The tour just started and there was nothing substantial to report on. Should I grand him interview, I could be expelled from the tour and no one would gain from that. Though the message I would deliver in the interview will NOT be negative, some of the people who have been blocking my access to President Jammeh could misinterpret it and spread lies till I land into trouble. Talking to pro or anti government media is not the problem as long as one knows the kinds of message one has to deliver.
Since this level of understanding is however rare in The Gambia, once you talk to an anti Government paper even with a message that is favourable to the Government, some liars would start assassinating your character as a kind of enemy of the state.
I told Editor MBai to be reproducing the things I post on facebook. Later I will write a commentary or analysis on the tour for both the global and domestic media. He will get a copy for his readers.
“YOU GUYS ARE UNDERRATING ME”
Later that night at Farafenni, I accidentally met FJC at the hotel reserved for the top APRC figures and Government officials. I was there for dinner. I told FJC, I expected her in Mali. She said yes but her boss President Jammeh comes first and as such she cancelled Mali to be on the dialogue with the people’s tour. I told her I am still not on the official tour list and I not in any dedicated vehicle. Something should be done about thaty. I was tired and hungry. All of a sudden Yankuba Colley appeared. He was surprised to see me in Farafenni. We greed and I told him “you guys are underrating me!” I told him once we reach the Sarahulleh communities he would feel the value of my name and status for the tour party, once I speak. The Gambiassara drama later proved me right. Though I was blocked from speaking, I stole the show as I was the only subject for the people of Gambiassra, other Jimara communities and beyond. People did not care to know what the other speakers said at the Gambissara meeting.
Mayor Colley tried to protect himself by saying he underrates no one and that he could not just honour my request. Another senior government official who followed our conversation from his vehicle asked “are you the same Sankanu?” I said “yes.” He consoled me by saying dinner will be served soon. He drove off.
I had my dinner and also got a very good place to sleep through the NBR Governor who told me contact the local accommodation committee.
In the morning, I found myself taking breakfast in the company of the new protocol chief Batata Juwara inside the compound of the former chief. Batata told me he was appointed on the first day of the tour. It was a very interesting reunion. I told him, I am also on the tour. I was skipping Janjanbureh and proceeding to my home district of Jimara to mobilize the people and prepare for the Gambissara meeting. I will meet them in Basse to continue with the Presidential convoy towards the Kombos.
PREPARING FOR GAMBISSARA
When I saw the itinerary and realized that the number of stops this time is limited with Gambiassara being the only meeting place for the heart of the Sarahulleh nation, I decided that I should give it priority.
I asked my Community of Sotuma Sere on the preparations and they said they were on it. Many people said they would suspend their farm work to welcome The President through the village on the TransGambian Highway. They felt honoured that all the lies spread against us are crumbling and the President has as first class land piece of land in our community.
I contacted the Governor of Upper River Region (URR), Alhagie Omar Khan, who I was told prepares the final list of speakers. I told him, I would like to speak not just for my Sarahulleh Community of Sotuma Sere but also for the influential Sarahulleh Youths groups that made me Ambassador. I have an important message. This constituent should not be ignored, marginalized or angered as the results of the last Basse parliamentary election showed what they are capable of doing politically.
I talked to our Jimara APRC NAM Habiboulie Jawo. He was supportive but very careful.
I also talked to the now sacked Jimara Chief Hagie Kule Camara. Our Sotuma Sere Village Alkalo personally told Hagie Kule that our community identified me to speak on its behalf at Gambissara. The former chief was hypocritical. When I arrived at my village straight from Farafenni, he came to our compound and we went into my mother’s apartment. He was saying all kinds of things and bluffing that he is the son of a grand marabout. When I empathized that I would speak at Gambissara, he said the President will make a brief stop over at Sotuma Sere to inspect the land allocated him. My community and I should speak there and not at Gambissara. He thought we were dumb. I saw the official itinerary and there was nothing like brief stop at Sotuma Sere.
I later contacted the URR Governor Omar Khan again. He told me he got my message but he was too busy. I told him I was on the standby at Sotuma Sere and mobilizing the people. Our Jimara NAM Habiboulie Jawo passed by to exchange greetings before proceeding to other engagements.
The ex-chief later came to collect me. We were supposed to meet the grand mrabout of Gambissara Alhagie Mpakary (Abubacarr) Conteh after Maghreb prayers. I was named after him and he is also my extended grandfather. When he came to Kombos last May for eye treatment, I went to greet him at Kanifing where he lodged. I can access him whenever I seriously feel like. The ex-chief Hagie Kule Camara claimed that the old man said it was too late but we could meet one of his aides. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. That aide Sara Conteh came to meet us at the ex-chief’s compound in Numuyel. The guy spent some time in the German-peaking part of Switzerland. We communicated well in German.
He first started to complain about the article I wrote on the Sarahullehs. I told him, I am above all a public intellectual and social critic. I have to provoke discourse. I have no control over how people interpret what I say or write. I also told him, I will be seen as a hypocrite when I write thought-provoking commentaries on various issues and entities and spare my own Sarahulleh people. I have to be fair by writing on those backward things that would be arresting the development of the Sarahullehs. He later understood me and then told me the level of understanding in our society is too low for my writings. We also lamented the general lack of truth in our society. Many things are going wrong in local communities nationwide but when one talks one will be damaged or destroyed. We later agreed that I will speak at Gambissara and also meet my namesake the grand marabout for the usual grandson-grandfather pleasantries.To Be Continued