(JollofNews)- Whilst Gambia celebrates an end to dictatorship and revels in a historic and peaceful transfer of power that culminated in the swearing in of a new president, it is worth repeating that there was nothing peaceful in the Gambia for 22 long years.
As a result, hopelessness and despair husbanded in dictatorship, and manifested through fear and intimidation, violation of human rights, stripping Gambians of basic freedoms of speech and association; and, extra-judicial killings became the new normal in an abnormal colony called the 2nd Republic.
As former President Jammeh pressed his boots on the throats of Gambians who dared to challenge him or speak out against his policies, the more desperate the citizenry became…and history tells us desperate people do desperate things.
This was precisely the case in the early morning hours of December 30, 2014 when one of the best human beings I have ever known gave his life for his country. As the Gambian people embark on the arduous tasks of rebuilding a broken nation, reforming its administrative institutions, and strengthening its operational processes, we must pause and salute a quiet and unassuming giant who gave his last measure of devotion for a course greater than himself.
Some call him brother Jagne, others call him Captain Jagne, his soldiers call him leader, and I call him Njaga. He is the brightest man I have ever known and one of the brightest Gambians to ever walk the halls of St. Augustine High School. A true patriot at heart and deeds! Njaga grew up like any Gambian with love of country and people and unlike most Gambians; he risked it all in a quest to free his nation from the grips of an eccentric soldier turned despot wannabe king.
Measuring by any indices education, conformability, security, or opportunity, Njaga had it all and he didn’t have to sacrifice any of it, but he sacrificed it all for his country. People have said he didn’t have to leave his family, young son, elderly mother, loving sister, and friends but he left them permanently in the flesh; however, his memory and spirit will live on forever in the minds of his fellow Gambians.
His sacrifice was the height of infinite heroism. Heroism he did not seek but reluctantly embraced with humility. This begs the question why would someone who left Gambia for more than 20 years and earned success do what Njaga did! For some of us who knew him, the answer is simple. He loved his country and hated what it became under a leader who promised accountability but exercised unaccountable power; who assured an era of transparency but governed in secrecy and decrees, who swore to probity but delivered deceit, disunion and embarrassment to the Gambia with no end in sight.
As a professional soldier trained by the world’s most superior military, Njaga was pained by the crying and suffering of the Gambian people and was exasperated by global headline accounts of horrific human rights violations, coupled with sickening stories of young Gambians, mostly men who fled their homes only to perish in the high seas of the Mediterranean in pursuit of an asylum in Europe. Njaga felt obligated to do something, anything, so he gave his life so that others can be free.
Whereas, I was shocked to find out that Njaga had joined an elaborate plot to dislodge Jammeh from power and extricate his nation from modern day bondage; I was not surprised that he did it.
Many of us like to talk but Njaga acted. So, in the cover of secrecy and darkness, he and his brothers in arms sojourned in arms into the Gambian abyss to seek the light of freedom, not for himself, but for the Gambia and her entrapped citizens. He knew as many Gambians have for two decades that the President Jammeh was hollowing the country of its innocence, raping its resources and killing the very people he was supposed to protect.
The daring mission, which was conceived in patriotism, was a tragic failure and too many good men lost their lives in the pursuit of a better Gambia. The fact that it happened and the heartrending nature of his failure became a clarion call for an unwavering determination for action to defeat Jammeh, primarily at the ballot box.
Even though Njaga is no longer with us, his gallantry and martyrdom has stiffened the resolve and hardened the spines of resolute Gambians at home and in the diaspora to dig in our heels and end authoritarianism once and for all. His values of duty, honor, service, and country will continue to live in all of us.
His sacrifices marked the beginning of a historic journey of coordinated technological warfare to end dictatorship and free Gambia from the yoke of despair. Since his immortality on December 30, 2014, every online comment, Viber and Whatsapp calls, social media posts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) emails, and activism (marching, protesting, petitioning) efforts about him and the events of that dreadful day have strengthened the resolve of Gambians seeking change and has weakened Jammeh’s grip on power and accelerated his demise.
With each arrest, imprisonment, disappearance, and death in the hands of Jammeh and his henchmen henceforth, Gambians reached deeper, pushed harder and built stronger allies and coalitions. These focused and unflinching determinations culminated in election of President Barrow on December 1, 2016 and the pulverization of a ruthless tyrant. Thus ushering in a new dawn for Gambia, the region, and Africa.
Njaga’s sacrifices should teach all Gambians that change is not only about talking, change demands action. For example, if you do not like the quality of education in The Gambia, do something about it. Engage yourself in the process. Those who do not participate in the process deserve no right to complain.
As the rebuilding of The Gambia and our crumbling institutions are underway, attempts to assess and quantify contributions, or lack thereof, of any Gambian to the rebirth of new Gambia; and the election of President Barrow will undoubtedly divide a nation in search of unity, thought, and action to regain two decades of loss.
Without blood on their hands, questions about who did what, when, and how much during the dictatorship of Jammeh is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things; and, such attitude would be a costly mistake for The Gambia. Any trivial attempts to look backward will have no marginal benefits but extreme risks of misplaced energy and opportunity to move forward.
As President Barrow eloquently stated “Backward Never and Forward Always” must be heeded by all Gambians including president Barrow himself and applied in operating the machinery of the government of the Gambia. I always tell my students in Leadership 101 “a driver doing 100 kilometers on the highway doesn’t have the luxury to look back. Doing so could result in losing control of the car and crashing. Gambia has some serious catching up to do in so many policies and program implementation areas: education, democratic process, human rights, business and entrepreneurship, workforce development, youth apprenticeship, poverty reduction, economic development, sustainable agriculture, and diplomacy to anti-corruption and anti-nepotism reforms.
To that end, Gambia needs all hands on deck! Not some hands. And those who break the law, violate the constitution, and abuse their authority must have their day in court and justice shall prevail upon them. This was the course for which Njaga gave his life. So too are many other Gambians. I know he will give his life up again for a freer and more prosperous Gambia. So we should make him and other heroes proud by building the best Gambia we all know is possible.
Finally, our transformational leaders must acknowledge the sacrifices borne by ordinary Gambians who refused to sit on the sideline and watch their beloved country be destroyed by a killer masquerading as a devout Muslim who pledged to transparency, accountability and probity but harshly delivered 22 years of unadulterated dictatorship of the worst kind.
Gambians should and must do everything to ensure that dictatorship is the thing of the past and freedom, prosperity, youth development, and opportunity for all become the guiding post of Gambia. Besides, democracy is the consent of the governed delegated to those who govern.
Long live The Gambia our Homeland. And long live the Gambian people.
By Dr. Lamin E. Drammeh