Njundu Drammeh

Dear Saffiyoungba,

Of late you have been ‘bombarding’ me with the question ‘Where were you during the 22 years of Jammeh rule?’ I was in The Gambia, hiding in Bakau. I saw all the braggadocio and hectoring exhibited by Yaya and heard about all his ungodly, inhuman, inhumane and blood curdling actions and those perpetrated by his henchmen and Death Squad.

The April 2000 student demonstration found me in Banjul and I witnessed the highhandedness of the Paramilitary towards innocent children. I know some people who suffered irreparably at the hands of Jammeh thugs. Learned about the witchcraft humiliation that elders in Foni suffered.

The hostility of the State against the media, and the terrible suffering some journalists endured, was public knowledge. I was in town when Solo Sandeng went to peacefully demonstrate and paid the ultimate price at the hands of a State which was supposed to protect his life. I bemoaned the death of the Mile 2 Nine Inmates.

And I learned about the last straw that broke Gambia’s back, the manhandling, suffering and imprisonment of Lawyer Darbo and his Executive who went to peaceably demand for the dead body of Solo Sandeng and to seek justice on his behalf. I was right here, in the heart of The Gambia, a living witness to the Jammeh havoc, the human rights violations and the mindboggling political witch hunt.

Saffiyoungba, I am pretty sure you are not interested in knowing where I was, my place of abode. So the question ‘where were you?’ is baffling. I take it to be a sarcasm, a pillorying of my current stance in the politics of New Gambia, a casting of aspersion on my character, an attempt to silence me or to forestall my outspokenness. I was right here.

Saffiyoungba, my conscience would have been seriously pricked if you have asked ‘Where did you stand during the Jammeh regime?’ Whenever I think about this question, I feel conscience stricken; I feel terrible inside. I was silent; I chained myself in fear. I knew what was happening or heard about them- the injustice, inequities, the ignominies, the ignoble actions, the violations and all. I was afraid to speak up and out, fearing that I might face the same fate that others who dared faced.

A dictator would do everything to silent dissidents, and African dictators are as callous as they are blood thirsty. My silence was borne more out of self-preservation. My silence may have contributed to the thriving of the evil we had. May be if I have spoken out, if I have taken a stance, I would have saved a soul or two or averted an injustice. I was afraid of the consequences of speaking out, a serious betrayal on my side.

Regardless, I abhorred in my heart what was prevailing and in hushed voice I bitterly complained about them. But, yes mine was basically self-preservation, albeit selfish. ‘

Saffiyoungba, I was silent but not complicit. I was silent but I did not directly aid and abet the Yaya malfeasance, maladministration, corruption, torture, human rights violations and bad governance. I did not sing his praises, accept his job offers, laud his government for whatever efforts it did, use his name for any end, take and implement his orders, serve in his government, participate either directly or indirectly in his violations, report a person to the NIA, benefit from his generosity or walk under his shadows.

Saffiyoungba, I was silent but not complicit. I was not one who Robert Browning referred to as ‘The Lost Leader’, that leader who abandoned the struggle for just a ‘handful of silver’ or for a ‘riband to stick in his coat’. I was not doled out ‘silver’ and the people’s copper didn’t go into my service. You know those who were complicit, those who held public offices and under whose watchful eyes horrendous deeds were committed against the people. You know those who broke ‘from the van and the freemen’ and those who sank ‘to the rear and the slaves’.

Saffiyoungba, I think or expect that the whole of society, to a man and woman, would always be galvanised and actuated to fight against injustice would be a bit naïve on your part. In every society, the majority lean while only a few lift. Not that the majority leaners are unperturbed, unconcerned, unaffected or apathetic.

Theirs is an act of self-preservation, a chaining of soul in fear. ‘We are not into politics’ was the statement everyone utters. They often wait for a leader to come to their rescue, to lead them out of the abyss into the broad light of freedom, happiness and rights. And when such a lifter or leader emerges, you can see the ground swell, the marching of the boots of the multitude.

As said by Margaret Mead ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only that ever has’. Even in our stance, few led and majority followed. Those who led though deserve both our accolades and respect. They stood tall and the rest of us stood on their shoulders.

Saffiyoungba, if by asking where I was during Jammeh’s 22 years reign you intend to make me conscience stricken, to become quiescent, you have failed.

When Yaya was defeated at the polls, we all said, in unison, ‘NEVER AGAIN’. We vowed never to be quiet again, bitter lessons we learned from our quietude and silence. Come to think of it, Gambians who voted against Yaya were ‘angered’ more by his horrendous human rights records, his callous treatment of the Opposition, his disrespect for people, his unedifying, impetuous and bullish character and the abhorrence against the ubiquitous and dreaded NIA.

It is therefore prudent that all of us jealously guard and preserve this new found freedom and rights, desiderata others paid the ultimate price for. None should be excluded from serving as sentry. It is ‘NEVER AGAIN’.

Saffiyoungba, fighting for human rights and freedoms is not an event, a celebratory one. It is a continual struggle and engagement, a daily negotiation between duty bearers and rights holders, a perpetual battle between oppressors and the oppressed, a question of dignity and survival. It is a battle, not a war. It does not have winners and losers.

When freedom and rights are won, the whole of society enjoys- for the positions of ‘duty bearer’ and ‘right holder’ shifts with the rights being demanded. When they are lost even to just one person, the whole of mankind loses for the bell tolls for all of us. In such a struggle are we now involved. And it is perpetual struggle, a process and not an event.

I was silent but I promise never to be. This is my second chance and I pledge not to squander it. You were not silent nor complicit. My respect for your sacrifice. You won that I may live in dignity and freedom. Thank you for your sacrifice. I hope you would no more ask where I was. In Bakau.