JammehBy Baba Galleh Jallow

In a recent piece published on Kairo News, Karamba Touray tells the sad story of Imam Cherno Gassama. He writes: “I have not been able to take this good man out of my mind from Friday July 1st when a friend of mine visited his family and reported a distressed and sad situation. He is Cherno Gassama, imam of the village of Dasilameh in Upper Fulladu District, The Gambia. He was picked from his home on November 2nd 2015 by officers of the National Intelligence Agency, taken to Brikamaba police station for a brief moment before being taken to Jangjangbureh prisons where he has been held for the last 8 months. Throughout this period he has not been told why he was arrested, he has not been charged with any offense, he has not been allowed any family visit, he has not been allowed any legal representation and he has not been given medical attention. . . . his large family are left to wonder the fate of their patriarch and having to contend with the emotional stress of not knowing why their own government would set upon a completely innocent religious leader and insist on imprisoning him for no earthly reason, and refuse to even allow them to set eyes on him.”

The catalogue of injustices inflicted upon Imam Gassama and his family are painfully palpable in Karamba’s piece. One cannot help a feeling of justified outrage that human beings can treat other human beings in such cruel fashion. No, this is not a case of political expediency. It is a case that challenges Gambians to confront the human condition as it is in their nation with a view to removing its evils and enhancing its virtues. A culture that tramples upon human dignity is a debased culture. And respect for human dignity must be the yardstick by which all political activity is measured. Assuming that all Gambians at least claim to love themselves and their country, attempts must be made to make all Gambians realize their responsibility for the health of our national culture. The responsibility to construct a healthy national culture is a shared universal within the nation; it must be borne and executed by all citizens, especially by the nation’s first citizen, the Head of State.

Of course, as far as Imam Gassama’s family is concerned, there could possibly be “no earthly reason” for his arbitrary arrest and extra judicial imprisonment for eight months. But there has to be a reason, and that reason has be a “reason of state”, especially since his arrest and detention were effected by state security agents and he is detained at a state detention facility. Since the action of the state in Imam Gassama’s case is clearly detrimental to the health of our nation, it must be criticized and it should be rescinded. And since, as usual, no reason has been given for the state’s action, Gambians are left with the option of guessing what might have prompted Imam Gassama’s arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial detention. Perhaps Imam Gassama delivered a sermon in which he called some state words or actions UnIslamic? We know that both Imam Baba Leigh and Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana were arbitrarily arrested and incarcerated for long periods for precisely this reason. There is no law in the Gambian books that makes it a crime to criticize the head of state, or express an opinion on a matter of public interest. Why then does the Jammeh government so harshly punish Gambians for doing these things? If Imam Gassama was arrested for criticizing Jammeh or his government or agents in a sermon, natural justice and common sense demand that he be released immediately and amends be made to him and his family.
Or perhaps it was because one of Jammeh’s marabouts or oracles told him that Imam Gassama represents some sort of undefined threat to his state? Or perhaps a marabout or oracle had warned that Imam Gassama must be arrested to prevent him from praying for Jammeh’s successor. Whatever the case, we know that there has to be a “reason of state” for Imam Gassama’s extrajudicial arrest and incarceration. Needless to say, that “reason” cannot stand the truth of reason or judicial scrutiny, which is why the State uses its shadow instruments of coercion to by-pass the legal process. It is precisely because this reason cannot stand the test of rational scrutiny that Imam Gassama’s family is not allowed to see him. If they did, the Imam would tell them what he was told is why he was arrested.
We can argue with certainty that after his arbitrary arrest on November 5, 2015, Imam Gassama must have been interrogated by the NIA at Brikamaba police station where, Karamba tells us, “he was taken for a brief moment before being taken to Jangjangbureh prisons where he has been held for the last 8 months.” During this interrogation, they must have given him “a reason” for his arrest. He was probably asked what party he supported or whether he supported President Jammeh. He was most likely accused of being an enemy of the country, out to sabotage the good work HE is doing for the people of this country? An attempt must have been made to make the Imam feel guilty of not being a good person because he was opposed to God’s choice as ruler of Gambia. But of course, Imam Gassama could not possibly feel guilty about a crime Allah knows he did not commit. We are almost certain that Imam Gassama totally believes that his ordeal is only possible because Allah permits it and that if it is Allah’s will, he will be released and go back to his family, his community and his congregation. Men of God consider their ordeals as pilgrimages upon which they are destined to embark by the only power they bow and submit to, the power of God, beside whom state power is literally nothing. No wonder that, as Karamba tells us, “The imam as a strong man of faith has endured with patience and elevated emaan . . .”
Or perhaps Imam Gassama’s arbitrary incarceration is a case of preventive detention without a Preventive Detention Act under which people are detained “for crimes yet to be committed” as Dr. J. B. Danquah puts it in one of his petitions to Nkrumah from Nsawam prisons. Their written grounds for detention, in Ghana’s case, invariably concluded with the clause, “Your detention is necessary in order to prevent you from acting in future in a manner prejudicial to the security of the State.” When Karamba writes of Imam Gassama that eight months after his detention “he has not been charged with any offense . . . he has not been allowed any legal representation and he has not been given medical attention” he may well have been writing of Dr. Danquah who twice languished under preventive detention, from October 3, 1961 to June 20, 1962 (nine months) when he was released, and from January 8, 1964 to the morning of February 4, 1965 (one year) when, from a standing position, he literally dropped dead from heart failure in his cell at Nsawam prisons. He was 69.
Perhaps Jammeh was told by a marabout or oracle that Imam Gassama must be placed under preventive detention, that is, arrested and detained to prevent him from praying for Jammeh’s successor? It is not outside the realm of possibility. The landscapes of History and Scripture are littered with examples of rulers trying to prevent a prophecy of succession by killing people, detaining them, or having them banished from the land. All these examples share the same final outcome – they fail, a lesson that one cannot escape their fate, whatever they do. Those who believe in the religious dimensions of human destiny will argue that considering God’s omnipresence, God’s will is the only thing any marabout or oracle can possibly see. Since the marabout or oracle cannot possibly exist outside of God’s presence, anything they see happening must happen within God’s presence because there is simply no outside to it. Perhaps it is God’s will that Imam Cherno Gassama will only pray for Jammeh’s successor on a jail floor? Perhaps the feared successor in the prophecy is currently at Janjangbureh prisons with Imam Gassama? Perhaps in trying to avert the inevitable Jammeh has inadvertently taken the Imam to the intended recipient of his “dangerous” prayers, currently held at Janjangbureh? Certainly, prison walls cannot prevent blessings from reaching any space or object in the divine presence, and so detaining Imam Gassama for such a reason is an exercise in harmful futility.
Gambians must be forgiven the tendency to search for reasons of state action in the occult or supernatural realm. This is a direct consequence of our knowledge that Jammeh is a great public admirer of the “occult” and the “supernatural”. He makes no secret of his “prowess” in the realm of the occult and unfailingly holds a holy book and prayer beads in his hands (also a sword, just in case someone tries something funny around him). One is amazed at the facility with which he embodies the personas of both fetish sorcerer and sheikh of Islam at the same time. This is not necessarily bad, since we must maintain our African identities even as we embrace and practice our Islam, Christianity or Judaism. But while fetish sorcery may approve of unjust treatment of the kind inflicted upon Imam Gassama and his family, Islam does not. One is not a Muslim if one’s treatment of fellow human beings, whoever they are, is contrary to the Right Spirit of Islam. Islam, the religion Jammeh publicly claims as his own, does not permit that people are arbitrarily arrested and locked up for eight months, without charges and without trial, without medical attention, and prevented from seeing their families. This practice is foreign to natural law and repugnant to human civilization. Needless to say, it is inimical to the good health of our national culture and must be discarded.
One of the most baffling aspects of many dictatorships is that they do not need to be dictatorships at all; at least not dictatorships of the “developmental” kind we have in Jammeh’s Gambia. Considering his history of holding a comfortable and compliant majority in parliament, Jammeh does not need to revert to extra juridical practices in dealing with opponents, real or imagined, in order to assert his authority or to stay in power. He can easily draw a leaf from Jawara’s book. For thirty years, Jawara held on to power, not through the use of arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial detentions, but through a shrewd use of his comfortable majority in parliament and his immense strategic advantage as head of state.
One very well remembers the vibrancy of Gambian politics before July 1994. At the local markets, people freely and pleasantly argued over which was the best party. PPP and NCP supporters in particular could be heard loudly joking about how much better their parties and leaders were. Of course, we know that violent clashes occasionally broke out between PPP and NCP supporters especially in Baddibu; but these were handled professionally by the police and the courts. Jawara was often harshly criticized at mass rallies by leaders of the opposition and their supporters. Needless to say, he hit back with equal verbal vehemence but never with any kind of noticeable rage or extrajudicial pronouncement. He openly referred to certain Gambians as communists and made it sound as if the opposition did not have either the brains or the means to govern Gambia. Amid all the activity, he popularized in Gambian politics the notion that “Nii mang kukeh kutela” (roughly, Mandinka for “you have nothing to fear if you don’t commit a crime”). Gambians did not risk arrest, arbitrary detention or torture for criticizing Jawara and his government, or for expressing their political opinions at the market, Penchu, Bantaba or anywhere at all. An election cycle or two before he was removed from power, Assan Musa Camara coined a memorable and widely popular phrase asking Jawara to step down. Jawara Jippo almost became a folk song in Gambia and opposition supporters in both villages and towns could often be heard loudly but good-naturedly repeating the mantra to much laughter. Now it is time to sing Jammeh Jippo!
Jammeh Jippo because after 22 years in power, Jippo is the right and just thing for you to do. Jammeh Jippo because back in July 1994 when you seized power you repeatedly assured Gambians that “we are not here to stay.” You assured Gambians that your military council, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction was merely out to rectify a bad culture of corruption and “flamboyant lifestyles” and would soon return to barracks. Jammeh Jippo because you are on record declaring that one of your primary reasons for toppling Jawara was that he had overstayed in power. Jammeh Jippo because you are on record saying that “We will never allow anyone to stay in power beyond ten years. In fact, ten years is too much.” Jammeh Jippo because staying in power beyond ten years is just as bad today as it was before July 22, 1994. Jammeh Jippo because Gambians have a natural right to experiment with new leadership, a new leader, whether from your own party or from outside of your party. So Jammeh Jippo.
Of course, one can understand why Jammeh Jippo is not an attractive idea at Kanilai Farms. Among other things, it is difficult to imagine oneself going from being the most powerful and most wealthy person in the land, to an ordinary citizen arraigned before a court of law on charges of corruption or human rights violations. But there are instances in African and world history where heads of state are “persuaded” to Jippo and live peaceful lives in their countries or abroad for the sake of national wellbeing. A good example is Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings. Both his AFRC and PNDC regimes committed gross human rights violations against Ghanaians, including most notably the abduction and murder of three prominent Ghanaian judges. But Rawlings embraced the inevitable Jippo and today, he lives peacefully in Ghana as a respected and very influential elder statesman. So Jammeh Jippo.



  1. Ebrima Conteh

    Good morning Baba.

    Do you have any plans to write a book about Gambia’s history? If you ever plan to or currently working on such a project let me know I will love to help. A book that encompasses the Political history, pre/post independence and contemporary history is a project that is well over due.


    • Hello Ebrima: Yes, I would love to write a book on Gambian history. Unfortunately, and as you probably know, I am not able to come to The Gambia for research purposes. Now I am forced to write the history of another country while our own history remains under written. I hope one day soon I shall be able to return home and do some work at our national archives and help educate our own students at UTG rather than American students. Thanks a lot for the kind offer to help. It is very much appreciated. Best regards.

  2. The facts always stay the same; Baba yes, Jippo indeed for the deranged MURDEROUS kanilai KILLER but it (yaya) won’t listen, for the barbarities & satanic tendencies overrides the minute (insignificant) human aspects ever present in yaya jammeh’s person….

    Devil yaya & some of the selfish politicians will sound & occasionally behave pretentiously genuine, in their hypocritical pronouncements, whilst the darkness lingers glaringly in their hearts in actions & inferences….

    In any decent societies world over, humanity cause in decencies overrides any other aspects; truth, justice & peaceful coexistence are essentials (as a must)amongst others…

    The Gambia revolution struggle won’t just be taking & accepting preventive hypocritical face values in deceitful inclinations anymore; at successful liberation completion Gambian politicians will have to be tested in reality & proven to earned the required responsibilities entrusted in post dictatorship era; yaya KILLER DEVIL WILL DEFINITELY Jippo eventually became this is a struggle between truth & falsehood; the Gambia people won’t rest until our society is free of murderous oppressive decadence….

    Long live the Gambia….

  3. As Baba said , Jammeh jippo now . Thank you Baba for your brilliant piece . We are indeed grateful for your continue contribution in education of our people. I am hopeful that soon the tyrant will be gone .
    A very good sniper can do excellent job for us in The Gambia. I wish we have that sniper that killed innocent police officers ,to be positioned at July 22 nd square to get rid of the tyrant who killed his own people. I wish Gambians are armed like Americans so that citizens will be able to defend themselves against the tyrant and its oppressive forces . The next government must ensure that there is legislation which give the right to every citizen to bear arms as USA second amendment right does . This will ensure that never in the history of our country we will have a tyrant as a leader who will oppress citizens . The best ideal to empower defenseless and oppressed people is to empower them to bear arms to protect themselves from excessive abuse of tyrannical government. I believe if mr Gassama is armed , he will not be kidnapped without fighting back . Jammeh’s regime will not even attempt such thing instead they will use the law of the land to resolve issues . Jammeh is the only criminal with the gun and when we have good guys with guns , they would stop him . Until then we become a nation of cowards because majority are afriad .

    • Dear Maxs: Thanks a lot for your kind and encouraging comments on my article. It is both gratifying and humbling to realize that in my own little way, I might be contributing to the political education of our people. Of course, I fully recognize myself merely as a student sharing my very subjective thoughts and opinions on our political and human situations in Gambia and Africa. I totally agree with you that, as you put it, “the best ideal to empower defenseless and oppressed people is to empower them to bear arms to protect themselves.” However, it is my opinion that those “arms” are not guns, but adequate knowledge of their constitutional rights and duties, and knowledge that they are the true repositories of political power, and that the government is nothing more than their servant. If Gambians are armed with political knowledge (a sound political awareness), they would not allow a tyrannical regime to oppress them. I do not think that America’s gun culture is what Gambians should aspire to. What we should aspire to is a peaceful and just society in which no tyranny is possible because the people are politically conscious and empowered, and can remove the government through popular power if it fails. Yes, Gambians are afraid of the Jammeh government; but that is not because Gambians are cowards per se, but because they do not know their rights and their real status as the sovereign power in their country. Please allow me to give a more detailed explanation of my admittedly subjective position on these issues in article form in the near future. Thanks a lot again for your kind encouragement. Best regards.

      • Thank you very much Baba for your wonderful reply . As someone who consider you as my professor , I would be grateful to see your article on why we do not need guns to empower our oppressed people instead we need enough political knowledge or awareness as the best ideal to empower our people in order to prevent future tyrannical government. I would be humble and appreciative to see your view on these issues. Having said that , I also believe that political knowledge is the best ideal to empower our citizens along side with sound and sensible guns legislation which will enable citizens to bears arms to protect themselves from excessive abuse of government in order to prevent impunity and to ensure that we have peace and just society.
        Religiously and naturally, self-defense is an integral part of human being defense mechanism and abilities to rightly fight back against any oppression, attempt of abuse or crime . This has been justifiable in many religious doctrines. Human beings instinct to protect themselves from crimes as always been part of our natural rights of self defense. So self-defense is part of who we are as people.
        When Africa nations gained independence, the political leaderships failed to educate citizenry about the right political education and they also failed to educate citizens to bear arms to protect and defend their own rights against abusive regimes . Those political leaders became too powerful and used the state machinery to oppress and abuse their own people . In most cases , some of the same leaderships became victims of their abusive system through military coup while the citizens are defenseless victims in all these oppression. In Many of African countries , citizens are not educated enough to bear arms to protect themselves , as a result their rights to protect themselves only rely on the governments which in most cases became the main abusers of their fundamental human rights.
        Many countries around the world have guns ownership legislation which enable their citizens to bear arms for self-defense and other leisure activities. Such countries includes Israel, Singapore, Switzerland, USA and many European countries. In many of these countries, there is less crime and government’s human right violations than most African countries where citizens are not empower to have gun ownership to protect and defend themselves. The United States has significant gun violence because of failure of government and political will of both parties to put in place sensible gun legislation which will ensure that right people have guns for self defense and other leisure activities.
        I believe that empowerment of citizens to bear arms will serve as a precaution for any future government which would like to abuse the right of the people. Today in The Gambia majority are simply afriad of Yaya Jammeh and his regime is simply because the regime is armed while defenseless and oppressed citizens are not armed to protect and defend themselves. Imagine you are sleeping 3am with your family and children, and the regime send its oppressive forces to get you and as you leave your house you are never seen again . Imagine, the regime send its national intelligence agents and police to arrest you in the middle of the night without any court order and you are taken to unknown location where they keep you for any time of they chosen . All these crimes by the regime are simply preventable if we have citizens who are armed to protect and defend themselves and their families and also protect their own rights as citizens. In my view , Political knowledge alone will not solve or stop excessive abuse of people’s right with total impunity by the government . At some point , we need to apply natural law of self defense which is also justifiable in all the religious doctrines. When the government knows that citizens are armed , they would ensure that they follow the laws and the constitution of the land . This is why in the USA, despite its gun culture, the government follow the laws and constitution because they recognize that citizens themselves are armed to protect and defend their own rights . Yaya Jammeh can threaten the whole country and threaten annihilation of Mandinkas because he is well armed while the significant number of population with sound political education can sit down and watch him without saying a word because they are armless.
        In the USA , free speech which is part of first amendment rights is protected by the constitution. Empowerment of people for self defense by the second amendment right serve as a precaution to protect citizens from tyrannical government and political oppression. My dear professor, I think you should look into the relationship between the first amendment right followed by the second amendment right when USA constitution was established. I think it makes perfect sense that when free speech is guaranteed first then the rights to self defense is also guaranteed in the same constitution so that impunity from the tyrannical government and political oppression will be prevented. I totally agree with you that political knowledge will play huge role for the rights of everyone to be respected and empower citizens to remove the government through popular power in some cases. However, i believe it won’t stop political oppression when the government is the only entity which bear arms because they can use excessive forces to brutally kill citizens as it happened in many popular uprisings in many countries . I think you will also agree with me guns are essentially a sense of empowerment and it help to totally reduce fear when an individual is armed . The only difference between our security forces and innocent civilians whose rights are being violated on daily basis is that the security forces are armed while the citizens are armless and defenseless.
        Looking at the United States among the community of nations, the powerfulness of the country is not just only its citizens political awareness and economy but it is also because of powerful military and weaponry at its disposal. This is what what makes the USA the greatest country on the face of the earth . The irony is that despite its powerful military and weaponry , there is no single citizen who disappeared in the broad daylight or illegally detained indefinitely without trace like it happened in The Gambia on daily basis . I think our African intellectuals and governments must strive new learning curve to educate citizens not just political education but we must empower our people to bear arms to protect and defend themselves from political oppression and tyrannical government. On the final note , guns do not kill people but it is the people who kill people . This is why in many advance democracies , despite its citizens being armed there is relatively less crime and political oppression.
        Once again I look forward to see your sound explanation in your future article on why you believe that only “political knowledge ” is the right way to go .
        Thank you .

  4. Galleh,
    Great piece! You’re spot on on all the various angles- the man’s religious paradox (Islamic sheikh cum Jalang priest all rolled in one); the senseless war against the true Almighty as if he has the power to thwart destiny. And I agree with you entirely because above all else, the saddest part is things need not degenerate to this level. Like you alluded to, Sir Dawda didn’t do much, but he had the good sense to leave people ALONE! Especially given an impotent opposition in parliament. Gambians won’t care about this man’s theft and brigandage if he would let us be. But apparently, that’s too much to ask.

    From the look of things, JIPPO is the LAST thing on his mind. He seems determined this time to start an ethnic conflict in our country just so he can suspend the elections and hang on to power indefinitely. People like Imam Gassama are mere pawns in his ethnic war provocation game. Nothing more. The old man’s case is simply heart-wrenching. Yet Gassama’s case is not an isolated one. For years, Jammeh would resort to the threat of mass violence when he feels cornered, and many dismiss it as bluffing. So we are used to his insults and threats. It’s taken this long only because people have been reluctant to take his bait. The danger ethnic conflict in Gambia portends is self-evident. But this lunatic doesn’t care. Thanks for the brilliant analysis and god bless.

    • Thank you Saul. I am convinced that the bad news for Jammeh is that Gambians see themselves more as Muslims, Christians, cousins and neighbors than as belonging fanatically to any single tribe. Unlike Rwanda for example, where there is a history of one ethnic group oppressing another, Gambians have lived together for a very long time as good neighbors. So while Jammeh’s attempts at evoking inter-ethnic hatred is horrendous and extremely dangerous, we have good reason to hope that he will fail in his obnoxious design. That, of course, is no reason to be at all complacent. Yes, Jippo is indeed the last thing on his mind but Jippo he must, sooner or later. Thanks and God bless you too. Best regards.

  5. Dear Maxs: Thanks yet again for your very kind comments and your comprehensive reiteration and explanation of your position on gun ownership in a post-Jammeh Gambia. I am afraid we might have to agree to disagree on this one. But ultimately, since we aspire to a genuine democracy in The Gambia, the question of gun legislation, if it arises after Jammeh, may have to be decided by majority opinion. I think it is healthy that there exists different notions of what a post-Jammeh Gambia should look like, and that citizens like you and me are expressing our opinions and positions on issues of such importance. Like I said, I will try to explain my own subjective position on the matter more fully in article form in the near future. Meanwhile, let me emphasize that I totally respect your right to your opinion on the matter. Thanks a lot Maxs.