When I was writing my last opinion some days ago, I was unaware that lawyer Ousainou Darboe, leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) and his entire executive, some other associates, and relatives that were arrested with him in mid-April this year were all- but-one, convicted and sentenced to three years prison terms a day earlier. With these convictions, Yaya Jammeh has firmly allied himself inextricably with the one group of people that he constantly rants and raves against: the vilest European colonialists as exemplified by the former apartheid regime in South Africa. It’s quite an irony. One might feel crestfallen about this horrible injustice until one reads Ousainou Darboe’s Pre-Sentencing Statement.
For the record, I’m a very late convert to the Darboe team. By orientation and temperament, I have very little patience for lawyers and their methods especially when it comes to matters that require urgency. The reason I love Nelson Mandela is though he is a lawyer, when he entered politics he knew he had to suspend all that lawyer convoluted speaking, and dead Latin language nonsense in order to help people expeditiously. I like leaders that cut to the chase in their speeches and lead by action. Darboe in my view was very reluctant to get to that stage. Until now.
Anyhow, reading through Mr. Darboe’s statement, it’s obvious why the servile Nigerian judge refused to allow him to read the statement as if that would diminish its impact. The statement is powerful on multiple fronts. First, it shows the world that being small in stature doesn’t mean being a small man: Ousainou Darboe is a MAN! He has stood up tall when it counts. This is not a person who has been cowed. His statement to the judge is as much a testament to his personal courage as it is to the sounding of an alarm bell for conscientious people around the world about the gross injustice that has become the norm in The Gambia. Multiple times he stated matter-of-factly that he would not beg for lenience because he hasn’t done anything wrong. The tragedy of the Gambia is It is righteousness that is on trial in the country. Regardless, it takes cohones to say what Mr. Darboe did in his statement knowing the consequence. We have become used to grown men openly weeping and begging Yaya Jammeh for forgiveness. Who can forget the case of the Gambian magistrate/judge some years ago who is older than Yaya Jammeh but stoop to calling him fantastic terms of endearment with all kinds of superlatives just so Yaya Jammeh can forgive him? Or the countless open letters we read in The Gambia media from senior public officials- both civil and military, who supposedly have offended Yaya Jammeh for one reason or another. Mr. Darboe’s statement is a dignified way of saying “You can lock me up because you think you have the power, but you’ll not impugn my dignity. I worship a different god.”
Mr. Darboe said in his statement that he doesn’t want anyone to be embarrassed about his conviction even before it was handed down. Darn right we’re not! Couldn’t be more proud of this man from Niani! Thank god, we still have people willing to go beyond soundbites.
Darboe’s statement is touching in its humanity. It reveals not only Mr. Darboe’s own initial dreams of what he wanted to be as an educated adult to help his humble background in fulfilment of his father’s aspiration for him, it also touches on his experience during his studies in Nigeria. Then he briefed us about his experience as a professional working for the Gambian State. He then gave us a snippet of himself as a private counsel who defended hundreds of citizens including many who were charged with treason. However, the most moving part of the statement for me is Mr. Darboe’s offer to the judge to be jailed alone in exchange for the freedom of the rest. Darboe surmises accurately that the rest of the captives are mere collateral casualties in this dangerous high stakes game Yaya Jammeh is playing. As anyone with a modicum of sense knows, Ousainou Darboe is the sole target of this farce of a trial from the get-go. The others were pulled into the dragnet only for good measure.
Over the years, Ousainou Darboe has been accused by some for running for office just because he is only “interested in power.” Such people should be ashamed of themselves. What we are witnessing now has long been coming. Is it foolish of him not to have preempted it? We can debate that. But I believe it’s credit to Darboe that he has been able to muster such self-restraint for so long. No other Gambian opposition politician has had the power and opportunities to render the country ungovernable in the past two decades as Darboe had. Either way, his detractors can’t have it both ways. One can’t say the man is power-hungry, but would not do the one thing that has the best potential of uprooting his nemesis. Normally people who are power-hungry do whatever they have to do to get to power. Or do anything to remain in power as we currently have in Gambia! Impossible to make sense of some things.
Bottom-line: Ousainou Darboe is a grandfather who has done his bit for Gambia. He is now being sent to jail illegally with his head held high. The question is: what are Gambians willing to do for him and his colleagues?