Book Review by Juka Fatou Jabang,
The authors Amadou Taal and Ebraima Manneh are seasoned former Senior Public Servants. Mr. Taal has served this country first in the planning cadre of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development and later as Permanent Secretary in the Ministries of Agriculture and Local Government and Lands respectively. Mr Manneh, in addition to his wide experience in the Gambian Civil Service has had long stints in the Foreign and Diplomatic Service in Senegal, Belgium and Switzerland. Both of them, upon their retirement, soon after the 1994 military takeover, joined the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), where they rose to the top echelon of the Party’s hierarchy. There is no doubt therefore that the Book that we about to launch todayis the product of two experienced and knowledgeable personalities who are most qualified to take us through the unique journey that we are about to embark on.
The Book, Adama Barrow, subtitled the making of A new Gambia is made up of 305 pages and 17 solid chapters, filled with insightful information that is authentic and authoritative. Supplementary information is provided in the form of appendices, giving the various statements and pronouncements issued by the United Democratic Party as the governance environment in the country degenerates and the regime’s violent stance takes root. The Book seeks to present to the reader, the President of renewedGambia, his background and his historic and meteoric rise to the zenith of political power in the Gambia. It does this while at the same show-casing the dramatic circumstances that created the environment for his startling and remarkable rise. In other words, it chronicles the historic events that ushered the dawn of the renewed Gambia.But, as one wades through however, it becomes clear that the Book is also about challenges and triumphs of the United Democratic Party (UDP), the largest opposition Party in the last 20 years. It is the story of seven Political Party Leaders, one Independent Presidential Aspirant, who with the support of a strong and committed woman, took a valiantand self-sacrificing step to end Party fragmentation, joined their resources together in order to liberate their people from the clutches of tyranny and terror. The Book is similarly the odyssey of the docile and peace-loving people of the Gambia who decided to take their destiny into their own hands and salvage their future from the pain and terror of a dictatorship that has held them captive for more than two decades.It is a narrative about the value and merit of ‘Ubuntu’ defined by Taal and Manneh as the principle of solidarity and brotherliness among Africans and how Gambians succeeded in averting a looming genocide without the loss of a single human life.
The volume is skilfully structured mostly making effective use of profiles of key figures and institutions that form pillars of the hard won battle for freedom and democracy. It is written in simple but high-level erudite language. It is well researched as demonstrated by the vast and wide-ranging references, allusions, extracts and citations made throughout the book. The display of knowledge from all spheres of human experience and from every part of the globe-Africa, the middle East, Latin America, Russia, Asia-is to say the least, exceedingly extraordinary and, no doubt amplify the great value and superiority of the Book.
Chapters 1, 3 and 9 introduce biographical particulars of Adama, giving us a representation of his humble beginnings, his childhood in the small rural locality of Makamang Kunda in Jimara, Upper River Region, his school days, urban exposure and the international experience in the U.K. Although born of a Fula mother, and a Mandinka father, his extended family connections link him to other tribes. We are given the portrait of a man who is connected in diverse ways to the various ethnic groups of the Gambia-Fula, Mandinka, Wollof, Serrahula and even Jola by marriage- hence a true symbol of national integration and unity. We follow with keen interest the preparation antecedent to his political anointment in Chapter 9. What is clearly captured also, is what Taal and Manneh refer to as the ‘great works of Providence’ (p. 16),pervading every stage of his life process. For instance, it is his appetite to further his education and earn a career that aided him to escape being a cattle herdsman or a Fula shopkeeper, landing him into Alhagi Musa Njie’s Gas Company in Kanifing, Argos in the U.K and then a devout member of the U.D.P. We have a glimpse of his temperament when on page 19 we are told that “He has a humble personality but a strong sense of direction……… always values routine and consistency but most people misunderstand this……often times accuse him of not acting fast enough….But, for Barrow,[The book goes on] it is always important to deliberate on all options,…think about every issue, to see how it develops, what it will mean, what people are going say, who is going to criticize it”
This is pertinent and explains why in the early days of the new dispensation; the populace were losing patience about the slow pace of things.
Chapter 2 introduces the genesis of the Gambian peoples’ miseries with a deceptive military takeover in 1994.Ironically, the chapter titled ‘The Nation Under A One Man Siege’ opens with the Daily Observer cover page caption of 25 July 1994, 3 days after the coup carrying Lieutenant Yaya Jammeh and his Vice Chairman reassuring the Gambian population that “We will never introduce dictatorship in this country.” He did not stop at that, lieutenant Jammeh went on to say that nobody will ever rule the country for more than 10 years. However, what ensued was the cruel and systematic rape of the previously delightful and peaceful country. Rather than making true his proclamation to end rampant corruption, mass suffering and overstay in power, he allowed his strong dictatorial persuasion to engulf him. Taal and Manneh catalogue how he immersed his people into a reign of tyranny and horror, with attendant unnerving psychological, emotional effect on the people of The Gambia. The period from 1994 to the year 2016, are fittingly juxtaposed with the excruciating and uncanny experiences of Hiroshima and Naga Sake in 1945 and the darkest days of African history. But Taal and Manneh slowly but progressively lead the reader to the events that were slowly but surely dismantling the Jammeh bastion.
A momentous event that contributed significantly in transforming the political configuration and paved the way for the regime’s decisive collapse is the death of Solo Sandeng, the UDP Organising Secretary who led an electoral reform-seeking youth demonstration and who was arrested, tortured and later died in detention. His death is a turning point in Gambian political history. Chapter 4 pays an emotionally laden homage and deference to Solo as Steve Biko of The Gambia, as a patriot with a formidable spirit, a sacrificial target, a martyr who “‘watered the dry gardens of the Gambian freedom with a surging wave of his blood’, (p. 52). His demise undeniably jolted Gambians up from their 22 year old inertia. The immediate aftermath was the emergence of groups of patriotic and defiant Gambian youths at home and abroad, who swore to end the regime’s subjugation and deceit. As quoted on page 49, “Solo’s struggle and eventual death for the sake of freedom of the Gambian people opened a veritable avenue for the people’s war against the cornerstone of Yaya Jammeh’s power-house”. It goes on to say in page 49, that from hence forward, the effort to send the tyrant out the Gambian State House changed from mission Impossible to Mission Accomplished.
Taal and Manneh devote Chapters 5 and 6 to the trials and tribulations of Ousainu Darboe, long-time UDP leader, culminating in his imprisonment by the autocratic regime. Delineated as The Gambia’s foremost charismatic and eloquent human rights lawyer, his resolve to oust Yaya Jammeh through the ballot box has perennially been potent and unrelenting. As his determination to free his people from the reign of terror grew and intensified, he rose from being a human rights lawyer to becoming the icon of resistance against government repression in The Gambia [p.16] states “Poised for the realization of the freedom of Gambians, Darboe in the manner of Martin Luther king Jr, took up the challenge, dared Jammeh and became a die-hard and long-time adversary of his precarious regime.’’ Taal and Manneh affirm that two other important events that signalled the eventual downfall of the omnipotent regime of Yaya Jammeh are the Fass Ngagga Choye impasse and the trial of Ousainu Darboe. Whilst the former marked a new turn in the politics of coercion and authoritarianism, the later ushered in a period of defiance and fearlessness in the outlook of the ordinary Gambian. However the Book asserts that the degree of Darboe’s legacy is not on his epic imprisonment that altered the course of Gambian history forever but it to be found in the eventual sense of fulfilment that every Gambian has been liberated from cruelty and despotism as a result of the martyrdom of UDP’s Solo Sandeng.
Mariama Secka, Deputy Secretary General of the UDP is the subject of Chapter 7. A woman of amazing courage and faith, she took up the mantle of leadership as soon as her Party Leader was incarcerated, determined to carry on with the liberation struggle. As a shrewd and skilful politician, we are informed on page 82, that she produced a coalition proposal that persuaded, encouraged and steered the Opposition Parties into a Coalition Alliance that finally succeeded in toppling the Jammeh dictatorship on December 1st, 2016.
Chapter 8- is devoted to the complex negotiations that led to the formation of The Sacred Coalition, made possible by the miraculous willingness of the political leaders – Halifa Sallah, Omar Jallow, Hamat Bah, Mai Fatty, Dr. Isatou Touray, Henry Gomez and Dr. Bolonding Bojang to sacrifice their clout and power, rally behind Adama Barrow, in order to deal a final blow to the long-time oppressor of the Gambian People. This is the climax of the Book as it is indeed, the defining moment in annals of Gambian political history
Chapters 10-17 cover the Road to Victory and beyond in which Barrow delivered a massive win on behalf of the Coalition and Jammeh conceded defeat, only to turn around and nullify the election results turning the people’s hope to gloom. The country was thrown into a constitutional crisis and stood on the brink of a civil war. The pivotal role of President Macky Sall and the monumental support and solidarity rendered by the Ecowas leaders in the restoration of democracy in the Gambia are fully acknowledged and applauded in the Book.
A special tribute is rendered to Gambians of the diaspora in Chapter 15, titled Kudos to The Gambian Diaspora. Taal and Manneh claim that the Gambians at home and those abroad “joinedin a holy alliance in the battle for freedom, and the diaspora community, especially the online media professionals….. played a landmark role in bringing this meaningful change in the country…..ensuring that democracy, rule of law and good governance exist in the Gambia.” (p. 200). The Book emphasizes the strong and sustained support upheld by the diaspora through their social media networks, without which uprooting the deep-seated and acutely entrenched system would have been insufferable or even impossible.They have stirred the people into unprecedented political consciousness and provided substantial financial support for the political parties.The chapter recognises and lauds the innumerable efforts at lobbying and protest activities organised by diaspora pressure groups and civil society organisations to bring to the fore the abject and reprehensible violations of the rights of the Gambian people. Campaigners in the United States, Senegal, Sweden, United Kingdom, Norway, students, the intelligentsia, and asylum seekers, all of them have played incredible roles in making the struggle succeed. Pages 213-215 focuson enduring cyber-activists whose digital platforms espoused the regime-change agenda and sustained the successful campaigns for the ballot revolution. The most prominent being Freedom Newspaper and Radio, founded by Pa Nderry Mbai, whose “fight against Jammeh’s dictatorship won for the Gambia a large scale international sympathy and support…..he published without any iota of fear the atrocities committed…….which became a source of enlightenment to the people of The Gambia. (p.214).Fatu Network run by Fatou Camara, also fought actively to bring down the Jammeh regime. Gainako, Kairo, Kibaro, Jollof News, Mafanta.com, Askani Senegambia, Senegambian News are all applauded for their splendid contribution in restoring democracy and freedom to their motherland.
The final chapter of the Book raises a profound question addressed to all who fought and won the battle against oppression. Quo Vadis? where are going from here? What are the lessons learnt? The authors of course would feel morally obliged to share their wisdom with the readers on the way forward. In recalling prior revolutions to remove dictators in Latin America, Eastern Europe, North Africa they lament how the spirit of the revolution was stifled by individuals and groups who allowed sectarian interests to overpower them. Gambia, being still at the crossroads, they cautioned that in addition to trying to avoid the mistakes made in other countries with similar experience, Gambians must come together to support the transition. Transition leaders also, must be responsive to the aspirations of the people and maintain an inclusive process that leaves no room for tribalism, nepotism and religious zeal.
Finally, after succinct analyses of the lessons learnt from the Jammeh persona, the authors conclude that after all it was the peoples’fault that there was dictatorship in the Gambia. Taal and Manneh thus declare that:
‘It takes the entire mechanism of the society, government and the military to turn a harmless crank into a tyrant…. The people allowed themselves to be led by fear and swayed by nationalist fervour. Because we do not want to admit that the people were responsible, we demonize the man’ (p.24).
This is a bookthat must be read by anybody who is interested in Gambian history. It is recommended for inclusion on the WAEC curriculum for students of History, Government, Political Science and other related subjects. University students, academics, researchers and members of the public will find it very edifying and instructive. I have no doubt that it would find its rightful place in the Canon of Gambia’s intellectual repertoire.
Author: Juka Fatou Jabang is a retired Public Servant who has served in the Ministries of Finance & Trade, Information and Tourism, Economic Planning and Industrial Development from 1976-92, Director General MDI from 1992-2007 and Adviser to the Executive Director, African Development Bank 2007-2010. She is a Poet and a Literary Critic and has written several books. Presently she is the Executive director of the West African Education Foundation.