By Sheriff Kora
I read with great interest an article written by Mr. Musa Camara rebutting an opinion piece with regards to the friction at the National Assembly between Mr. Halifa Sallah and Ms. Mariam Dention. I want to thank Musa Sankano Camara for shedding light on my errors in narrating the events in my original article. Contrary to your assertion that I intended to deceive the public for strategic posturing, I had no such intention in the first place. I have written extensively in reputable academic journals and online Gambian newspapers on issues pertaining to political and economic development in our country, but not for once have I shown any political leaning. I have always thought through the implications of my words and always try to exercise utmost caution when I write. However, the flaws in question here are mine and I bear full responsibility for those mistakes in my article. Just like I did in the case of Mr. Edrissa Samba Sallah, I will like to sincerely apologize to the wider readership for this poor judgment on my part. The unfortunate misrepresentation of events in 1997 was purely out of memory lapse and the lack of due diligence to verify the facts. It was not designed to deceive or mislead anyone.
Contrary to the claims of Mr. Camara that I am violently anti Halifa Sallah, I want to state it categorically clear that I harbor no ill-will against Mr. Halifa Sallah neither am I a violent individual. I have not impugned on the character of Mr. Halifa Sallah nor was I pretending to be a supporter of Halifa Sallah. In fact, I professed my respect for him, but Mr. Sankano was too prejudiced to accept this. Apparently to him anyone who criticizes Sallah becomes a political apostate. I was only exercising my citizenship right to oversight as it is expected of any responsible Gambian. We are obliged to remind and hold our leaders accountable in the execution of their public duties. With the exception of the mistake on my part that has created the furor and suspicions of dubiousness in Mr. Camara’s article, I had said nothing besides reminding our political leaders what their expected comportment should be in the face of adversity. In fact, Mr. Sallah personally came back and expressed his regret for allowing that situation to escalate to a level that was avoidable in the first place. So it leaves me wondering whether Musa Camara is in denial or he doubts the sincerity of Halifa’s recompense or apology. The basis of my article was to express my displeasure at the events that unfolded and not to chastise Sallah out of political vendetta or for being the leader of an opposition camp. Assuming this is nothing sort of the bias Mr. Musa Camara has accused me of.
We may hold different opinions on the propriety of Halifa’s exchange with the speaker in the House on that particular day in question. I fully accept dissent and divergent opinions. To me that is the beauty of Democracy. It is important for us to have and express different opinion for democracy to thrive. Members of parliament are public figures and as such are subject to public scrutiny. The thought that a political leader is irreproachable is advocating for nothing more than tyranny. The Gambia has gone past that chapter. I would have taken the same stance were it any other member of the house who had behaved in a similar fashion. I do not have any qualms with Musa refuting my article or rebuffing the events as I presented them. In fact, I will applaud any friend that holds me accountable on my words or sets me on the right path when I err. However, there is a difference between setting facts straight and taking the gloves off to invade and deconstruct the private life of an individual. It is even word when the intention is not only to debunk an argument, but to tarnish the image and credibility of a sworn adversary. It is very ingenuous and wrong of anyone to use the misrepresentation of a single event to cast another as a pathological liar, intellectually lazy, a diabolical, a political Hitman and a hollow minded individual lacking independent judgment.
Despite the admission of the flaws in my original article that portrayed Mr. Halifa Sallah as an MP in 1997, I am confident there is a great number of Gambians who have reached the political awareness and sophistication to sense the political rhetoric and invasion on my private life as a means of deflecting attention from the events and conduct of your political deity in the House a few weeks ago. The statement of Halifa being thrown out of the House is 1997 is undoubtedly a blob on my article, and I have no excuse or any plausible deniability to wiggle out of it, but it is only a prelude to events. The real issue at hand is how the events unfolded in the house and what the implications are for our democracy. I would have had no objections for you pointing my errors out. In fact, when I learned Edrissa Sallah was still alive, I didn’t hesitate to retract my comments. It is virtuous to admit one’s fault and a great valor to apologize when in the wrong. I would have thanked you, and learn from the rectifications. But it is ungodly to call names and mudsling innocent people that have nothing to do with personal issues. This is the premise of my response to you, not to defend myself for you pointing out the fatal error I made in my previous article. I am infallible and I accept that. What I will not accept, and I believe many Gambian readers with decency and civility won’t accept is the disrespect and name callings that have saturated your article.
It is convenient to present yourself as a democracy evangelist, but when your actions are incongruous with your words, then you are being very deceptive. I do not believe you had the moral rights to expose any selected details of my private life in public. You questioned my character and integrity, but then mentioned you learned the name of my namesake or ‘Tomma’ through our private conversations. As friends, we talk and share ideas, but when we allow our anger to lead us to divulge what is said in our private conversations, we commit a breach of confidence. So when you openly called my namesake and identified his noble business and proceed to question my integrity and called me a liar and a quintessential hypocrite, I will let the public be the jury on who you are and what your true intentions are. What is expected in a civilized and structured political dialogue is the exchange of sound ideas and not dragging the names of innocent and well respected people in the mud. In your own words, you stressed that we have to agree to disagree without being disagreeable. I hope you get a chance to revisit the true lexical and contextual meaning of that phrase and reflect on your conduct in bringing personal and irrelevant information to this debate.
I won’t lie, I appreciate your dissertation on educating the masses on my mistakes, but most importantly on the additional information you shared with the public on the constitution and the rules of the house. That is what I would have expected of a scholar like yourself. But you betrayed this expectation by what followed. It is apparent from both your tone and argument that you are not only sorting out a personal beef with me, but waging a proxy war against echelons of the UDP. Unfortunately, I only happened to be the perfect medium that presented you with the opportunity to openly wage your fury. I could have said I am shocked it came from a personal, but I am not surprised it happened. I knew before long the attack dogs will be unleashed on me. I may become a victim to the abrasive propaganda and political bigotry that is brewing in our country. Luckily for you and unfortunately for me, you found the perfect loophole in my article to lampoon me. I guess to every hero his tragic flaw and I have met mine. But make no mistake about it if you or anyone thinks I will be muzzled by this diatribe to refrain from expressing my discontent or opinion on any political leader on the ground. If you want a battle of ideas, I am happy to engage you, but one thing I wouldn’t indulge myself in is the willful character assassination or personal attacks that have defined our political discourse these days.
It is said that if you wrestle with pigs, you’ll end up with mud on you. Throughout my entire career, I have been immersed in debates. I have always promoted respectful dialogue and the mutual exchange of ideas. I have at times courted trouble in my Socratic style arguments, but I have never indulged or accepted hitting my opponents below the belt nor engage in character assassination as a form of vengeance or to score dividends. In all my writings, I have tried my best to maintain a neutral ground to avoid injecting political bias in my analysis. I have clearly stated within my article that my analysis is not about politics, but rather about comportment on how our leaders should behave themselves. However, a fault finder will always find a fault. That statement and declaration clearly escaped you, the unforgivable sin of dubiousness and political bias for attacking Halifa Sallah had already been committed.
If Musa Camara wasn’t blinded by the events I wrongly described and wanted to engage in semantics, reading the title of my article in the first place would have sufficed to inform him that my article was not an ‘attack’ or ‘deriding’ exclusively on Mr. Halifa Sallah. Yes, I have mentioned a few names in my article, but my displeasure in itself does not stop with Halifa Sallah. I have mentioned clearly within my article that when we allow our emotions to overpower us, then our words and actions can delegitimize our argument or cause – no matter what the reason was. Objective readers with the sense to understand and accept my words without bias will understand that my article implicitly touched on the speaker and many members of the House who bandwagon in the events on that fateful day. This includes members from not only the PDOIS, but other parties as well.
Unfortunately, it was easier for the author to spread my dirty laundry without any recourse to using his reasoning to understand the full context of my article. The name that obviously pulled the trigger was none other than Halifa Sallah. Contrary to the belief of Musa Camara, I will never deride Halifa Sallah for no reason nor discount his role in the political history of The Gambia. However miniscule it maybe, he has a chapter in the narratives of Gambian political history. Besides, I don’t need to present any photos with Mr. Sallah to proof my reverence to him or anyone for that matter. To me he is a respected citizen and not a demi-god. I despise charismatic leadership and personalization of power, so If you have an album full of photos with Halifa Sallah, feel free to digitize them and share them with the world. What I care about the most is how he relates with the public; how he executes his duties and what he delivers to his constituency. You can have the fanfare and political perfectionism.
Musa has made references that clearly showed he’s been keenly following my conversations online. He has highlighted his own displeasure at some of my comments which shows the simmering frustrations he’s had that just percolated with the publication of my recent article. In an attempt to paint me as a bias analyst, he made referenced to an old conversation I had with a mutual friend on Facebook live. According to him, in this conversation, I had mentioned the composition of the coalition and without mentioning any names, I was indirectly poking fun at Mr. Halifa Sallah. Indeed, I did say everyone took a role except for those who didn’t want to join the coalition executive. But there is nothing wrong or fallacious in that statement.
This facebook conversation was based on analysis of a paper I had co-authored on the Journal of Democracy with regards to the political events leading to the change in 2016. The statement was made in light of the need for inclusiveness and an effective diaspora engagement towards inclusive socio-economic development. It was apolitical and no mention of Halifa’s name made. I got berated for assuming to read Halifa’s mind or trying express his conscience. To the author’s credit, reading the conscience of anyone else is just impossible. But where he got it wrong is that I had not made any reference to what was in Halifa’s conscience. What I did was to send a reminder to our political leaders that they should not allow their emotions to betray their conscience. And as a nation of Muslims and Christians we know what the books preach about our conscience in the face of tough situations. Regardless of who was right or who was wrong, we can all agree what happened in that House was far from the patience and tolerance our religions preach.
If the author himself argues that it is impossible to read minds, then I wonder why he had the audacity to admit that I didn’t mention any names, yet turn around and accuse me of sending subliminal messages that were perceived as personal attacks against Halifa Sallah. I wonder how the author knew what was in my mind to determine that Halifa Sallah was the subject of my innuendo. See when you point fingers at people’s fault, make sure your hands are clean. The author has just confirmed the old African proverb that the higher you allow the monkey to climb up a tree, the more it exposes its ass.
Despite my attempts to shed light on the political upheaval back home, I attracted a lot of fury from a few Gambians in the online media after the publication of the said article in the Journal of Democracy. But I am not the one to write my own songs and dance to them. What I do for my country is not for praise singing, but for purely out of good citizenship and selflessness. The reason for criticizing me is based on the allegations that I neglected to mention the name of a certain political leader who was perceived to be the true architect of the new Gambia. What many failed to realize was that it was a coalition party lead by Adama Barrow that won the elections. He was the key actor and the events that promoted to him getting to the presidency were what was under review. The paper in question was not a praise-singer, but an objective analysis of events on the ground.
However, to some, I did injustice to their messiah, and some have simply not been able to reconcile with reality and shed the grudge. And sadly, many fail to realize that we have a coalition government composed of different parties and not a government led singularly by any party. Sadly, the reasons for the current widespread of suspicion and the cleavages appearing in our social and political fabric are conveniently brushed under the carpet. This is not a perfect government by no stretch of the imagination, but the respect and confidence shattering has long been done before the government even got sworn into power.
Musa has questioned my contribution in the political or economic development of our country. You have asked me about the contribution of the UDP big wigs when the Gambia was about to descend into civil war. To you it was only Halifa Sallah who saved the Gambia from total decadence. To each his hero, and certainly Halifa is yours as you’ve shown. To you he may in fact be the one that hung the moon. It is quite unfortunate how easy it is to discredit the true contributions and achievements of people that hold opposing views in our country.
Today, many hardly even recognize the sacrifices of Solo Sandeng or Solo Koroma. Many have fallen silent to the incarcerated few that stood their ground to right the wrongs committed by the previous regime. Yesterday, we hailed them as heroes, we labeled them freedom fighters and the true sons of the Gambia, but today, we have allowed our political differences to cast them as the most ungodly sons and daughters that have ever set foot on Gambian soil. I will refresh your memory to a statement I made to you a few years ago that I will not subscribe self-aggrandizement or follow a political leader that openly claims himself to be “the conscience of the nation”. I believed and I still believe such titles are conferred and not self-imposed on leaders.
I have my political sympathy like every Gambian interested in politics. I have the right to do so. We all fought for democracy in our country and for every Gambian to have the right to support the party of their choosing. If I am a supporter of UDP so what? What is wrong with supporting the UDP if it is the party of my choice. I have never openly expressed my political affiliation to the author, but it is important for the readers to understand a thing or two about this personal attack. I have been castigated, berated, chastised, crucificied, bloodied, and smothered for being bias, being fallacious in my facts, and for waging a political attack against Halifa, and for being a UDP supporter based on two things: my origin and family ties with Lawyer Ousainou Darboe who is the flagbearer of the UDP. The core premise of the author’s argument is not only about my misrepresentation of facts, but fundamentally about my perceived affiliation with the UDP or as he called me a ‘Hitman’.
The author’s assertion that I am a UDP member is simply based on association or lineage which is very disrespectful to my political awareness and independent judgment. He went further to add that my heroes were already chosen for me since my formative years which questions my upbringing. To him, I am a blind follower of the UDP and any deviation from this path is tantamount to sacrilege and going against family. I might be a dim wit as the author has casted me over and over, but I am not a hollow being without the ability to make independent judgment, form new loyalties or identify new heroes. Unlike the author, I have many heroes beyond the confines of my town. Knowing who the author is, his allegation is a mere reflection of the ideologue and cult-like following he has for the PDOIS and its leadership. We tend to judge people at times by the reflection of our own image, and this is apparent in the argument of the author herein.
What is more alarming in Musa’s article is the inclusion and involvement of people that have no business in this argument. The ‘Bansang Elite’. Who are the ‘Bansang Elite’ you are referring to? I don’t know about you, but I am very proud of my origin – a Gambian foremost and secondly a proud son of Bansang. I am proud of the achievements of the people of my town that has produced leaders at both the national and international stage. Lawyer Ousainou Darboe is my uncle, and a statesman I love and respect dearly. However, that doesn’t mean my loyalty is simply based on family proximity. So if your attempts were to disparage my origin and her people, I think you have failed miserably sir. Try again! There is nothing to be ashamed of about being a citizen of Bansang. In fact there are countless illustrious sons of The Gambia that have roots in that humble town. If you see anything wrong in having Bansangkas in the cabinet, please come forward and lay your claim, but make sure it is not based on your false accusation of elitism but rather based on their merits and lack of qualifications to hold any of those positions.
Musa had the nerves to call Adama Barrow my elected president and his cabinet a mediocre executive. I supported his candidacy, but never voted for Adama Barrow. The last time I check Adama Barrow for good or for worse is the president of every Gambian, and not the president of the UDP. He runs a coalition government and not a UDP government. So if you Musa have the guts to tell me Adama Barrow is my elected president, his cabinet is mediocre, and I am intellectually lazy then I am baffled. The PDOIS was a party to the coalition, so where do you stand here? It is either you have relinquished your Gambian citizenship, rebellious to your party or just being very disrespectful and disdainful of the elected president of our country. This misinformation of facts about the government and hostility towards the UDP and the president spiraling out of control is what is hampering our progress. And by the way, I have never for once in my life claim to be an intellectual. I don’t see myself as one, and I don’t even like to be associated with that term. So bear me your misnomers. It is obvious from these choices words of yours that you see yourself as one, and the intolerance and contempt you portrayed to me, the people of my town, the president, the cabinet goes further to describe the true meanings of elitism. I guess the eye that sees others doesn’t see itself.
I have taken it with light humor when you called me intellectually lazy and not a good historian. I do not pretend or ever claim to be more knowledgeable than you, your party leader or the entire membership of the PDOIS party. That will be preposterous. However, one thing I know is that you are not the brightest bulb in the room either. I have sat in the same class with you, and written exams with you. I am not the one to toot my own horn, but you know who I am. When we sat to the GCE A’levels, there was only one award for academic excellence and an ‘A’ in history. If you profess to be a man of the gospel, please come out honestly and tell the readers who the recipient was. I’ll implore you to be humble and not allow a single blunder of mind lead you to casting me as an idiot or a pathological liar. We have passed those days when you can use flowery language that goes beyond the head of Gambians to get away with certain behaviors. If I admit failure in exercising due diligence here when I failed to verify facts regarding the events in 1997, but that does not imply perpetual clumsiness on my part.
In fact, I have proofread a few of your articles in the past, and given you feedback a number of times. How could you trust a pathological liar, and a dubious analyst with malicious intentions to proofread your work and give you insight? I have called you personally in instances where I felt I should probe you further on certain arguments in your article. I would have expected you to reciprocate that act, but I am wrong. You’ve certainly had preconceived agenda not to attack the facts, but to go on a personal rampage against me that will discredit me or silence me. Just know that if you are going to make certain irresponsible statements in your article accusing me of maliciousness, fallacy, and diabolical misrepresentation of facts, just be reminded that your article in itself is laced with nothing but elitism and a shortsightedness guided by slime and political indoctrination.
It stings when you call yourself the best of examples and you call your opponents the worst of names. You have done nothing but shaken a hornet’s nest brother. I have admitted my shortcomings which is the right thing to do as a responsible writer and analyst. Some will agree with me and some won’t. Some will hold me dear and some just won’t. That’s the fact of life and I have long reconciled myself with this reality. As the saying, you never fall in the gutter and not come out stinking. I regret the misrepresentation of facts you have consisted emphasized in your article. I will learn from this mishap, and certainly, I will emerge stronger and more motivated to write than ever before.
My article was not about the Gambia, but rather the behavior of political actors within. But it shouldn’t be surprising that there is no delineation between state and party leadership in the minds of some people. To some, touching a political leader is akin to desecrating The Gambia. And I am willing to accept that is an unfortunate attitude from all parties. I appreciate the author’s correction to my errors, but I disagree with the claim that I was being deceptive in my analysis or I was attempting to mislead the future generation. I have been close friends with Musa for almost 22 years, and I am confident that he knows my candor and character more than many readers of his article. But it is more convenient for him today to smear my image in the hopes of gaining political capital. You certainly win this battle based on my own admission of fault, but the remember tomorrow is still hunting day. And be reminded that if you are into grooming for political office, Gambians are not stupid to elect or support a leader that will throw his friends out to the wolves.
As Bob Marley once said, your best friend can turn into your worst enemy. But unlike the author, I try my best to desist from personal attacks or name calling; not out of cowardice, but more out of respect for myself. At the end of the day, what binds us together is stronger than our imperfection. That common bond and the desire to right the imperfection of everyone is what will take us farther as a people, and not the other way round where we resort to caustic remarks or collective insults and branding. This has been what I have consistency preached in our political dialogues since the Jammeh era, and I still uphold these values dearly. I would have ordinarily stopped at the apology, but I felt it is important to straighten some things regarding my persona. I hope Musa including many of us will learn to find the right composure and emotional balance to address diverging views with tact and decency when we engage perceived adversaries or when we hold people accountable for their commission or omission.