Some 34 years ago or thereabout, I would come to know Ebrima Cambi through a mutual friend in Brikama. I had finished High School and just starting the Sixth Form at Gambia High School where the same mutual friend was also in Upper Six.
He was known to many as Burama Kebba, most likely named after a senior family member to earn a name of endearment. He was a towering figure with well-built muscles combined with a commanding voice and a no-nonsense character, traits that every Sergeant in the disciplined forces dies to be one.
Cambi was married to Ya Bajen, blood sister of the late finance Minister whose charred body the nation would come to hear around Jambur in the adolescent years of the coup.
Koro Ceesay was one of the brightest sons of this country and him and Paul Baldeh would make a great team in Cabinet. Once in a while I would visit him with a friend to engage him and as a Sixth Former, we were very radical, questioning everything and it looked like we believed we had a solution to everything in the world.
Cambi and I shared a lot of things. He was a big brother I ran to for advice when I was in trouble and he generously provided without sugar-coating.
In July of 1994 came the coup and he was someone the young coupists looked up to because some of them were his boys because I knew many of them through him long before 1994 as he gave rides to some of them or they were frequent visitors to his house as I was too. The enemy is ALWAYS within.
But before 1994, Cambi was a household name both in the military and among the civilian population especially during the Liberian civil war. He did not command his troops from behind but in front and nor was he a cry baby commander who earned his promotion from the comfort of his office.
Cambi, it appears, did not jump rank and that is why, whenever he entered a room full of soldiers, he sucks all the oxygen leaving his fellow soldiers gasping for both air and attention.
He was your Army Commander that he never became one officially but he was one true and true because he had the intellect, the training and the command. This life sometimes is not balanced but the country lost a great opportunity by not putting him in leadership position to set in motion the difficult but needed security reforms. He would have delivered because he commands respect in the army.
In the early days of the 1994 coup, the Council looked up to him. In fact, he was Chief of Staff if I recall better. He was always around them to ensure no excesses were committed. In fact, he encouraged them to treat the civil service differently and not unduly meddle. He insisted that they go by the various legal and administrative instruments that govern the civil service and I was the one who provided to the council copies of these documents through him. He ensured decisions were above board and when he left, chaos descended on the Civil Service. I was at PMO, so I know.
One Saturday in July 1994, I promised to visit him at his residence in Cape Point but as faith had it, I was not going to see him. I arrived and took the keys from the agreed location in the yard and entered. He was out. About noon or thereabout, I heard a loud knock on the door and as I peeped through the window, and to my surprise, a truck load of soldiers were jumping off, with their faces painted black and surrounding his house.
In those days, house lines were the only means of making calls. I honestly thought I was going to die because some soldiers were on their knees aiming at the house probably waiting for the order to shoot. I said a few prayers and then mustered the courage to open the door.
I quickly recognised three of the soldiers because they were people Cambi helped and were frequent visitors to his house in Brikama around the Community Development Office. One of them even called me by my name and asked to drink water and I gladly offered.
No one entered the house but they took away his official vehicle which was a very small car probably a white Toyota Corolla with a KMC number plate because he was the first person offered the position of Mayor by the military which he never wanted despite several attempts by them to motivate him taking the position. I understand that he visited the KMC complex but never fully assumed duties. He was replaced by Lie Conteh.
That evening at the Mccarthy Square, Cambi was not there with the Council members and I started getting worried. On the whole, he was already picked up and whisked to Mile 2 where he would spend years for doing nothing according to his testimony at the TRRC. As I left Banjul and going home, I met a friend with whom I shared my worries especially his absence and the many soldiers at his house.
In the evening, the news broadcast was that Cambi was arrested because they found uniforms and other military hardware at his house and that he was planning a coup. I couldn’t believe what I heard because no one entered the house because I was the one who opened the door. I immediately knew we were in trouble as a country but I couldn’t share that with anyone until today.
We would sneak to visit him on his physiotherapy visits from Mile 2 at the RVH exposing ourselves to more danger; sneaked messages of comfort to him at Mile 2 under pseudo names just incase our letters were intercepted. He was a true and loyal soldier and the Council feared his towering respect among the rank and files of the army and he had to be stopped.
Faith had it that two of the three soldiers I recognised would end up at Mile 2 prison and one sadly died there.
After his release, and even when I left the country, we continued to be in touch up to his demise.
He was a brother to me, and a gentleman of the First Order; a true patriot who kept the Gambian flag high up in Liberia in order to bring peace to that country and at a cost to himself through injury to his leg which he nursed for several years not to mention the attendant trauma. He deserved better after his sojourn in Liberia but this life is not balanced.
May your soul rest in JANNAH. Amen. Just so you know, those of us who came to know you will forever cherish your memory.
A grateful nation salutes you Burama Kebba.
Culled from Facebook