United Nations Special Representative of
The Secretary General for West Africa and
Sahel and head of UNOWAS
Dear Doctor Chambas,
It is from a compelling concern that I decided to write this open letter to you intended to update you about the current political state of affairs in the Gambia and to seek your immediate intervention in what I personally experienced in 2016 as the crucial role you played through its ultimate outcome. I was at the time the acting ambassador of the Gambia at the UN.
It is now coming to four years since I sat with you in your office at the UN high-rise on 1st Avenue, New York City to discuss my fears over the adamancy of President Mackey Sall of Senegal to spearhead a war campaign in the Gambia on lies and personal political ambition. In that hour-long meeting I did warn you about the unintended consequences of starting any kind of war nowadays and even reminded you of its paragon in Iraq and Libya, emphatically illustrating the repercussions of relying on misleading intelligence that in the Iraq debacle demonstrated how the arrogant invaders failed to grasp the underlying religious conflict that for about a century fashioned the political division of the Arab nation. Indeed the Western invaders, deceived into thinking that overthrowing the dictatorial government of Saddam Hussain was not only going to reveal his hidden weapons of mass destruction that never existed but will also bring them honor and respect from the liberated Iraqis but instead ended up bogging them down in a fierce resistance with no glimmer of hope for success. The over-century old Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict was neglected or downplayed out of ignorance, their ultra motives or from outright recklessness.
Doctor Chambas, I still could recall my fruitless efforts of juxtaposing the Iraqi scenario to what might possibly happen in the Gambia from giving Mackey Sall his wish of a war in order to discourage you from supporting the nasty conspiracy. You were convinced by a bunch of crooks that the entire APRC government and their ambassadors in particular were against President Jammeh. For a moment I had even believed that I had caught your attention when I highlighted how Gambia’s political landscape had been before the emergence of the Jammeh government. That it was immensely influenced by tribal and cultural prejudice against the Jola tribe that President Jammeh hailed from. That they were virtually a persecuted ethnic group in the Senegambia subregion, subjected to all kinds of discrimination and marginalization and expected to eternally remain below the hierarchy of human importance that indeed prompted their rebellion in Casasamance since 1982. Before Jammeh came to power and helped in debunking that myth by illustrating how Jolas could equally and effectively participate in every imaginable narrative, they had had no say in the political dispensation of the region regardless of their historic presence in the area far longer than any other ethnic group claiming ownership of the land. And while they were applauded for their handwork, honesty and sense of social harmony, a tribe uniquely free of caste system, the establishment nevertheless systematically denied them the basic political, economic, educational and social opportunities enjoyed by the other “self-anointed superior tribes”. When Jammeh unexpectedly emerged as the winner in the 1994 coup, all that nonsense changed; but the evil concept of taking the Jolas back to where they belong persisted, forming the cardinal foundation of an opposition force that in 22 years made several attempts to overthrow his government or kill him. Protecting his government and his life translated into what his opponents conveniently defined as his intolerance and ruthlessness. Yes, like all mortals and heads of state, he had erred, but trust me Doctor Chambas, the exaggeration like I told you, was implausible.
The blood-thirsty Senegalese who since 1982 could not understand why they couldn’t defeat the determined “rag-tag rebels” in their Southern Provence started the misleading campaign against Jammeh, a proud Jola and made you believe that the Gambia armed forces was a hub for all the Jolas rebels recruited from the MFDC, which I had strongly disputed; you also believed in the misinformation that Jammeh had instructed rebels from Liberia to help execute young virgin girls as ritual to secure his position. They took his statement out of context from once saying that if Allah had preordained that he would rule the Gambia for 1billion years he would, and totally changed it into his assertion that he would rule the Gambia for 1 billion years. Doctor Chambas, you and I know fully well that the Yahya Jammeh who was the president of the Gambia for 22 years cannot be that stupid to utter such a stupid statement.
However, you also confessed to me why you were upset with him after one time enjoying a wonderful friendship with him for a number of years. You accordingly called each other brothers, a friendship you believe was unceremoniously ended by him for no known reason. You only knew after privately visiting the Gambia on few occasions as you often did on his invitation but found him unwelcoming. I could definitely notice how those incidents really hurt your pride.
You also lamented over your failed attempts to talk to him about releasing Lawyer Ousainou Darbo from prison whom you had had tremendous respect for as the leader of the UDP.
But most importantly, I remember you hinting me about how the Gambia could settle all its ethic problems and move forward by later organizing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reminiscent of Ghana’s after the military rule of Jerry Rawlings ended. I had questioned the reconciliatory mindset of Ghanians compared to that of Gambians; but it was there that I finally understood that you drank the Mackey Sall Kool-Aid by believing that war in the Gambia was necessary option. And you assured me that everything would be okay. We shook hand, and I left with a heavy heart.
Well Doctor Chambas, four years after, thank god, there was no war; but what happened in the Gambia is nothing resembling okay. First the agreement you initiated and endorsed to ensure that Jammeh left the country peacefully for another country of his choice and could return to the Gambia at any time with his properties spared from any seizure or pillage has all been violated by the Gambia government of President Adama Barrow. To the Barrow government, that initiative and document was meaningless and I have not yet heard you doing or saying anything about it. But that may be secondary compared to what we are facing right now.
Everything that I had feared about unfairly targeting the Jola tribe in the country with the intention of reducing them back again into third-class citizens or worse has been happening at an abominable scale.
Many Jolas in senior government positions have been unnecessarily dismissed from their jobs or redeployed to responsibilities of minimal relevance. Not a single Jola holds a ministerial position, a key managerial job or a top command responsibility in the armed forces while members of other tribes who provenly and loyally worked for Jammeh or his government are untouched. How great do you think that is Doctor Chambas?
I had told you that Mackey Sall and his stooges were lying through their teeth about MFDC rebels conscripted in the Gambia armed forces and would have killed several innocent Gambians and called them the Cassamance Jola rebels; yet still at some point, some Jola Gambian officers and soldiers were arrested and jailed on alleged contentious charges while others were dismissed for no just reason other than being Jolas. Unconfirmed reports were recently circulated that a large number of Jolas were earmarked for dismissal from the Gambia Army to show their fulfillment of the unachievable SSR; but another report has just emerged that the soldiers will no longer be dismissed but organized into new battalions. Thank god for that, if it is true.
Did you know that as of now Mackey Sall has deployed over a thousand ruthless Senegalese combatants to the Gambia to lay siege of the Jola-Region of Foni, where President Jammeh was born and raised? When the villagers of expressed their dismay and organized a peaceful protest over why the siege on them, the trigger-happy outlaws opened fire on the unarmed crowd and killed one Harona Jatta a father and head of a family in the village. Up to this day not a single attempt was made to investigate the incident, let alone to explore how to compensate the family for Jatta’s wrongful death.
These undesirable soldiers have been behaving lawlessly, arresting Gambian commercial drivers and confiscating their vehicles in the name of prosecuting smugglers, a responsibility I thought was for the Gambia police or at least for the Gambia immigration department. Gambian courts have recently passed a ruling for the Senegalese forces to release the unlawfully confiscated vehicles to their owners, but even President Barrow cannot get them to respect the verdict with President Sall now being urged to intervene. The Senegalese troops in the Gambia are not governed by our laws.
I have said that the current government has dismissed all Jola ministers and doesn’t show any interest in hiring anyone again with the same purge happening at our foreign missions where all Jolas were either recalled or fired.
But get this Doctor Chambas, a Janneh Commission of enquiry composed of controversial characters was formed to investigate “corrupt practices” of the APRC or Jammeh government since he took over power in 1994. They flouted the entrenched constitutional clause that forbids any investigation of the activities of the junta from 1994 to 1996 when the old constitution was suspended and replaced by decrees. But again, the commission excluded all Jola participation; and by the end of its mandate, the Gambians were left flabbergasted by the magnitude of corruption in selling or auctioning the numerous confiscated properties of Jammeh, the state and that of the APRC political party. Many items were disposed of in a dubious manner that the country is yet to understand fully.
We also started a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) that looked or functioned nowhere like the type you had in Ghana, in South Africa or in Rwanda. Can you imagine the South African TRC having to obsessively and compulsively focus on demonizing and criminalizing white South Africans for the role white people played in perpetuating apartheid for close to a century and expect a genuine reconciliation to have happened there? Just fancy the white South Africans being denied senior positions in the government coupled with their residences placed under military siege indefinitely. Ghana didn’t do that to any tribe associated with the brutal regime of former Jerry Rawlings. You know what I am talking about because you served in Rawlings’ government diligently for years. But Doctor Chambers, whether you realize it or not that is the nightmare Jolas are facing in the Gambia today while President Mackey Sall pretends as if he doesn’t know what the hell is going on. He could on a single phone call tell Barrow to stop the nonsense from especially the TRRC and it would happen instantly; but he seems to be enjoying the drama of the Gambians fighting each other while he entrenches his influence and control over us. Troops guarding Barrow now are Senegalese. Is that normal Doctor?
However, as usual, no Jola member was selected for the TRRC. Hence, Jolas are the main target portrayed as murderers, rapists, psychopaths and all kinds of undesirable characters.
And last but not the least, you must be cognizant of the “Jolaless” Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) established three years ago to craft a new constitution to replace the 1997 one and its unsuccessful aftermath. A venture further aimed at delegitimizing the previous one by misinforming the world that it was Jammeh, the Jola’s personal document designed to destroy the Gambia and oppress its people;, no wonder, it ended up as if the Gods were there to expose the whole trickery. After all, one could argue that like all progressive constitutions, the world over, the 1997 constitution was amended here and there; however, considering the caliber and credibility of the chairman of the commission that drafted it in 1996, Dr. Gabriel Roberts and some of his God-fearing assistants such as the late Bishop Telewa Johnson whose finished work was overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum, branding the bill as President Jammeh’s production was totally disingenuous. Upon their failure to achieve a generally acceptable bill culminating into its failure to pass at the National Assembly, several Gambians now believe that the initiative was all about extorting a whopping D116 million from the Gambia’s meager financial resources. That the document was prepared with a hidden agenda and some portions disgracefully plagiarized from the Kenyan constitution. The Gambia is therefore left with no choice but to manage with the APRC/Jammeh/Jola-friendly 1997 constitution.
Yes, the country that you said was going to be united for a better future after Jammeh was out has never been this politically and tribally divided. Those in support of the new draft constitution and those against it have drawn daggers for a potential mortal combat. Amazingly, the government that instituted and tasked the CRC into the laborious exercise is now showing every sign of disapproving the bill while the opposition parties including the UDP still led by Lawyer Darbo deemed the downvoting a national betrayal and disaster. It’s like a political timing bomb ticking before its major explosion
By the way, cognizant of your ever proactive role to butt in as the UN special Rep for the region, why the silence at this crucial moment given the part you enthusiastically played in making the Gambia what it is today? I didn’t see or hear you this time conducting press conferences in that hoarse voice telling the world what you expect from the Gambia government or else……
The UN, UK, USA and EU have all urged the Gambian lawmakers to endorse the draft constitution which didn’t resonate well with supporters of the government and by extension the government itself. Do you know the position of the master conspirator Mackey Sall on the situation? What has happened to the significance of multilateralism that must be respected, no matter what? Oh I know, this is an internal affair, right?
But Doctor Chambas, I don’t know how you are going to react to my letter, but I want you to bear this in mind. Your whole theory of turning the Gambia into a better country after helping Mackey Sall remove the APRC government is turning into disappointment of monumental proportion. You were one person at the UN who acknowledged the fact that the Gambia’s 2016 election results were tainted when the IEC came out three days later with a second set of results, but your anger with Jammeh for betraying your trust as a friend, overshadowed your sense of judgment and corrupted your professional fortitude into aligning with the devil. So It looks like everything is falling apart and requires your urgent intervention.
The Janneh Commission has failed followed by the CRC and without doubt the TRRC will fail too for not being founded on a positive creed and has therefore divided the nation politically and tribally with the Jolas most targeted.
I am afraid Barrow is too slow for my liking or is not up to the task of the kind of leadership Gambia needs now. He seems happy with the sycophants around him assuring him that he could rule the Gambia for 1 billion years if Allah says so. So far, I understand he believes he could at least stay in office for fifteen years because the monk that once prophesied that Jammeh would rule the country for 22 years had shown up at the Statehouse with similar message of his fifteen years tenure..
He should have suspended the TRRC slated to resume in early October to continue their vilification and criminalization of the members of the Jola tribe, not knowing any other way to demonize former President Jammeh.
The APRC party regardless of the unfair treatment they endured since Jammeh departed, maintained a formidable level of discipline and even showed openness to cooperate with the Barrow government, but the man doesn’t seem to understand any of that. There is a pandemic compounding all our problems today with people dying at record numbers, unemployment rising, health care inadequate, confidence in government dwindling, closing diplomatic missions and recalling diplomats from abroad, the Janneh Commssion a failure, the CRC a failure and the government still can’t see the senselessness in wasting more time and resources in encouraging hate-driven retards trying to destroy the legacy of former president Jammeh-no longer relevant to our plight- and members of his ethnic group, the Jolas. It’s like beating a dead horse with no prospect of recovery from the madness. That ends my letter Doctor.
Hope to see you whenever I return to New York, if you wouldn’t mind.
BANJUL, THE GAMBIA