July 22, 1994 Coup of Infamy and the Tortured Remnants of a Battered State

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By EBRIMA G. SANKAREH, Editor-in-Chief 

As we reflect on the July 22,1994 coup that brought us infamy, blatant banditry and state-sanctioned murders and disappearances of political enemies—real, perceived or potential; but largely a reflection of paranoia, it is instructive to dissect the AFPRC-APRC disease that plagued our state for 22 painful years.

History, that rich repository of human events and deeds—good, bad and evil, has evidence aplenty of the acts of deadly despots that bear striking parallels to the July 22, 1994 coup and its scoundrels that ripped off the Gambian state of its innocence and for 22 years henceforth, unleashed unprecedented suffering and misery to a once peaceful people and their calm polity. Oh dear, ‘how green is my valley? Things are no longer so!’

In his cautionary examination of the eighteen century absolutist, French monarch, Louis Philippe, and his reign of terror on France, the English statesman, scholar and chronicler, T. B. Macaulay lucidly reveals:

“An ancient and deeply rooted system of abuses has been fiercely attacked and great king has been measured more justly than it was measured by the courtiers who were afraid to look above his shoe-tie. His public character has been scrutinized by men free from the hopes and fears of Boileau and Moliere. In the grave, the most majestic of princes is only five feet eight. In history, the hero and politician dwindles into a vein and feeble tyrant,—the slave of priests and women—little in war, little in government,—little in everything but the art of stimulating greatness. He left to his…successor a famished and miserable people, a beaten and humbled army, provinces turned into deserts by misgovernment and persecution, factions dividing the court, a schism raging…, an immense debt, an empty treasury, immeasurable  palaces, an innumerable household, inestimable jewels and furniture. All the sap and nutrients of the state seemed to have been drawn to feed one bloated and unwholesome excrescence.”

Just like Yaya Jammeh’s perceived mysteriousness before the December 2016 presidential election that banished him to obscurity, no person in his right mind dared to challenge the French despot whose legacy Macaulay so poignantly captures above. The despot was so evil that no person could tell his exact height as no one dared looked beyond his shoe laces, yet at dead, he was simply an ordinary mortal, measuring 5-feet 8-inches tall. And like Yaya Jammeh, though still alive in Equatorial Guinea, constantly contemplating his fate, this is how the history books remember him: ‘In history, the hero and politician dwindles into a vein and feeble tyrant,—the slave of priests and women—little in war, little in government,—little in everything but the art of stimulating greatness.’

Juxtaposed against Louis Philippe’s ruthlessness, the parallels are more striking than otherwise. Like the French King, Yaya Jammeh is a convulsive womaniser with a propensity to occult science just as the French monarch was a slave to women and priests. Also, like the French despot, the Kanilai serial murderer personifies an austere village lad turned rapacious rapist, a paranoid schizophrenic, a quasi-schooled mediocre who exudes the most shameful intellectual pretences anchored in a quackery of HIV-AIDS, asthma and hypertension healing prowess and a litany of unrelenting pedantic demagoguery that obviously qualify him for admission to a mental institution. For if ever a man requires psychiatric evaluation, he is Yaya Jammeh-end of sentence!

Significantly, unlike the French despot who inherited power from his father, The Gambia’s vein and feeble tyrant descended on the political scene on that fateful Friday, July 22, 1994 with a band of bandits promising magic solutions to a teething nation’s perennial struggles with  institutional corruption, greed and wanting infrastructural problems. For a political panacea, they prescribed a trinity anchored in ‘transparency, accountability and probity’; sexy political verbiage that almost immediately eclipsed this once oasis of a democracy, the very evening they were aired on the privately owed—Radio One FM.

Curiously, only a few years later, the fellow whose radio they seized to announce their coup, George Christensen (R.I.P), would become a victim of targeted assassination when a gang of arsonists was despatched to wreak havoc on him and staff. Thanks to the journalists’  combined bravery, the bandits finally fled the scene leaving behind a scene of immense destruction and injuring George and some staff. In the intervening years, similar scenes of state-orchestrated criminality exacerbated as Mr. Jammeh abandoned ship and became an increasingly isolated despot with a less than charismatic disposition. By now, he has locked up Captains Sabally and Haidara; the duo the Foroyaa newspaper called the junta’s ‘power dynamo’ at the time of their arrest on another fateful Friday that Dr. Lenrie Peter’s National Consultative Commission (NCC) submitted its hastily written report  paving the path for a return to constitutional democracy. Mr. Jammeh, a pathological liar had wanted to stay for four years, but the Peters’ Commission decreed two years.

I still retain vivid memories of that seemingly inexplicable, tense calmness of that fateful Friday with the Gambian sky unusually blue, when the khaki boys; a band of renegade lieutenants (or were they boy scouts?), struck. Led by a ravenous raccoon, Yaya A.J.J Jammeh; a hitherto unknown political quantity desperate for greatness seized power, ending almost three decades of one-man PPP rule under Sir Dawda K. Jawara. Under Jawara, Gambians enjoyed a latitude of freedoms. Political witch hunts, politically-motivated arrests, incommunicado detentions and disappearances were anathema to PPP-era politics.

Like a cataclysm, the bandits ferociously swept away power that was legitimately derived by the democratic will of the Gambian people as the 29 year army lieutenant, Yaya Jammeh, catapulted himself to the pinnacle of political power and within weeks, unconscientious legal hands decreed draconian decrees with unprecedented prolificity.

With power forcefully consolidated, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) proceeded on a systematic usurpation of power, wholescale arrests of journalists, the decimation of all democratic institutions followed shortly, by a catalogue of arrests,  incommunicado detentions, torture and later, killings, political assassinations and disappearances.

When the coup was first announced, the junta was composed of four hispid lieutenants—Yaya A.J.J. Jammeh, Sana B. Sabally, Edward David Singhateh and Sadibou Haidara and two days later, a Malian born clown, Lieutenant Yankuba Kabineh Touray, from Farafenni army barracks, was added to the gang that would proceed to unleash the most audacious authoritarianism on Gambian citizens.

First, they began arresting senior elements of the security forces like Ebrima Ismaila Chongan, now a published British barrister and several of his colleagues accused of complicity to crush the coup. For the next two years, the junta transformed the state penitentiary, Mile II Prisons, into a Gulag-like facility where the Council members tortured their former colleagues both physically and psychologically with mocked executions routinely performed.

On November 11, 1994, the junta summarily executed several soldiers accused of a counter coup and the callousness with which these soldiers were killed and buried in abandoned old Yundum College pit latrines, speaks of atavistic barbarity and captures the feral disposition of some of the Council members who were drunk with hate and megalomania and terribly lacking in basic human defcency; worrisome characteristics they all exude throughout AFPRC-APRC’s reign of terror.

The human butchery of the Yaya Jammeh killing machine only intensified. His next victim would be a young and affable Finance minister, Ousman Koro Ceesay, who on Jammeh’s orders was allegedly executed on June 23, 1995 by Edward David Singhateh and his brother, Peter Singhateh, in the presence of Yankuba Touray at Touray’s house as Jammeh jetted to Addis Ababa, to attend the OAU summit meeting. In classic Shakespearean tragedy, the executioners were sent to represent the junta leader and the sight of Edward  Singhateh eulogising his tragic victim, Koro Ceesay, whose charred remains were found in his burnt out ministerial Mercedes, in the woods of Farato, continues to hunt me to this day. Singhateh promised that they were going to investigate if it were an accident or criminal conspiracy. Well, it’s been 23 years hence and no investigation yet!

Will Adama Barrow’s government investigate Ousman Koro Ceesay’s most macabre murder or is his government so preoccupied with alleged financial impropriety by a fleeing despot and his coterie of enablers; a despot whose regime left our nation badly battered and bleeding?

Continuing their atrocious path, the junta that has since morphed into a quasi-military regime, APRC, mercilessly slew a dozen schoolchildren on April 10-11, 2000, leaving several more maimed and following an investigation that found the state culpable, the despotic regime, in a classic show of insensitivity, decreed laws that in Gambian legal parlance “immunised the criminals” from any potential criminal inquiry/prosecution.

As a cancer that has metastasized, the last ten years of Yaya Jammeh/APRC reign of terror can be aptly characterised as a decade of decadence, malfeasance and harrowing barbarity that hundreds more would fall victim to either advertently or accidently.

The Point Newspaper’s  Chief Editor, journalist Deyda Hydara, one of the most prolific and intrepid chroniclers of the despotic regime and its excesses was murdered on December 16, 2004 for consistently speaking truth to power and today,  Hydara’s alleged murderers, Sana Manjang (probably Gambia’s most notorious murderer) and Kawsu Camara (a.k.a Bombardier); an errant soldier with clownish bravado, are at large following a bench warrant for their apprehension.

Lest we forget, exactly a year before the killing of Deyda Hydara, Gambian barrister, Ousman Sillah, narrowly escaped political assassination  as he drove home following a night wedding he had attended in Banjul as Jammeh’s lethal bandits lay waiting by his gated home in Bakau. His crime? He had zealously defended Baba Kajali Jobe, President Jammeh’s key lieutenant after Jobe reportedly ran afoul of the depot. Sillah, an accomplished barrister with several years of prior military/police experience to his belt, feigned dead behind the wheels of his car until the criminals had fled the scene. He was airlifted to Dakar and would later settle in my adopted home city, Raleigh, NC with vexing tales of a disappeared kidney.

Added to this carnage is the arrest in June 2006 at the Gambian border village of Amdalaye of some 44 West African immigrants, mostly Ghanaians en route to Europe. Ferried to Banjul by the Gambian Navy, almost all of them were later liquidated in a fashion reminiscent of the Khmer Rouge killing fields of Communist Cambodia under Pol Pot’s totalitarian regime that butchered close to 3 million citizens. Eyewitnesses interviewed by The Gambia Echo, revealed that some who attempted to escape were shot in the head and like sacrificial rams, cut into pieces with sharp machetes; their remains put in sacs to demonstrate their love for and loyalty to Yaya Jammeh; the self-ordained redeemer, a shameless Sheikh who beneath the façade of rosaries and the Quran, drank large quantities of champagne bottles wrapped in APRC party regalia.

The unparalleled summary execution of nine inmates on or about August 23, 2012 mostly political prisoners among them three army Lieutenants: Alieu Bah, Lamin Jammeh and Lamin Sanyang  and the Senegalese lady, Tamba Samba, constitutes a cardinal chapter in the APRC/Yaya Jammeh criminal enterprise.

The arrest, subsequent disappearances or deaths of UDP supporter Kanyiba Kanyi, Daily Observer journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh, NIA spy Chief Daba Marenah, Lieutenants Ebou Lowe and Modou Alieu Ceesay, Sgt. Alpha Jallow, Staff Sgt. Manlafi Corr, Saul Ndow, Mahawa Cham, Colonel Ndure Cham, Sgt. Ello Jallow, Solo Sandeng and many, many more Gambians and none Gambians alike, is part of the heart-breaking saga of Yaya Jammeh/APRC’s crime scene; a scene so dark, so vast and so deep that years of investigations may not bring us to a closure.

Thus like a doomed airliner whose crash is inevitable, both Yaya Jammeh and his APRC political machine were dealt a severe political blow that shattered his 22 years of arrogance, searing impunity and remorseless barbarity as he violently raped and shamed our women, tortured, murdered and disappeared innocents. And so when he finally fled the crime scene, he leaves behind the tortured remnants of a battered state sanctioned by the July 22, 1994 coup of infamy; an event worthy of nothing less than a burial in the abyss of historical nothingness as its leader, Yaya Jammeh is an utterly failed despot who depleted our resources, ruined our country, soiled our reputation and left us bankrupt with scattered dots of cement blocks here and there.

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