Saturday, November 30, 2013

Another state-sponsored murder

The frequency with which senior Gambia government officials, including state security agents, are being killed in what the dictatorship always claim as 'vehicular accidents' has reached an alarming rate, giving us reason to pause and ask when will it all end.

The first staged "accident" occurred at the early stages of the military coup with the death of Mr. Koro Ceesay who was the civilian Finance Minister in the midst of a military junta that was struggling to transform themselves into a civilian outfit while battling for legitimacy in the face of a hostile international community.  Like the members of the military ruling council, the Finance Minister was young with limited experience in government.  However, armed with a far superior educational background, he quickly established himself as an influential member of a junta that was increasingly viewing the Minister as overly ambitious.  Since this was Gambia's first experience with military rule, everyone had a learning curve of sorts to deal with, some individuals' curves were steeper than others.

Something happened prior to or during his travels to Abuja, then to Lagos to meet with the Nigerian Petroleum Minister and his return to Banjul's Yundum Airport.  He was last seen alive at the same Airport on 22nd May 1996 a couple of days after his return from his Nigerian trip where he attended the African Development Bank Group's Board of Governors Meetings Annual Meetings.  The subject of Koro Ceesay's meeting with the Nigerian Petroleum Minister in Lagos is a matter of speculation to this day to the very few privy of this information.  What is known is that he was accompanied to Lagos from Abuja by a senior Gambian official.  

After seeing Jammeh off at the airport in the evening of the 22nd May 1966, it was alleged that driving home, Minister Ceesay was lured by other members of the junta to a residential dwelling where he was clubbed to death with a baseball bat, his lifeless body placed in his car before torching it.  His burnt car was found in a deserted rural road with his charred remains inside.  Those who visited the scene where the purported accident took place were able to notice immediately that it was a staged scene even without the benefit of forensic autopsy.  Gambia, under the current regime, is where autopsies in cases involving the security forces are not allowed.  The state determines when one is needed, and in what form and its extent.  The junta has traded their uniforms for civilian clothes but they have not traded their violent ways. To this date, the families, friends and colleagues of the Minister have not been provided with a satisfactory explanation of the cause of death of a promising young man.  

Numerous, mysterious, and often unexplained deaths, have taken place since the military seized power in July of 1994.  Included among these were the executions of the former Director General of the notorious National Intelligence Agency, Mr. Daba Marena, Lieutenant Alieu Ceesay, Warrant Officer Alpha Bah, Sergeant Manlafi Corr and Lieutenant Ebou Lowe who the regime claimed to have escaped while being transported to an up-country prison while shackled, cuffed with armed guards galore. When the regime left the populace wondering who concocted such an implausible story, they explained that the truck was involved in an accident, and so while the guards and driver were busy tending to the accident victims their prisoners fled with their shackles, cuffs and all.  Not a single of the men was captured.  In the end, the regime knew that their story did not fly even with the most politically disengaged Gambians.

Captain Ello Jallow was, unfortunately, one more in a long line of victims of this brutal regime.  The army captain was the personal body guard of Mrs. Yaya Jammeh.  They had just returned from one of their frequent trips to America when he was accosted in a back road, his car ran off the road, he was dragged from his his car, assaulted, his neck broken, his pockets emptied of money and valuables, including his watch and his body left in the car as another car accident victim.   Again, no autopsy was performed on the body which was rushed under armed guard to the victims village for burial. The security accompanying the body stood by, as if to be certain that the body was buried, and not subject to further inspection by the family for tell-tail signs.  

The latest victim of staged accidental death is that of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands, Malamin Jatta, which occurred as recent as 29 November, 2013.  He was on an official trip up-country when he was provided with a new driver and a new security detail, both of whom he did not know or had ever seen before.  It is not yet clear whether he objected to the switcheroo run on him by a deceitful group of individuals in the regime.  Senior officials, especially Heads of Ministries and Departments are allocated cars with designated drivers.  In the event of any change in the status quo, the choice of drivers and assigned security details are normally left at the discretion of the official.  But in this curious case, the Permanent Secretary was left with no option but to either drive hundreds of miles under treacherous road conditions with total strangers or refuse to make the trip.  He chose the former which proved fatal because just by Jammeh's home village junction of Kanilai, the car the officer was travelling was reportedly involved in an accident that killed him.  The driver and the security both survived as it is invariably the case.  It is being reported that the Permanent Secretary had intimate knowledge of some of the controversial land deals involving the Gambian dictator.  As word got out that the Permanent Secretary was driven to his death by total strangers, and before he was buried, the security agents sprang into action and started arresting and questioning the victims family members.  This is a typical intimidatory technique employed to force family members to clam up or face torture and subsequent imprisonment.

When will all the madness end?  It will end only when the regime ceases to exist.  If anything, the killing spree will increase, rather than decrease, as the end of the dying regime gets closer.  Dictatorships sometimes end as chaotically as they began. Mussolini, Hitler, Saddam Hussein just to name a few examples away from the continent of Africa that is synonymous with dictatorships.  Gambians must brace themselves for things to come. There will be more imprisonments, more disappearances, more staged murders and other forms of repression against a defenseless population before the regime collapses under its own weight, accelerated by economic decline and increased diplomatic isolation.  There are already signs that the economy is on a steady decline as external aid declines, and businesses and investors flee to friendlier destinations like Senegal and countries in the region.