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My incomplete mission: From the Gambia to the States

My intention to remain in my home country, to use my pen to correct injustice, and to champion press freedom was aborted by security threats that forced me and my family into exile. I left behind my beloved country and editorial desk in the hands of perpetrators.  

I had been a journalist for a decade in the Gambia without a brush with the government until June 2001, when I and 11 other colleagues threw in the towel at the Daily Observer newspaper after the government attempted to interfere with our editorial policy. I still practiced until April 2005 when I was appointed the editor-in-chief of The Independent, a biweekly paper known for being outspoken. The unsolved December 2004 assassination of a leading Gambian journalist, Deyda Hydara, by then had virtually paralyzed independent journalism and created an editorial vacuum.

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Journalists in Exile 2009

With a strong desire to serve a news-hungry population, I closed my ears to a warning that I would be "sitting on a ticking time bomb." And with a vibrant editorial team, the paper became hot again, regaining its footing in the market. Murmurs started filling the air. All eyes focused on me. People kept telling me, "Your editorials are too itchy."

A trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2005 to attend the African Editor's Forum, where I handed over a petition to the country's former president, Thabo Mbeki, expressing concern about our volatile media environment, was the beginning of my trouble. I was arrested by security agents who interrogated me, questioned my nationality, and accused me of being a traitor.

Since the arrest, the government was looking for an appropriate moment to pick me up again. Of course, there was none better than a purported coup on March 21, whose aftermath saw the mass arrest of the government's perceived enemies. Arrested by a group of heavily armed security officers on March 27, I was whisked into a Land Rover that drove to the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency in the capital, Banjul.

I wasn't told the reason for the arrest, but I was assured it had "no connection" to the foiled coup. I was, however, jailed alongside two people allegedly involved in the coup. Those 22 days in detention included three nights of systematic physical and mental torture that left scars all over my body as well as my hand broken in three places.

The government did not want to set me free, but finally bowed to Thabo Mbeki's threats of not only boycotting the African Union Summit in The Gambia, but also withholding his country's more than monetary contribution to the summit. I decided to flee the country with my wife three weeks after my release, for security and medical reasons. All the doctors I had approached refused to examine me, let alone treat me. One doctor gave me painkillers and asked me to leave. "Who knows whether my office is being monitored right now," he said.

We spent two and a half years in Dakar, Senegal, amid insecurity and nostalgia. Four months later, the African Editor's Forum contracted me to do research on Africa's restrictive media laws for four months. In the same October, afrol News Agency named me the head of their West Africa department. 

We were resettled in the United States--in Michigan--on November 4, 2008, and have been living a normal life, though freezing temperatures and several inches of snow have taken a great toll on us. Our resettlement process was smooth, especially with the help of our agency and its sponsors who network us with people in all walks of life. I have yet to start working in journalism again.

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Comments

I must join my brother and friend Musa to give thanks to God for safely escaping from the witched hands of Yahya Jammeh. I for knows very well what you went through, for had spend six months together while in exile in Dakar. Where we were continuesly living in threats. I recalled you (Musa) have to change your residence for times in ten months. For fear that you and your family could be kidnaped from Dakar. A plan that i survived.
I wish you well.

Yaya Dampha
Sweden

Mos good luck to you. am dying to see your writings again after so long in the wilderness.
keep it up i wish you all the best of luck

Muhammed Lamin Juwara July 11, 2009 3:35:08 PM ET

Its great hearing from colleagues about their horrible experiences about the regrettable political situation in The Gambia.

To my believe, we still as Gambians have a responsibility to bring back things to normal, wherever we are.

Even if the West or any other country is to help, Gambians have to be the front liners. I know a lot of efforts have been done by fellow Gambians here in The Gambia and abroad since the advent of dictator jammeh who is forcing himself into power.

One thing am certain of is even must of those rallying behind jammeh are doing it for their daily breads because they do not have alternative. But I am very much concern that if Gambians ignore their legitimate duties and responsibilities in ensuring that jammeh complies with the fundamental guiding principles of rule of law, he will be happy to use the opportunity against us, and continue to exploit us in his favour, so long as we allow him to do so.

It is very very important, and it is time now that Gambians forget about personal differences and concentrate on common interest. Lets adopt the principle of the Nation's interest first before our individual interest to forge ahead.

Today, the EU, USA, among others are strong and successful because they are united. Africa has been struggling for unity for many years, where are we today? The fact is if we cannot be together as one, if we cannot accept one another as fellow human beings, from one God, belong to one world, it will be very hard to come together. And the more we are divided the more it will be difficult to have the peace we are looking for.

I pray for the day when all Gambians both here in the country, or elsewhere around the world join hearts together, speak with one voice, wishing each other peace, love one another, care for one another, respect one another- to fight against evil- yahya jammeh who is largely contributing to the division of The Gambia population.

PEACE AND LOVE TO YOU ALL. TO MUSA, A BROTHER AND COLLEAGUE IN THE FIELD, I SAY SORRY FOR THE UNFORTUNATE TREATMENT METED OUT TO YOU BY YOUR OWN FELLOW GAMBIAN BROTHERS AT THE NIA HEADQUARTERS IN BANJUL. I WISH TO SEE A SECOND SUCCESSFUL CASE AGAINST THE APRC GOVERNMENT AT THE ECOWAS COURT IN ABUJA, NIGERIA.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR GREAT SACRIFICE AND URGE YOU, DAMPHA AND ALL OTHER GAMBIANS TO COME BACK TOGETHER AS ONE AND BRING BACK OUR COUNTRY TO ORDER.

ALLAH IS BY OUR SIDE IF WE ARE UNITED IN GOOD FAITH.

PEACE