In Somita, a village in Foni Brefet District, Musa Camara alias Flag Man is busy planting green flags (of the former ruling Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction – APRC party) next to Democracy, an open square inaugurated by the villagers sometime ago as a spot for political and other discussions. This is also where they vent their anger and frustration at the current government and its policies.
Until former president Yahya Jammeh’s exit, Somita was a very significant village for him and his party. He enjoyed overwhelming support and votes there throughout his rule. July 22 (the anniversary of the coup that brought him to power in 1994) was always a great festive moment for the people of Somita. They’d gather at the village square, sing the name of Jammeh, dance to the tunes, eat and renew their loyalty to him and his government. But what Somita was distinctively known for was its love affair with the green flag of the APRC. Two-and-a-half years after Jammeh flew into exile, there are more green flags across Somita today than when he was around.
At the heart of the flag planting is Musa Camara, a local farmer who is fanatical about Jammeh and APRC. For more than two decades, flag planting has been a crusade for him.
“This has always been a personal goal for me; to plant more green flags, spread the popularity of APRC and show love to Jammeh,” he tells The Chronicle. “No one appointed me to do this job. I’ve been doing it voluntarily with my own resources. I do it because of my respect for the July 22nd revolution and the change it brought to us thanks to Yahya Jammeh.”
Anyone driving along the TransGambia highway to Jarra through Somita will easily notice at least one hundred flags standing tall along the road. Most of them are planted by Camara.
“It’s called loyalty. Jammeh was a good leader who did everything for this country. I will ever remain loyal to him and I don’t hide that from anyone,” he says.
Camara’s latest flag planting was on the eve of this year’s July 22nd anniversary, an occasion dear to his heart. “On an occasion like this, I like to contribute towards the growth and development of APRC by planting more trees and reflecting on the good work our leader and our party did for this country.”
Since Jammeh’s departure in January 2017, the people of Somita and the rest of the APRC membership have not been able to publicly celebrate the anniversary of the July 22nd coup after their first application for permit to do so was rejected by the police for “security reasons”. But that does not take away the emotional attachment the people of Somita have for their historic day.
“We will continue to celebrate this day in our own ways because it is part of our history and nobody in this country can deny this fact,” says Bala Jammeh, the Chairman of Somita APRC branch and the Deputy Secretary General of the APRC West Coast Region wing. “The 22nd July revolution is worth celebrating in all senses for it has brought numerous high schools, hospitals, roads and a television station to The Gambia for the first time.”
In the absence of a big fanfare, Bala Jammeh and his compatriots in Somita will recite the Quran to pray for the ex-leader and his party. “The revolution has impacted on every sphere of The Gambian economy, ranging from education, health and agriculture to entrepreneurship. If it wasn’t for the July 22nd revolution, Gambians would still have been in darkness today,” he tells The Chronicle.
Ex-president Jammeh has been accused of gross human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and systematic use of brute force against opponents. On the issue of corruption, testimonies from the Janneh Commission revealed how he allegedly looted the national economy to the brink of collapse. But for his supporters in Somita, those allegations are nothing but a spirited campaign of calumny against their leader.
“Jammeh is a man of God and he did everything for this country. They will always try to tarnish his image but God will not let them win,” says Fatou Gitteh, the Chairperson of APRC’s women wing in Somita.
Saikou Sanyang, a Jammeh supporter accuses the Barrow government of failing to fulfill its promises and of witch hunting the APRC, citing seizure of assets belonging to Jammeh. According to him, the government’s plan is to frustrate APRC supporters and destroy the party, but he argues that any plan to stop the party will fail.
“I think they have now realised that they cannot disintegrate the support base of the APRC in Foni particularly Somita. They have tried everything to lure the people but we the people of Foni are not fools and no amount of money can change us. We are forever loyal to Jammeh and APRC.”
Sanyang also argues that by celebrating July 22nd, Gambians are recognizing the infrastructural projects put in place by the former president.
“The revolution should be celebrated everyday because whole country is enjoying good roads, hospitals, electricity and water because of the July 1994 coup.”
For Musa Camara, his happiness lies in the number of flags he’s able to put up across Somita.
“I’ll forever be loyal to our leader. If I’m able to continue to plant more flags in his honour, that’s my loyalty, and I’m happy,” he says.