Commentary: The “Village Idiots” Are Patriotic Gambians Too
Last Friday’s press conference called by the spokesperson of the government of The Gambia was to brief the media on the progress made so far with the Security Sector reform. But it did not take long for some officials at the high table to go personal with rants that exteriorize all the bad feelings and the allergy they’ve developed towards journalists and journalism in The Gambia. Visibly, some very nervous government ministers have problems fitting in the coat of Democracy.
Sheikh Omar Faye believes that journalists peddle a lot of lies
It all started when a journalist was discoursed by the government’s spokesperson what and how he should ask questions, after the reporter raised some uncomfortable queries about Hamat Bah’s remarks on Fulas and the National Security Adviser being cited at the TRRC as witness to human rights abuses years ago.
The answers to these questions could have been: “The National Security Adviser has been cleared by a TRRC investigation that found the allegations levelled against him to be false” or “Our belief is that Hamat Bah’s comments may be problematic, but they are insufficient enough to constitute a threat to national security”.
Instead the minister of Defense, in a very paternal tone, began by lecturing journalists at the press conference his understanding of media freedom. Unfortunately the irrelevant theories the minister tried promoting lacked merit and instead showed his limited understanding of the very lessons he tried to instill to journalists in The Gambia. Lesson one from Sheikh Omar Faye, “he is a Gambian”, as if anyone in the conference room called him a Russian.
“My first advice is you people are very young, calm down we have called you in. That answers the question on your president our president. Thank God that we are now talking to ourselves as Gambians. Let us appreciate what’s going on. You need to calm down ask your questions we will answer them, we are all Gambians. We don’t come here for confrontation”.
From his display of how good a Gambian he is, the “mature experienced” minister of Defense’s unnecessary lecture to the “very young” journalists turned into some soft intimidation remarks to which he added a series of allegations depicting journalists as liars. One would think that it was Yahya Jammeh spewing his anti-media rhetoric on GRTS. “We have been to press conferences in different parts of Africa here. I’ve not seen journalists just coming aggressive. They ask their question. So please I want to appeal to all of you. Let us concentrate on the facts. These were directives from the Commander in chief at a Security Council meeting that it’s important to start to share with the population because there is a lot of disinformation and lot of undermining, and lot of lies. It’s better for people to come out and put the record straight”, Sheikh Omar Faye said.
The last aspect of Sheikh Omar Faye’s remarks was blended with a confusing but subtle form of appeal to my colleagues that the must only resolve to ask non-confrontational questions. “So let us treat each other with dignity and respect. “If you speak I’ll listen. But you are asking a question about what Hamat Bah has said. Has that got something to do with our national security? Yes, it does. But not to our level yet. The ministry of Interior will handle that”.
Ebrima Sankareh very angry with “village idiots” after him
The host and organizer of the press conference had also his instant of glory to spit venom to his perceived enemies. Now, remember that the press conference was about telling the media that the national security sector reform is in progress. But this dose of temper tantrum of Ebrima Sankareh against those he calls “village idiots” is worth being put on record.
“We also people who sit at home and deliberately, just to caricature or say something bad, just invent a good tale about me or anybody and just peddle it on social media. I was in Ethiopia two years ago. […] Today you can have a village idiot sit anywhere across the world and just by the button of his computer or his mobile phone, he spreads some Sms around the world. Before coming here somebody forwarded me a text message by some person who has sent a message out there that he want people to come out there, go on social media and just be sabotaging what we are doing.
What followed looked like the Spokesperson of the government of The Gambia clearing telling journalists that he has eye marked some of my colleagues as saboteurs and enemies. Like his colleague Sheikh Omar Faye, Ebrima Sankareh, is another good great unflinching Gambian. “I know most of you, some of you are live. Maybe even the little exchange I have with him, I’ve been insulted all over. Yes, that is the new realm of journalism. For me, I have developed a thick skin. You can go to every radio station every day and insult my mother, insult my father, insult me my family, I don’t really care. Because I know one thing. Nobody is more Gambian than I am”.
Yankuba Sonko says journalists shaved the walls in 2016
Without mentioning names of individuals of media outlets, Yankuba Sonko said some journalists do not like him and would not miss any chance to black paint him. “There are some news media that I’m not mentioning now. Because what they’re saying, I will be part of something and they’re saying a wrong thing in that thing. Imagine if I am in this meeting and something is said here, it’s obvious to me about what is said here”.
It’s important here to recall that Yankuba Sonko was the Inspector general of Police whose men arrested Solo Sandeng and handed him over to his murderers. Yankuba Sonko was the IG whose men spent over six months roaming the streets of the Gambia, arresting and beating anyone asking for electoral reforms and the liberation of the political prisoners Yahya Jammeh abducted.
Of these painful episodes of Gambia’s history, Yankuba Sonko choses to remind journalists that when Yahya Jammeh refused to relinquish power, journalists were shaving the walls. In a sense it’s like telling journalists “You know me very well. When I served Yahya Jammeh, none of you dared me”. But this is the subtle way Yankuba Sonko put it to my colleagues: “It’s only in a peaceful atmosphere that you can operate. I witness the impasse here and journalist were not out. So let us pray for peace and stability in this country. What we’re seeing now is not healthy for your profession and also for the nation” he added.
All the anger and reference to his record under Yahya Jammeh is because a media house, Yankuba Sonko’s would not mention though, alleged that he was drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis. “I have seen somebody made mention of, yes I have drunk. I have never drink in my life. For somebody to say I used to fell down in the street? That person did not know me. That I have smoked cannabis. I have never in my life… So what sort of journalists are we talking of, what sort of information are we… And people are publishing that?”
Clearly, a mindset and defensive reflex of “defanteh” has grown and is deeply being rooted in some of these close collaborators of President Adama Barrow. It started exactly like that with Yahya Jammeh. Incompetent ministers who would not accept to be called for who they are will continue to lobby for less transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs. Gambian journalists may be young and immature, but they love their country. They will continue to ask the questions that matter and dig deep to get to the truth.