The Chronicle Gambia

Dave Manneh to Taf Njie: “We Will Initiate the Legal Challenge But At A Time of Our Choosing”

On January 11, The Chronicle published a video recorded interview with the founder and CEO of TAF Africa Global, Mustapha Njie. 

Njie extensively spoke on the long-growing allegation that he had connived with former Gambian government to acquire several hectares of land without due process in Brufut community ahead of the 2006 AU Summit in Banjul. The facility was constructed by his company and housed several continental leaders who attended the Summit.

The AU Villa in Brufut

In the interview, Njie denied such claims. He challenged any person who feels that his land was forcefully taken from him to take him to court, emphasising that, ‘courts are now very fair, go to the courts’ 

In a letter sent to The Chronicle, Lamin DF Manneh, a Brufut native but currently resident in the United Kingdom reacted to Njie’s comment that the manner the lands were acquired from his family and the community did not follow due process. He said they will challenge the matter in court but at their own preferred timing. 

Read the full statement below… 

Throwing down the gauntlet.

“Courts are Now Very Fair, Go to the Courts”. Do we sense a hint of misplaced overconfidence? I would not have thought it necessary to point out we signalled the intent to do just that. Is it not that public expression of intent Mr Njie is reacting to? Either way, I would like to reassure him that the process will begin at the time of our choosing.   

Without a doubt this was a loaded statement. Through it, he confirms a perception that vested interests calibrated the Gambian judiciary against the unconnected and the unprivileged. It was such collisions that enabled him to build on communal lands without as much as a courtesy call on the traditional landowners. Should we view his statement as an insinuation that he still feels invincible? 

Despite the emotive nature of land debates, it is important everyone remain unemotional – and keep the conversation impersonal. So it is in that light that we should view Mr Njie’s quip that “Courts are Now Very Fair”, as a subjective opinion. I do however appreciate that from his body language, one could infer a barely disguised arrogance, and a sense of untouchability. Personally, I feel it is a mere bluster – and thus deserves dismissal. 

Knowing the history between Mr Njie and my community requires a certain level of self-restraint on my part. Otherwise one would act on reflex, or adapt a sharper tone in response. It is important to remind oneself that the land discussions should be bigger than one community, or one individual. It is also not a simple case of one community pitted against one individual. Therefore, we should broaden the conversation to reflect this. 

Alerting the country to the real potential for civil strife if land disputes do not get addressed is not a scare tactic. The more responsible endeavour therefore should be how to reposition the subject back into the public space. The need to get a national conversation out of what has until now been a dialogue between aggrieved communities on one hand, and the “land prospectors” on the other, is urgent now than ever.  Thus, if, as claimed, the new republic’s ambition is to address the injustices of the Jammeh years, then resolving the Kombo land issues is a deserved candidate. That’s why, though it might seem insignificant, the fact this issue is once again capturing the public’s imagination is a sign of progress. 

Whether deserved or unfair, a section of the public perceives “powerful” Gambians to inhabit a gilded world. A world where a pliant media shows indifference to the injustices they [the powerful clique] engineered – in connivance with Jammeh, or under Jammeh’s protection. It is therefore heart-warming to see a section of the media persevering to ensure an issue of national consequence, is accorded the status it deserves.

Because of the centrality to his arguments, we shall volunteer to jog his memory – pertaining to events which led to the designation of the lands. 

With frequency and through various mediums, Mr Njie goes to great lengths to recollect the sequence of events that led to his acquisition of the Brufut lands. The discrepancy in his recollection is clear – but we should excuse this as genuine forgetfulness. He is no spring chicken after all [tongue in cheek] .

It is vital all focus be centred on issues of substance – issues that require correcting. 

  • The lands in question were NEVER [in] the TDA historically; 
  • Market-price compensation was NEVER paid to the owners; 
  • It was not a case of a willing buyer, willing seller situation. If anything, it was a robbery through a collusive campaign by entrenched interests – who with the machinery of the state at their disposal, mobilised against the community. 

[Re]designation of the lands with the singular aim to include them in the TDA is problematic on many levels. I am surprised anyone would use that argument. In my view, a more honourable approach would be for all concerned to muster up the courage and decency to provide a historical context into how [and importantly, when] the lands were forcefully designated.  

Thus, inescapable questions beg – if the lands were bona fide TDA; 

  • Why was there a need for “compensation”? Let us for convenience’s sake disregard the D250,000 “paid” to the community. That pittance was only offered through the intervention of the community’s lawyers. So, in effect, the community’s loss was manifold: 
      • loss of landed inheritance and;
      • cost of expensive legal representation;
  • Why was the land developed as a residential housing project? The notional understanding of TDA designations being for amenities and facilities geared towards tourism and tourists. 

We are familiar with the existence of an argument of convenience being peddled in some quarters that TDA lands are “government lands”. I am not a lawyer and will not pretend to understand the inner workings of that profession. But the indisputable historical fact remains: “TDA is the 800-metre wide land corridor along the coastline – reserved for tourism development purposes. It was leased to the Jawara government in 1969 by the Kombo North District Authority for a period of 51 years. The lease was subsequently extended to 99 years by the State Lands Act of 1991.” 

The agreement between the coastal Kombo communities and the cultured Jawara regime is a huge contrast to the insolence with which the Jammeh regime acted. The forceful [re]designation and [re]demarcation of communal lands was terrible. Regrettably, it was not as if Mr Njie merely leveraged the situation to his advantage without showing his hands. He was the chief architect, front-and-centre.   

Comparison of Taf Estates to the Kharafi’s hotel project:  A vivid illustration of false equivalence!

Almost all Mr Njie’s comments on the Brufut land issues astounds me. But the efforts at questioning how and why the community of Brufut treated Kharafi and his enterprise better – in contrast to him, is baffling. Of course, one can easily recognise it for what it was: an effort to appeal to basest emotions and instincts – and to shift the emphasis from the long years of challenging relationship between him and the community. He thus felt it worthwhile to emphasise his Gambianness, in contrast with Kharafi’s foreignness. The obvious conclusion to be drawn is: he is unfairly loathed by his fellow countryfolk whilst a foreigner is loved. It is quite extraordinary. 

For the record, Kharafi though immigrants and Arabs [a fact Mr Njie tried hard to stress] built on land that was not contested. It is on land that was leased to the Jawara government 50 years ago. 

Some important facts to highlight:

  • The lands developed by Kharafi had a demarcation separating it from the rest [especially lands Mr Njie built his “estate” on]. The demarcation was the main coastal Kombo road – as agreed in 1969. That road predates the now tarred coastal road;
  • Both the local community and the government [ministry of tourism] have been aware of the lines of demarcation;
  • The Kharafi hotel complex meets the universal notional understanding of what structures and facilities meet the criteria for TDA infrastructure development;
  • Kharafi’s complex did not rob the community of their inheritance – as it had decades earlier been leased to the Jawara government;
  • The same is not true of, and could not be said of Mr Njie’s development – by any reasonable metric.  

Now, we are not naïve enough to fail to recognise why someone, who stands to lose a lot might find it hard to provide a correct historical account of how lands which had never been part of TDA, suddenly [re]designated as such. Nonetheless, what Mr Njie’s utterance helped bring into sharp focus is attempts by many to conflate/confuse the issues. It is not simply a case of the community hating a fellow Gambian, whilst feting a foreigner. To claim as such, is insincere. 

Sad as it may be, the communities of Brufut feel regarded and respected by Kharafi. What they continue to see from Mr Njie in contrast, is rub-it-in-your-face impudence. Fairly or not, this is the perception in the community. 

If I were Mr Njie, I would have gone to great lengths to reconcile with the community, especially considering it was their land that secured him a USD$5 million [5 million US Dollar] mortgage from Shelter Afrique.  And such a cruel irony; it was their inheritance which played a significant part in catapulting him into an international “estate developer”.  

 Selective Designation of supposed TDA Lands – The Case of “Kerr Abu” on the Tanje Creek.

Unlike the Brufut lands, Tanje creek has continuously been part of the TDA since 1969. However, unlike my community which lacks contacts in high places, this land was conveniently excluded from the TDA designation. 

To highlight the double-standards, the same Mr Mustapha Njie sold off “Kerr Abu” at full commercial value. By design, the selling off started as soon as the Barrow government came to power. It seems there is no respite for coastal Kombonkas when it comes to efforts to deprive them of their lands – just the continuation of the impunity from Jammeh’s eras. 

Ergo, Mr Mustapha’s Njie’s argument that the Brufut lands were TDA – thus justifying Jammeh’s blessing for his “estate development” is unconvincing. It is particularly important to emphasise three factors at play – none of which is coincidental, but all of which are incidental: 

  1. The owner of Kerr Abu is not a native coastal Kombonka; 
  2. Kerr Abu has never traditionally belonged to “this owner’s” family [so it could not be an inheritance];
  3. Like Mr Njie, this person has “Banjul connections” – which was used to his advantage. 

These “Banjul connections” continue to prove detrimental to coastal Kombonkas. So, in a view to arresting it, efforts will begin to formally [and if need be, to legally ] challenge the inclusion of certain individuals in the National Lands Commission. One person in particular was instrumental in many of the contentious land disputes in Kombo. It is thus galling to see him being recycled by the Barrow regime. 

It is unmistakable that there are concerted and determined efforts to exploit the weakness of the Kombonkas. If not arrested, this will have enduring damage on generations of Kombonkas yet unborn. I can foresee a day when descendants of the people who founded these coastal Kombo settlements ending up as vassals to feudal landlords. On lands that were their bequests.

Needless to point out the abundance of misguided, selfish and short-sighted persons within these same communities who sell off their inheritance with reckless abandon. This though is not comparable to, and neither should it be equated to government-sanctioned robbery.

The case is one of both a moral and legal national obligation.

The fact immediately on returning to The Gambia, Mr Njie resumed selling undeveloped plots on Brufut lands [for as much as USD$43,000 per plot] shows his ambition to continue where he left off. This is unacceptable.. 

I am confident that when this and similar injustices are critically examined by Gambians, the argument and rationale for the expropriation of the lands would fall apart.  

The injustice of robbing people of inheritances that have passed from father to son for ten [10] generations or more is bound to plant a seed of resentment. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that the robbed communities would do whatever they could legally to demand restitution. 

We would, therefore, urge Mr Njie to see the challenge from that perspective. Our views on this have been made clear from the onset. It is nothing personal against him. For, though it might seem counterintuitive, Mr Njie could be viewed as much a victim as my community. We are both casualties of Jammeh’s excesses.

 The Gambia’s dire need for stories of hope and inspiration should not blind it to the presence of chancers in its midst.

True, The Gambia and Gambians need stories that inspire hope. Also, there’s honour in being ambitious for self and country. And “entrepreneurship” plays a critical part in both endeavours. It is thus right and proper that such persons and their effort be recognised as inspirational. 

So in that regard, there’s nothing but praise for innovative “entrepreneurs” and business leaders. The problem arises when those same people also happen to be amoral chancers – with overweening ambitions dedicated to self-advancement. 

These are the people who took advantage of the “crooked ladder” Jammeh’s regime provided as a means for upward [social] mobility – at the expense of others. They encouraged Jammeh’s impunity and exploited the corruption and institutional decay he presided over.  

Being averse to risks of making it look personal, was the disincentive to get engaged in challenging the brazen efforts at defining a certain narrative. Efforts geared at reorienting false memories and controlling opinions of the unsuspecting and unquestioning public. I now feel there are no options but to counter and deconstruct these. Albeit, it will be done with as much dispassion as possible. 

The recently concluded gathering in Brufut under the auspices of TAFCON are efforts to mythologise Mr Njie. This is deplorable as it is a  selective highlight of sections of his professional biography and “business acumen”. An indisputable manipulative relationship existed between Mr Njie and Jammeh. For until his inevitable and spectacular fallout with each of these “entrepreneurs”, they were bosom buddies. Therefore, there could never be a day of reckoning with Jammeh that should excuse all other rogues [affable though some may be]. 

The inevitable day of reckoning beckons.

As night follows day, everyone should have expected a day of reckoning will dawn. We will never accept or acquiesce to this injustice of being robbed of our inheritance. We will pursue the case in the confidence that our fight is both moral and legal. If the Gambian judiciary fails in its duty, we will resort to other legal avenues in the sub-region or further afield. After all, it is enshrined in Article 17 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property. 

I would urge all Gambians, but especially the press and the media to be unrelenting in efforts to do away with the almost nationalised culture of unquestionable fealty to the rich and the powerful. Intentionally or otherwise, there seems to be acceptance and mainstreaming of selfish efforts at enriching one’s self at the expense of communities.  What we expect the media to do is investigate and expose criminal behaviour, thereby compelling the public to denounce such actions with deserved indignation. 

I will end with a quote from Henry Ford, which I think is a stellar example of the fine art of human relationships:

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” ― Henry Ford 

I will challenge Mr Njie to wear and walk in our shoes – communities robbed of their inheritance in order that he could build a fortune and an empire. The logical conclusion being: his descendants will inherit what he robbed from me and my descendants. It is manifestly unjust. This should hopefully provide him with a much-needed perspective. 

Lamin DF Manneh

Brufut native, UK resident.

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1 Comment

    BINGO!Taf used or hide under dictatorship to robbed communul lands from their owners.And he did it unlawfully because he had a backing of Jammeh/Look before 1994 taf was not a household name at he until Jammeh started robbing people inheritance and giving it to him.This will be addres insa ALLAH.T

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