Ex-Student Union leader Explains How Current Intelligence Head Tried to Lure Him Into The Dictator’s Den
Omar Joof, whose term as President of the defunct Gambia Students’ Union (GAMSU), is highlighted by the killing of at least fourteen students on the 10th and 11th of April 2000 across the country, has told the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), that he escaped an attempted kidnapping while in exile by the current Director General of State Intelligence Services (SIS), Ousman Sowe.
According to his testimony, the attempts to get him are what led to his relocation from Senegal to Canada. He said he left the country on the 11th of April and crossed over to Senegal after the carnage of April 10 following an all-night search of his house in Bakoteh as he slipped away from home. In Dakar, Omar was hosted by RADDHO, a Senegalese human rights organization, for over two years before he left for Canada.
“While at RADDHO, Ousman Sowe came there and told me that he was in Dakar to seek spiritual assistance from a marabout. But that was not convincing to me because to me the Senegalese would come to The Gambia to seek spiritual assistance from marabouts but for a Gambian to go to no other place in Senegal but Dakar to look for spiritual assistance…that was not convincing,” he told the TRRC via video conferencing.
Omar described Ousman Sowe as a university friend and that they attended a commercial law subject together. But in this situation, he had to conduct a background check to ascertain the motive of Sowe.
“I was being very careful in this and I did not want to ask any of my family members or any of my friends at the university about Ousman. So I called Mr Borris Divani, and I asked him if he knows Ousman Sowe and he said yes. I asked if he knows where Ousman Sowe works and he informed me that Sowe is with the NIA. But I didn’t tell Borris what was going on…”
“I reacted by having security around me. Ousman Sowe kept coming by for days and sometimes, he will come and ask me about the students’ demonstration and then I would explain to him as much as I could.”
As days went by, Omar said he received a call from Ousman Sowe who told him that his marabout would like to meet him. According to him, he didn’t reject the request but told him to call the following morning before he comes to pick him up.
“Obviously I had always informed my host about his comings and goings and told them what his work was. They instructed me not to receive his calls the next day and so when he called me the next day, he was told not to come see me again.”
“At that point in time, everybody believed that he was trying to kidnap and take me to The Gambia because he started by lying that he went to Senegal to see a marabout. And he never told me he was working for the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). His cover story did not add up I wondered why his marabout would want to see me when I have no idea who he is?” Omar asked.
He recalled the second attempt to lure back to The Gambia made by another lady, Kura Mbisan, the wife of Jali Yankuba Saho but that mission also failed and he was subsequently relocated to Canada.
Testifying on the 10th April bloody demonstration, he confirmed that live-rounds were fired at students which ended their plan of a peaceful demonstration.
“We realized that our limited peaceful demonstration was disrupted and the initiative was taken out of our control so we went away and regrouped. We started making contacts with other members of the students’ leadership and we regrouped somewhere in Jeshwang.
He said it was later on when he realized that Omar Barrow, a journalist and Red Cross volunteer and other students were gunned down at the initial shootings of the day.
“We regrouped, went into hiding and we started monitoring the situation from where we were. Things went from bad to worse and we determined that we should spend the rest of the day in hiding.”
While in the hideout, he testified that they were relying on other non-executive members of the union for information before they dispersed in the evening.
“But before we dispersed it was suggested that I should not go home and so I went to Serekunda and stayed with friends for the night and the rest of the student leadership also went away. That was around 10pm on the night of April 10th 2000.”
“Throughout the night, some people who visited my home, informed me that people who were not in regular uniform were constantly checking on my house and they felt that it was not safe for me to go home. Then the next day around 7 A.M I left The Gambia and I went to Senegal.”
According to him, his wife was eight months pregnant at the time but the family was not victimized.
“I remained in Senegal for a little over two years before I proceeded to Canada.” While in Senegal, he said he was aware of the establishment of Commission of Inquiry to probe the killings of the students.
“While it was on, I generally protested through the media and offered myself to give testimony through other means other than being physically present because at that point I was not sure that they could provide enough security for me. But my offer was not accepted and I do not remember them responding to the offer at all.”