The Chronicle Gambia

This Day in History: Memories of a Schoolboy

It’s Thursday 21st July 1994 and I had just returned from school. Mr. Ousainou Jammeh, a soldier who lived in the same compound as I, came home from work and called me to his room. He was a great friend and always treated me with kindness. Being a schoolboy living far away from home, I needed all the friends I could get.

For me, Ousainou was that friend. He helped me in very many ways, giving me lunch money on the occasions that my money was exhausted and I could not receive anything from home as quickly as I would needed it.

Anyway, he was always there for me and whenever I needed anything, he was the first person I turned to. He was kind and very generous to me. Coming back to the story of that day, I went to answer to his call and found him seated on the bed polishing his army boots.

“Sit down,’ he said with a broad smile which had become his signature smile with me.

I sat down respectfully and waited. I was not nervous at all as Ousainou always had this jovial and pleasant demeanor towards us in the compound. So, I knew for a fact that whatever it was, it could not be bad for me although I hadn’t the fuggiest idea why he had summoned me. I waited patiently as he polished his army boots. That was something I did for him regularly and I had become adept to doing it.

“Where do you plan to go tomorrow?” he asked.

“Well, I want to go to Serekunda to buy some items,” I said haltingly, not knowing what he wanted.

“I want you to postpone and wait for me till I return,” he said, “I want us to go and see your parents together.”

I was overjoyed! Here was someone who cared for me deeply and treated me like his own brother and would do anything for me. He was the kindest person I came across since I left the comfort of living with my parents. He wants to go with me to see my parents. I could not believe my ears. I was so happy and, as you can probably guess. I agreed immediately.

The next day was Friday, 22nd July 1994. I remained home all day long waiting for Ousainou. He didn’t come and I began to get worried as it had never happened before that he said something to me and failed. I had complete trust in his sincerity and truthfulness. When night was about to fall and there was no sign of him, I knew that something was awry. I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, but something told me that all was not well.

Dawda Jawara former president

Later that evening, I heard through the grapevine that there was a coup d’état and that the government of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara had been overthrown. The radios only played Gambian music and rumors started trickling in slowly. The names of the architects of the putsch began coming out slowly. That was the beginning of the flow of information about a total change of government.

When the information was confirmed on the radio, something clicked in my mind and transported me back to Ousainou Jammeh’s room the previous evening. I remembered what he told me and realized that he did not actually want to go to see my parents at all; he only wished to save me from the chaos that he knew could happen when there was a coup like that.

This brought mixed feelings to me: one, I was disappointed that he did not plan to meet my parents and two, that he wanted me to be safe. The second swayed the first and I thanked him very much inwardly. I am very grateful to him for that act of kindness even though I never expressly broached the subject with him for obvious reasons.

I think Ousainou is now a captain or something in the Gambia National Army and he is my hero, my savior and someone I will always be grateful to. That day, I, as a schoolboy who always read the newspapers and listened to the radio, was relieved, in a way, as a government I regarded as corrupt and inept had been overthrown and perhaps we would have a chance to right the wrongs and put in place a system which will have a better plan to redistribute the national wealth in a fairer and more just manner.

We were hopeful as the junta came up with all the right slogans and clichés of ‘Transparency, Accountability and Probity will be the order of the day, ‘we will never introduce dictatorship in this country’, ‘we will serve for six month and return the country to civilian rule’ and what not.

Junta members

So we went about our business full of hope and exuberance. Little did we know that it was all a hoax. The cards soon started falling as we saw the members of the junta have spectacular fallouts and started fighting amongst themselves. This was the beginning of the darkest period of Gambian history which saw the jailing, killing, looting, raping, and polarizing of our society. It was just horrible and we thank God that after a lot of blood and sweat, we finally rid ourselves of that bane in December 2016.

To remember this day in history, all I can think of and say is: Never Again!

Musa Bah is a teacher at Nusrat Senior Secondary School. He is also a writer, novelist, poet and social commentator. He is currently the vice president of the Writers’ Association of The Gambia.

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