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Uncomfort Zone: Alleged Torturers and Their Victims All Serving in the Same Army

At the finishing touch of Lt. Colonel Babucarr Sanyang’s marathon testimony at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission Thursday, he confirmed what many people have been speculating all this while: there’s an uneasy calm in the Gambia Armed Forces and the past is haunting the present.

Visibly angry and frustrated, Lt. Col. Sanyang told the TRRC how he was compelled to work under one of ex-president Jammeh’s loyal soldiers, Brigadier General Alagie Martin who allegedly tortured him during his 1995 detention in Mile 2 Central Prison.

“On the 7th of September 2017, I was transferred from Yundum to the Joint Headquarters under IG’s office, and was appointed Martin’s deputy… somebody who nearly took my life. You’re now telling me to go and be telling him ‘yes sir, good morning sir’. I wasn’t happy,” he told the commission.

Lt. Colonel Babucarr Sanyang

The more Lt. Col. Sanyang continued to work under Martin, the more his anger and frustration grew. Not even his reputation as a disciplined soldier and good professional demeanor could stop his deepening anger and at the end, he couldn’t take it.

“First, I laid my complaint, my observation… that is to say look sir this move did not go down well with me. The first person I met was Colonel Kawsu Sanyang. He told me to go the deputy. I went to the deputy, General Drammeh and explained my ordeal to him. He said ‘well you know this thing is from the CDS but you can take it in good faith’. Take what in good faith? For me to die under stress and anger?”

Lt. Col. Babucarr Sanyang vents anger at being compelled to work under Martin

Lt. Col. Sanyang pushed harder to be moved away from Martin and he prevailed. His case is one of the many situations in the army in which soldiers are working with or under their colleagues who allegedly inflicted pain and suffering on them … all of them ‘serving the nation with pride’.

Brigadier General Alagie Martin (left) serving ex-president Jammeh

Ebou (real identity concealed for safety reasons) joined the army around the 10th anniversary of the coup d’état that brought ex-president Jammeh to power. Following the exit of Jammeh, he observes the looming discontent and frustration in the barracks over the fact that abused soldiers are working with their abusers.

“Look this is no secret. Some of the soldiers are not happy. We can’t pretend all is well. Yes civilians were tortured and treated badly during the former regime, but soldiers too were tortured and treated badly by their fellow soldiers. We all know that the tortured soldiers are not happy. How can you be happy working under the same roof with your torturer, using the same streets, seeing him laughing and smiling and pretending he never harmed you? Some people have forgiven but some will never forgive.”

In a radio interview I did with the Army Chief of the Defence Staff, Lt. General Masanneh Kinteh in 2017, he admitted that having alleged perpetrators and their victims working together in the force was a concern.

Listen to Masanneh Kinteh’s 2017 interview with Sheriff Bojang Jr.

“I know those concerns are there but we have identified those concerns and we are dealing with them. At some point we all have to reconcile ourselves. At some point we all have to open a fresh page and move on.”

Lt. General Masanneh Kinteh being escorted by officers photo credit: GAF

Lt. Gen. Kinteh’s hope of reconciliation doesn’t seem to resonate with his staff. Army PRO, Major Lamin Sanyang described the situation as difficult. “I understand what he (Lt. Col. Sanyang) said and I understand what he’s going through. But the armed forces like many other institutions, stands to gain more from the TRRC than anything else.”

Army PRO Major Lamin Sanyang speaking to The chronicle on the phone.

“We think lessons are being learnt everyday from each of the testimonies that come forward, and corrective actions will be taken definitely. You can even see the cooperation from the armed forces itself. Some people were even suggesting that some of our members go there (TRRC) in mufti but we say no we have to show the picture the way it is. It is better that they come in public and show that they’re still serving. We’ll not shy away from our responsibility,” Major Sanyang told The Chronicle on the phone.

For former Gambian police commander and security expert Ebrima Chongan, “you can’t have torturers and tortured serving in the same armed and security forces. At the minimum send the torturers on gardening leave.”

“They can never work together as a team. That will pose a security threat but not now. That security threat will come when the foreign security forces go. That’s why there’s a need for a commission to review the armed and security forces because the army needs reorientation and re-training so that they understand that we have a democratic order,” he said.

Listen to Ebrima Chongan speaking to Sheriff Bojang Jr.

At the end of LT. Col. Sanyang’s testimony, he was asked by the counsel if he felt threatened perhaps for raising an alarm about Martin and speaking out the truth, in public. Outside the TRRC hearing room, people are concerned about the possible implication of soldiers testifying against other soldiers.

Aziz Y. Bojang, a security commentator and former police officer told The Chronicle that “the possibility of victims targeting their perpetrators for revenge is unlikely at this particular time simply because I think this is an opportunity for the victims to come forward and openly recount their ordeals, and name and shame their perpetrators in public.”

“Believe it or not, the impact of naming and shaming of perpetrators in a forum like this, one can have devastating and demoralizing effects especially when they are still in active service and working side-by-side with their victims. It has the potential to render them ineffective and incapable of carrying out their military duties effectively.”

With Lt. Col. Sanyang’s testimony, many Gambians have taken to the social media to criticise the government for not compelling the armed forces to get rid of the alleged torturers still in active service. For Mr. Bojang, putting them under administrative leave would be a good start for justice.

Lt. Colonel Babucarr Sanyany at the TRRC

“I understand the constraints of the Barrow administration and the TRRC in particular who are trying very hard to convince Gambians and the international community that this administration is not out to persecute former close associates of the military junta and the APRC government. The best course of action in my view would be to bring the perpetrators forward to give testimony and depending on the level of the involvements, put them on administrative leave and place them under protective security,” he told The Chronicle.

Major Lamin Sanyang was interviewed by Kebba Jeffang.

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