On this the eleventh anniversary of a military dictatorship in the Gambia, I produced below Ebou colly’s take on how it came to be. His analysis of how an ignoramus like Yaya alphonse took our nation hostage. Herewith I present Ebou Colly’s take first published on the Gambia-L mailing list on April 22nd 2001:
COUP IN GAMBIA ONE
A British military officer I once met in San Remo Italy asked me to put the reason why there was a coup in The Gambia in two words. “Command breakdown and government complacency,” I gave it to him in five. The British officer who was very interested in the military history of The Gambia had been for the weeks we worked together curiously firing me all sorts of questions about what made it possible for the junior officers of the GNA to seized power in 1994. The story I explained to that gentleman is the one I wish to share with the G-L readers in this series entitled COUP IN GAMBIA. It is a story I intend to tell in the simplest form based on my personal experience of the coup in The Gambia on the 22nd July 1994, the accidental role I played in it and most important of all the facts according to what exactly happened. I may also in this exercise attempt to Periodically express my views or opinion about the special situations encountered. Hearing about the general misconception developed by Gambians and non-Gambians alike, in the country or outside about the 1994 coup, coupled with the absolute silence from those who actually know the facts, compounded by mainly the lies Yaya and his lackeys have been peddling about the event, the coup in the final analysis has now been reduced to one shameless BIG lie.
Those who should have been termed the actual heroes in that mutinous and criminal operation have long since been killed or reduced to subservient nonentities while the cowards who should have been permanently locked up behinds bars for their traitorous actions stole the center stage, supported by intellectual criminals and defended by armed bandits. However regardless of how strong or deep they may anchor their vessel of deceit in the divine sea of life, the wind of truth will someday blow away these floating evil doers to the shore of reality where the crew will be exposed in their naked images. Those thinking that they could disguise themselves in this doom-bound vessel enjoying the loot of the bloodthirsty pirates, encouraging them to shed more blood for bigger treasure and then disappearing unnoticed at the final day of reckoning ought to think twice about that ungodly fate. If Gambians should think that they could get away with killing innocent armless children for anything in this world and then turn it into a political issue, manipulating the laws to exonerate the guilty murderers, some of them being so sick to make it a laughing matter in the heart of the nation then Gambians could as well exempt the existence of god and the dynamic laws of nature from life.
These knuckleheads cannot learn from the common saying that no condition is constant except change itself. Lets remember Samuel Doe, Emperor Bukasa, Mengistu Haili Mariam, Edi Amin and Mobutu with their doomed followers. These leaders blatantly flouted all kinds of rules, secular and divine, with powers far greater than the ordinary or with powers which Yayas will never dream to acquire in this world; leaders who thought they could get away with any crimes, lies and deceit perpetrated towards their innocent subjects until the day of divine intervention dawned on them. Days that come without warning and often when things are at their sweetest. Days when the predators are caught happily licking their blood-dripping fingers from devouring the flesh of their unfortunate preys. Day that found them in festive moods when they the least suspected that the judgement day is indeed here. That day in the Gambia will soon come. The day Yaya and his callous follows will know that children in the kingdom of god are after all real angels and that no hoodlum would get away with killing them out of share madness. Call it the big time day of reckoning. Having said that, I will now turn to my new topic, thanks to loony Paul.
Evidently, if Gambians had developed the special tradition of recording and referring to their history as time and events unfold before us from period to another, we would have realized that the same situation that led to the abortive coup of 1981 more or less recurred in 1994. And perhaps that would have helped in averting the 1994 calamity. For instance by the time Kukoi lured the Field Force into his nightmarish coup in 1981, it could be remembered that there was a total breakdown of command and control in Depot, Fajara Barracks. The late Eku Mahony was strangely shot and killed by the late constable Mustapha Danso the previous year 1980; also the late Commander Bojang was suspected of complicity in what was thought to be a deadly factional conflict among their subordinates leading to one of his me killing his command counterpart. Bojang was retired or weeded from the force but had refused to vacate his official residence when asked to do so by government. The atmosphere was as a result charged with heavy gossip of a coup planning at the depot, yet government by its actions showed little concern about the potential explosion facing the nation. Nothing was more important at that critical time in government’s agenda than the security crisis in the Depot that required immediate and total attention. Whether there was even a national security crisis management organ in the country for such unexpected emergencies was another thing we may never know. However if there was one, I don’t think it was official or effective or even known to the Gambians.
Historians may one day have to help us with this one. Anyway I still think that the government was rather complacent with the situation until Kukoi stuck, surprised and shocked the whole world. A civilian taking command of the county’s major security force using its personnel in a coup attempt was unimaginable and disgraceful. Thank god there was foreign intervention to stop Kukoi; otherwise the crisis that had erupted could have pretty well degenerated into full-blown civil war. And I still firmly believe that what The Gambia escaped in Kukoi ‘s failure in 1981 was the exact leadership we got in Yaya’s success in 1994. In other words, I think Kukoi in 1981 was going to be what we got in Yaya in 1994. But it was still possible that Kukoi might have been a little more genuine. Nothing could be like Yaya. Another critical factor often neglected but very important in command stability but was and is still lacking in The Gambia’s security institutions is the personality and caliber of persons recruited and entrusted with the defense of the nation. The westerners that introduced modern military concepts in The Gambia built their own forces from men and women committed to the fundamental course of defending their national sovereignty because of the stake they have in the society. They are generally well cultured, properly educated and tested to meet the set standards; they have self-esteem and definitely understand that the country equally belong to them in the very way it belongs to any president. None of these virtues prevailed in the Field Force where the service men were literally social outcasts in terms of origin, education, social status, family background and self-esteem. So instead of having fine warriors prepared to lay their lives for the defense of their nation, we ended up grooming angry jealous armed men full of hate and destructive tendencies ready to follow any deviant or criminal into a path of national destruction. Rebellious soldiers in uniform or civilian bandits, whose ultimate target is to destroy rather than construct, often are the organizers of coups.
The Field Force behind Kukoi was without doubt armed men madly inclined to help destroy The Gambia they had no stake in building or protecting. A similar situation was re-created in the GNA in 1994. There was a command break down when the late General Abubacarr Dada was sent a successor from Nigeria Colonel Gwadebeh to command the Gambia Army and the former refused to hand over the seat to the latter. That conflict was what actually undermined all the credibility and respects the GNA officers had for their Nigerian mentors. The Nigerians who came and started an impressive and very good work in the beginning, making all of us to believe that their army and serving men were superior to us in every way of a military establishment suddenly started acting like desperate men ready to go after each others jugular veins in order to stay in The Gambia rather than go back home. Everything they taught us about ethical standards, moral values, esprit de corps, decency, integrity and military courage were violated one after the order by the feuding commanders and their divided allies with no regards to its effect on those of us looking up to them as role models. The situation was so hopeless that in the end one could sense the irreparable damage the Nigerians had done to their command and control powers over the GNA officers. Even if there had been no coup, the Nigerians would not have had it the easy way they did with the GNA officers before. The actual problem started around March or April 1994 when the Point News paper (always the Point) quoted a Nigerian newspaper that had published an identified successor for General Dada. It was stated that the late General Sani Abacha had already chosen the man. Dada was very furious about the Point’s publication demanding that government should punish the Point publishers for the wrong information they published. By General Dada who was appointed by General Babangida when the latter was still in power, his contract made appointment permanent commander of the GNA. Furthermore, he had believed that the men he brought along to run the Gambia Army, about eighty of them, were directly under his charge, meaning that he could change or even recommend their dismissal whenever he wanted. But for him, he was untouchable and should only leave the Gambia Army after the Nigeria-Gambia contract to train the GNA was over. It was a two-year contract that should have been completed in 1994, although the Nigerians had succeeded in convincing the government that the officers in the army were too incompetent to be handed over the command after two years only. It was another story most of us could not understand. Anyhow when government put it to Dada that they were not aware of any successor identified in Nigeria but that they could not do anything to the Point Publishers either because they were private or committed nothing illegally, Dada relented but would not forget. In May, the official letter from Nigeria for the replacement of General Dada by Colonel Gwadebeh arrived at the ministry of defense. Dada could not understand it and expected the Gambia government to stand by his side and disallow the colonel from replacing him. But government made it clear to him that the changes effected from Nigeria was beyond their means to alter. Dada felt betrayed by the government for their indifference to his problem. He also realized that his most trusted men brought to the Gambia to help him, men he painstakingly picked from the Nigerian armed forces and provided them with pay ten or more times than their earnings at home had also shifted their loyalty to the new commander.
Colonel Gwadebe came anyway. Devastated altogether, Dada partially accepted defeat but insisted that he would not leave the Gambia until he had audience with former President Jawara. That was more or less refusing to hand over to Gwadebe unless he was allowed to meet the president. Government officials especially at the ministry of defense felt Dada should not be allowed to meet the president when the vice president who was the minister of defense was available. Dada would not settle for anything other than what he wanted-meet the president. Gwadebe on the other hand was lodged at Kairaba Hotel waiting for Dada to hand over before he could assume the command position. That is standard army procedure. One could not succeed another person under normal circumstances without a formal handing and taking over process completed. By the middle of May however, it was clear to all GNA officers and most other ranks that the Nigerian command fabric had crumbled and the government did not seem to take its danger very seriously. Like in the past, it should have been the most important issue in the government national agenda, needing immediate and total attention. But I think Sir Dawda at the heat of things took his annual leave and left for Britain to spend about a month there. Dada decided to wait for his return. There was no serious commander anymore. In the mean time however, the Nigerians, were still trying to make things appear as much normal as they could make the situation look in the army.
An exercise was organized at Kudang area, code named operation “Nying Doekuo”. The whole army was involved in an exercise of tactical planning and operation of various combat missions.
It was there that the junior officers first met to discuss the need to get rid of the Nigerians from the country. Yes it was all about organizing a demonstration against the Nigerians to leave and go back home. Those present at that meeting were the late Lieutenant Basiru Barrow, Captain Alagie Kanteh (second lieutenant then), Captain Alpha Kinteh (second lieutenant then) Captain Edward Singhateh (second lieutenant then) and Captain Sana Sabally (second lieutenant then). Anyway before the meeting ended, Alagie Kanteh came up with the proposal of a coup
instead of a demonstration. They all agreed, electing Barrow to be the leader. Both Kanteh and Singhateh had told this story to several soldiers after the coup. Captain Singhateh in fact put it to all the men present at state house on the 22nd July that these five men were the actual planners of the coup and that even Yaya and Sadibou Haidara were not part of it, but were invited to join them when three of the original conspirators withdrew their membership at the last minutes. These three were Barrow, Kanteh and Kinteh. According to the original plan, former president Jawara was to be arrested with his cabinet ministers at Yundum Airport on the day he was to return from his leave in England. Army officers of the rank of captain and above were all to be arrested and executed by firing squad together with all government ministers. That may have been the reason why the first team cracked. Barrow, Kinteh and Kanteh perhaps were not prepared to go that extreme. Anyway according to Barrow who explained himself after Singhateh accused the three of them of betraying the course, he had given his reason of withdrawal as being inadequate timing. Barrow said he wanted more time for better planning preferably January 1995 instead of July 1994.
However the bottom line is that Edward Singhateh and Sana Sabally actually spearheaded the coup from start to end. They were also the operational leaders, Sana taking Bravo Company from Captain Sonko who was forced to join Charlie Company and Singhateh taking the leadership of that unit-Charlie Company. Colonel Badjie was the company commander of Charlie Company, although when they took it from him they spared him the trauma and ordeal they subjected Captain Sonko in throughout the operation. Yaya did not mean much to them, the very naivete in Sana and Singhateh that allowed Jammeh to join them and eventually stole the show from their hands They probably felt that Jammeh the Gendarmerie officer entrusted by the Nigerians to police the army as the head of the military police wing was nothing but a boastful wimp. Jammeh was never seen firing a shot as a soldier, never seen running in any exercise, was below average in written and verbal communication, did not know how to write or interpret operation orders and lacked everything that characterized a true officer or soldier. All that could be associate with Yaya in uniform was the pistol he always carried (and most certainly could not use it properly) and his endurance to carry various horns, roots cowries and animal skins all over his body in the name of “jujus”. (I think I once explained to you that Yaya shamelessly decorated himself at McCarthy Square Banjul with ECOMOG medals as if he had served in Liberia’s peacekeeping mission. Some of us startled by the ceremony thought the joke was accepting the medal as an honorary award until he appeared on GAMTV in Kaninlai explaining to some school children his peacekeeping role in Liberia. The guy is so sick in fabricating lies that sometimes I see his metal maturity as that of a six-year old.) The fact that he was the head of the military police and the young officers planned the coup without serious regards to his unit or presence was indicative of how much they disrespected him. It was a matter of telling him to join them or get his butt whipped. He knew better. I don’t know what he had lied to the Nigerians to accept his transfer from the Gendemarie to the GNA in 1992, but they must have selected the wrong person to police the army for them. It was a major mistake from Dada.
However that same disrespect they had for Yaya was what led Sana and Singhateh to vote him as their leader on the 24th July 1994 in the presence of Captain Mamat Cham. Again they thought he could be put there as a ceremonial leader while they run the show in the background. As for Sana, up the day he was framed and bundled up to jail with Haidara, he had treated Yaya with contempt and less importance. But with tact and treachery, the rule of the game at the time, Yaya played the two heavy weights against each other allying with Edward to destroy Sana and Haidara. That catapulted Edward from the number four positions to the vice-chairman’s seat. He did not know that the master of treachery was on his tail next. I hope my readers are also evaluating the personalities in the drama. While doing so please consider the Field Force and the characters in the Depot- men with low self-esteem, dehumanized by poverty and greed and transformed into treacherous and destructiveness souls. Anyway by the time the transition was over, Yaya had disintegrated the foundation of the original coup team except in the case of Singhateh. But Singhateh’s turn was in the making. It was Landing Sanneh and the late Almamo Manneh who one day challenged Edward at the state house on Yaya’s orders to shoot him if he tried to enter the building again armed. The vice chairman could not understand it but soon realized that it was the final signal to show him that the game of playing equals with Yaya was over. He knew better. Before long the high-speed champion of the coup was reduced to a nodding follower of Yaya endorsing his lies, ignoring his faults, treating him like the saint who led them, the lost souls, into the coup crusade and all what not. Almamo Manneh is now lying six feet deep thanks to Yaya. Landing Sanneh is still in jail waiting to be tried for almost a year now after being accused of coup attempt with Almamo Manneh. The current survivors are ordinary followers, praise singers and boot-lickers sometimes claiming to be the warriors in 1994. Sir Dawda Jawara’s closest bodyguards like Musa Jammeh are today Yaya’s worst hit men. The vicious circle of dogs eating dogs continueto prevail. That’s coup in the Gambia parts one.