By Sheriff Kora
Any Gambian mindful of the political developments in the country is aware of how a few half-baked, unsophisticated politicians with less regard for good governance and the rights of man have systematically threatened the idea of freedom once cherished and familiar to us all. Despite the regime of fear and intimidation that exists in our country, patriotic Gambians worthy of the name emerged to fight bravely against suppression of the idea of freedom revered by every genuine citizen.
Recently, we have followed and received with rage the verdict of the sham trial involving Lawyer Darboe and other brave sons and daughters of The Gambia who stood for that cardinal idea – freedom. Every genuine Gambian with a conscience will agree that the events leading to the trial of Lawyer Ousainou Darboe and his co-defendants go strongly against our Gambian values and national constitution. As citizens, what they deserved during the trial was due process of the law and not the constant frenzy, intimidation, and disrespect that marked their trial. As a nation, we have heard the slander, accusations, and insults levied against Ousainou Darboe and his Mandinka tribesmen. He was demonized and called every name in the dictionary.
Lawyer Darboe is human and I will argue he is by no measure a saint among sinners. However, knowing this noble son of the land, I like many Gambians can attest to the fact that tribalism is not one of his sins. Tribalism by Lawyer Darboe will mean disowning his stepmothers. Tribalism will mean disowning his two wives who are not Mandinka. By extension tribalism by him will also mean disowning his children and some of his siblings. It is important to be reminded that Lawyer Darboe is a Mandinka by no choice of his; he is born into the Mandinka tribe of which he is proud. Ask him his identity, and he’ll be quick to tell you that before everything else, he is a Muslim and a patriotic Gambian. Ask him again, and he will tell you he is a lawyer with an unreserved love and loyalty to country and family. This is the true measure of the man I know.
As I read the statement Judge Eunice Dada denied Lawyer Darboe from reading at the final hearing, like many Gambians, I was reduced to tears. I cried not only because I was sad, I cried because I was proud that Lawyer Darboe and those defendants were steadfast and stood to their convictions. I cried because I knew in the face of many choices, they chose to be politically accurate rather than be historically inaccurate. I cried because I was ashamed to see the government of my country use the forces of injustice to jail a noble lawyer in the very courts where justice once resided. I cried because of that cold jail cell. I cried because I am assured that when he walks out of jail with those noble men and women, history shall absolve them.
Many tributes followed the publication of that eloquent written statement of Lawyer Darboe. Despite the powerful and emotion evoking words that touched the hearts and minds of many, I felt more needed to be said about this man who until recently says very little about his personal journey and accomplishments in the social, political and economic development of our country. As Metternich once said, “the men who make history have no time to write it.” Most importantly, to fully rationalize the behavior of Lawyer Ousainou Darboe respectfully, one has to try to understand the events or life experiences that influenced it. The aim in this article should be seen merely as an attempt to illustrate the influence of men and historical events of more than seven decades that will indirectly led to the bold actions that will forever leave a dent in the annals of Gambian history.
The Trial of Chief Cherno Baldeh
In the 1950’s, there was a landmark court case in the then McCarthy Island Division of The Gambia. This case involved Cherno Baldeh the deposed chief of Fulladu and the Colonial Administration. The case against the chief was based on allegations of the abuse of power, corruption, and tax misappropriation. Akin to the recent trials presided over by Justice Eunice Dada; the trial of Cherno Baldeh had all the hallmarks of the corrupt and distortionary nature of the colonial system. According to some reports, Cherno’s troubles resulted from ambition, charisma, sibling rivalry, and his uncompromising stance towards protecting the rights of his constituents. This would garner the attention of the colonial administrators who were determined to neutralize him. During this trial, a Gambian Lawyer in the name of Pierre (P.S.) Njie will emerge to selflessly defend Cherno Baldeh against the brute force of the British colonial administration. Forced testimonies and damaging revelations made during this trial will go to severely divide the people of Fulladu, soiling the reputation of a once charismatic and highly respected chief in the process. Cherno Baldeh never regained his chieftaincy in Fulladu. According to narration, he died in 1957 on the same date as the Barra ferry disaster, which claimed the lives of over fifty people.
P.S Njie and Numukunda Darboe
During the course of the Cherno Baldeh trial, P.S Njie stayed in the small but emerging town of Bansang where he forged strong bonds with prominent members of the town. Amongst these men was Numukunda Darboe, a man of repute, an erudite Islamic scholar who never went through the formal education process, but through his will, passion, and persistence learned to read and write English in adulthood under the tutelage of his great friend, the late Foday Sidibeh. The diligence of Numukunda was the genesis of Lawyer Darboe’s path to scholarship and the belief that with persistence everything is attainable under the sun. As a result of Numukunda’s value for western education and the strong bond between him and P.S Njie, a young Ousainou Darboe was entrusted to the foster care of the Banjul Lawyer under whose guardianship he completed his education in Banjul.
The fight of P.S Njie against the subservient propaganda, selfish political and economic interest of the colonial system will continue long after the Fulladu saga. As universal adult suffrage was extended to the provinces in 1959, P.S. Njie needed a candidate to represent the United Party in Fulladu constituency. He felt there was no one better to call than his fearless and loyal friend Numukunda Darboe. Being a humble man with less interest for political power, Numukunda felt he was not cut for politics. His interest was only in being an entrepreneur and serving the people of Bansang as secretary to the local area council treasury. It will take a lot of cajoling and backdoor pedaling to get Numukunda’s approval. Numukunda’s move was risky and highly controversial especially at a period when partisan politics in Bansang and the country was decided largely along tribal lines. It did not matter to Numukunda P.S Njie was not a Mandinka. It did not matter Pierre Njie was not from the provinces; what mattered to Numukunda the most was standing steadfast to his convictions and fighting for the freedom from the clutches of colonialism.
Numukunda contested his first elections in 1960, which he lost to Kebba Leigh and the PPP. He accepted defeat with grace and humility. Despite the endless taunting, discrimination, and intimidation launched against prominent opponents of the PPP in the country, Numukunda Darboe never buckled. In fact, Ousainou Darboe will see the first case of his father’s bravery that sunny morning when loaded his shotgun and laid in wait for the PPP caravans that rolled through Bansang, Among reports of all the arsons, plundering, and physical abuses PPP militants meted out on perceived opponents across the country, it is safe to say that Bansang was one town that was spared the nuisance – go figure. Sanjally Bojang who Lawyer Darboe once defended in a court case will fondly remind Ousainou Darboe about the valor and upright character of his father Numukunda Darboe.
Numukunda will recover from the electoral defeat of 1960 to launch his campaign with more vigor. He travelled the length and breadth of Fulladu on his bicycle, knocking on doors and selling the agenda of the United Party to anyone willing to listen. He would eventually win the hearts and minds of the people of Fulladu and the subsequent parliamentary elections against Alieu Marong of Georgetown, and Kebba Jawara of Bansang. The fact that Numukunda Darboe would defy the Mandinkas to side with the other tribes and become the only Mandinka opposition member in the house of representatives earned him a great deal of respect and envy among the urban elites of Banjul and his constituents.
Numukunda Darboe was a maverick that upheld the belief parliamentary politics should not be played along tribal lines. He fought endlessly against injustice in Fulladu and the systemic discrimination against the Fulas, Wollofs, and other marginalized groups in the country. His fearlessness and disdain for the corrupt colonial officers and tribal politics earned him the hatred of some colonial administrators who viewed him as a thorn. This mischaracterization earned him a spot in the controversial book of Berkley Rice – Enter The Gambia. In face of crippling adversity, Numukunda Darboe answered the national calling to enter politics. As a politician, he did not seek glory or wealth, but from his selfless acts and candor, emerged as a legend among the people of Fulladu. He was a man that held his head up high and remained loyal to P.S. Njie and the cause of the United Party. He fought all his life for the idea of freedom and promoting the welfare of his constituents.
April 16th, 2016 and Beyond
It is therefore by no surprise or accident of fate that Lawyer Darboe showed bravery, calmness and strong leadership qualities throughout the trial. His emotional intelligence, sense of tolerance, strength, and resilience where honed at an early age when he had to learn to adapt the numerous challenges faced by many provincial kids transplanted into the streets of a tribally insensitive and politically charged urban setting. The urban-rural bias Lawyer Darboe experienced in Banjul did not lead him to hatred or seeking vengeance; rather it thought him to respect and embrace all Gambians regardless of tribe, ethnicity, religion or origin. His reverence for human rights and the constitution both as a lawyer and a private citizen has firm roots in the moral teachings and influences of his biological father Numukunda Darboe and P.S Njie who imparted in him the value of defending the rights of man.
Ousainou Darboe sprung to action with hopes that it will encourage young Gambians to take action when necessary. He sacrificed his liberty with the belief that his actions with those of his co-defendants will instill confidence in all of us to engage in robust debate, so as to better understand our problems. His sacrifice is done in the spirit that even whilst he is gone, will be inspired to conceive new solutions and open new spaces towards liberating our country from the perilous path upon which it is headed. This is the life of the man I know. The man that is illegally incarcerated in an orchestrated court by a female judge who betrayed the impartiality and integrity of the symbolic Lady Justice that hangs in her court.
May God bless The Gambia and may God bless all Gambians.