Gambia may still be unsafe for dissidents

Gambia may still be unsafe for dissidents

I decided to visit Gambia knowing the situation is still volatile and Jammeh is still in power and furious like a wounded lion, but I believe only Allah can kill me. If the whole world wanted to hurt me, they won’t be able to do it unless Allah decreed it.

I have fought against President Yahya Jammeh’s rule – a strong critic for that matter and I never for a day hid my face. Jammeh losing the polls to President-elect Adama Barrow, a real estate developer who is backed by seven opposition groups killed the fear in Gambians. We saw President Yahya Jammeh completely demoralized.

An act that could have landed one in Gambia’s Mile II prison for life became normal. Gambians became more outspoken than most of us who were campaigning from afar.

I went to Gambia without an iota of fear in me and I moved around alone and freely without any fright or concern. I to grazed on the lyrics at the “Clash of Titans” organized by Team Gee at the Independence Stadium. I enjoyed the performances and was awed by the amount of talent Gambia has.

After an hour of beautiful artistic display, I galloped to Pencha Mi Hall where Senegambian musician Viviane Chidid was performing. I got there a little after 0300 and got trapped in the wonder of her melodious voice and the last sound of the beautiful African drum beats called ‘sabarr.’ I later learned I was not the only one hypnotizing there. The Gambia’s Army Chief Ousman Bargie was there busting some moves.

I found myself mesmerizing in the nightlife of metropolitical Gambia. My brain was partly paralyzed I could say. I forgot what state the country was in and the risk I took. In that state of mind, fearless like the warrior Maba Jahu, I went to Cavalli night club. Enroute there, I met a friend at the Senegambia Junction, so we stood there and talked for a few minutes.

While we were talking, a dark Range Rover came and stopped right next to us, turned off the inside lights, and then they had their front and rear doors wide open. One got out, but the driver, front, and rear passengers stayed inside. Everyone in the car wore dark clothes and their faces unrecognizable. My friend, a lady, asked me: “what is their problem?” and I responded: “perhaps they are interested in you.”

She eventually took a taxi home and I decided to walk from the Seaview junction to Cavalli night club.

At the club, it was a beautiful atmosphere with some good music. I was enjoying the music until these four guys walked in the club and stood very close to me blocking my view of the dance floor. A few minutes later, one walked to me, call me by my nickname (Pa Lie) and shook my hand and claimed his name is ‘Star’.

I have never seen this guy before. A few minutes later, I noticed him whispering in the ears of the other guy, who later whispered to the other person. At this point, I am paying more attention to their movements and demeanor. They don’t look like the party type and they seemed to be in the wrong club by their choice of clothing.

Now I am getting hyper-vigilant, so I decided to walk around the back and move to the exit door.

At this point, they were looking around to see where I went. I decided to go out and call a friend or two. As I approached the stairs, a friend called and asked if I didn’t see her by the door. I went back to say hello. I hugged her and the next thing I realized was another stranger approaching me and asked: “are you Pa Lie?”

“My name is Abdoulie,” I replied. I asked him for his name and he responded, “Essa.”

He asked again: “are you sure you’re not Pa Lie from Alaska?”

I said: “no, my name is Abdoulie.”

He left and walked towards the other four. I decided this was too bizarre to take a chance on. Why are they so interested in who I am and where I came from? Two of them I can easily take on, but the other three are too big for me to handle. I left the club without even saying goodbye to my friend.

I meticulously went down the stairs, walked carefully outside, got in a taxi, and asked him to take me home. As the driver navigated the rough roads, I kept staring at my rear view for any sign of them pursuing me. After few turns, no vehicle was visible behind me.

When we got close to my home, I asked the driver to drop me off because I do not want him to know where I live. Well, it was a precautionary measure just in case he got coerced to bring them to my home. I walked the rest of the way home.

At home, I scavenged the kitchen for knives or anything that could be used as weapons. If they come to my house, I won’t be going without a fight and I won’t be dying alone.

Suddenly, I heard some noise outside and dogs barking, but they never came inside my house.

I called my mom and we spoke. I had to make a quick decision and a critical one for that matter. I decided it is safer for me to leave The Gambia as soon as possible. Deyda Hydara, Chief Manneh, Ebou Jobe, Alhagie Mamour Ceesay and Solo Sandeng came to mind.

I have so many unfinished businesses and a young family to look after, I thought to myself. I do not need to take any unnecessary risk at this time in this chess game. A wise man one said, “caution is not cowardice and recklessness is not bravery.”

I chose to err on the part of caution and do whatever will bring peace of mind to my friends and family, especially my aging mother. I will take necessary risk for Gambia, but this was an unnecessary risk.

I traveled to Banjul and bade farewell to my people. I told them I will be back later in the evening knowing quite well I was leaving Gambia. I haven’t seen these people in a decade and most of them have relatively aged due to the struggles they endured.

I made it out of The Gambia quietly and safely. I have a luxury Jammeh doesn’t have: I have a caring and loving family and so many awesome and trusting friends I can depend on.

I left Banjul amid rising political tension. Jammeh is clutching on to power and refusing to step down. He has vowed to fight to remain in power and says he will not be intimidated or blackmailed by the international community. He is still commander in chief until January 18. He still has loyalists within the security services and I could have disappeared.

Abdoulie Lowe is a U.S.-based political activist and commentator who led a campaign against President Yahya Jammeh’s rule. He hosts an online radio talk show on The Fatu Network, an online opposition radio critical of Jammeh and his regime.

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