It was, after all, going to be an easy ride to State House. Anyone who doubted this did not see what Yaya Jammeh saw. Senegal-led Ecowas troops arrived at the gates of the palaces after taking command of key military barracks and security installations across the country. The troops have started entering the Gambia from multiple border points, combing the streets with armored vehicles.
The head of the presidential guard, Ansumana Tamba, was nowhere to be found, but his men put up a barricade in what appeared to be a standoff that lasted more than six hours. No guns were fired. Just talks. And about half an hour before midnight, the heavy gates of the presidential palaces were opened. Dozens of soldiers, behind four armored vehicles, walked in.
In the past twenty-two years, many men have attempted to forcefully enter this fortified palaces to remove Jammeh. The latest and most daring was two years ago. All failed. In the process, many lives were lost.
Now, though, those that were in command are under someone’s command. The foreign troops were received well by the people of Banjul, who poured out in huge in numbers to pose for photos, cheer and served them tea and coffee.
For the Gambian soldiers at gates, this was a long evening duty. Visibly defeated and subdued, they were booed by their very own people for not standing up to Jammeh in time of need. Until that day, it’s beyond any stretch of imagination that a day would come when some Gambians would go near gates of the palaces to protest.
On this night, some young Gambians have unleashed years of anger. The story of two of them was quite sad. Their fathers were soldiers. Both killed. Not in war. By who? They let the soldiers on duty know about it and told them they were coming after them.
From a distance, I saw anger in the eyes of those Gambian soldiers. I approached one of them for a chat.
“Here, we want just peace,” he told me. He asked for my name and I told him. When I asked for his name, he felt unsure whether to tell me his last name. Badjie, he whispered. There was no confidence in his tone. He’s apparently a Jola. I looked at him closely. Then I realized that what I thought was anger was actually fear.
The Gambia has a new government. New political and economic players are in charge. Generally, the change has brought about joy and huge prospects of better Gambia. But there’s also fear of the unknown, fear of being excluded.
So, when I was bidding farewell to this brother soldier of mine, I shook his hand affectionately and told him, my brother, it will all be okay. In this New Gambia, our surnames won’t matter anymore. Say it aloud, with confidence. I could have been a Jola, I share the same surname with the ex-president. I could have been Serer because some of my relatives are. I could have been Mandinka because that’s what my dad and mom told me I am. But I choose to be a Gambian.
As a journalist, I know that Gambians voted for the coalition because it represents unity. That’s the spirit of the New Gambia.
He smiled. “Thank you,” he told me. He was still waving while I still turned to leave. I hope messages and assurances like this are important moving forward.