Gambia: From a dictator’s friend to his political prisoner

Gambia: From a dictator’s friend to his political prisoner

Before Dr. Isatou Touray declared her independent bid to become The Gambia’s first female president, Omar Malleh Jabang was known for mobilizing support for the country’s self-serving dictator Yahya Jammeh.

Over the years leading to the crucial polls that saw Jammeh suffer a shocking defeat, Jabang’s allegiance was shifting from the APRC to the opposition.

Jabang lives in a coastal village, Kartong, where mining was prominent and Christians and Muslims lived as neighbors.

Jammeh had declared the Gambia an Islamic Republic, tempting sectarian tension in the country and arrested more than 30 people from Jabang’s village who wanted the illegal mining in their community to come to an end.

In Kartong, a huge billboard of Dr. Touray fades in as the dust left behind by speeding vans dissappears into the horizon. Behind Dr. Touray’s campaign is now Omar Malleh Jabang. He helped organize a big rally for Touray there.

Touray then joined a coalition of opposition groups, led by Adama Barrow to defeat Jammeh in the polls. Jabang threw his weight behind them, threatening Jammeh’s chances of winning in a critical constituency, Kombo South.

Jabang was seen at the Buffer Zone, a perimeter where many political rallies take place. He was with other opposition supporters who were pumped up about the formalization of Barrow’s campaign.

The next day he went missing and could not be traced.

He was kidnapped by four men and pushed into a pickup truck. It was tinited and no one could see the inside of the vehicle. It had no number plates and it was night time.

He was taken by the jungulars, a paramilitary group sanctioned by Jammeh. They get their orders from only him and are only answerable to him.

The jungulars are the most implicated the state-sanctioned tortures, killings and forced detentions.

Jabang was taken to a black site, one of the secret detention centers spotted across the country. Some look like villas, but in them are small dark rooms where detainees are held.

Jabang was not tortured but breaks down every time he remembers his cellmate – a young man who was brutally tortured and thrown into the cell. He had to care for him and praying he makes it out alive.

Jabang knew Jammeh as a young man and served as his Chief of Protocol. Over the years, he was taken aback by the brutality of the longtime ruler. Jammeh won four elections before and with each passing year, he became more authoritarian.

When Jabang arrived at the detention center, the soldiers were trying to uncuff him and it proved difficult.

“We are going to cut off your hand then,” one of them said. He was all dressed in black combat gear and his face could not be clearly seen for Jabang to identify him.

The others laughed. But the Jungulars are known to have cut people into pieces and throwing their remains into a pool of hungry crocodiles.

Jababg retorted: “You can cut off my hands, it would be quicker.”

When they laughed at his response, he knew then he had a chance of living. They would not have taken that response kindly of their orders was to have him ‘canceled.’

In days after the election, forces loyal to Jammeh have arrested tens of people including soldiers who were suspected of switching their allegiance to Barrow.

Thousands of West African troops were authorized by Barrow to enter the Gambia and depose Jammeh. Jammeh fled the country into exile with members of his Jungular hit squad. He is hosted by another self-serving dictator, Theodore Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.

Jabang now hopes, with the dictator gone the constitution will be reformed and strong democratic institutions built. Barrow is already making moves to reform the security system and pledges a truth commission.

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