When the Gambia’s dictator lost elections in December, the people of this small West African nation came out to celebrate their new found freedom. The celebration, however, was shortlived.
Ruthless ruler Yahya Jammeh came out a week later rejecting ‘in totality’ the outcome of the polls. The streets became quite and the fear that Gambians had that Jammeh agreeing to step down ‘was too good to be true’ became a reality.
With the sudden silence came a loud campaign for Jammeh to hand over power to the winner of the election and now the country’s President Adama Barrow.
No one was speaking up within the Gambia but the billboards and shirts that used to grace Jammeh’s image were now reading #GambiaHasDecided.
One of the people printing those t-shirts was Tijan Barrow. Barrow [no relations to President Adama Barrow] owns a small printing store in a corner shop like building outside Banjul.
Secret agents of the National Intelligence Agency stormed Tijan’s shop, grabbed him and rushed him into a waiting pickup truck.
Tijan was taken to NIA head office in Banjul, some few hundred meters from the presidential compound were Jammeh was holed up pending regional military action to oust him and enforce the results of the elections.
On the drive to the NIA head office, Tijan was tortured. The state security operatives started slapping and kicking him and hit him with their guns. At the NIA, they threw him into a cell.
At least 4,000 troops entered the Gambia on January 19 forcing Jammeh to flee to Equatorial Guinea. Jammeh was trying to regain control and the parliamentarians that backed him authorized a state of emergency extending his mandate for three months.
He mounted a crackdown on dissenting voices and grassroots campaigners that were pressuring him to step down. International condemnation was streaming in but what was unprecedented is the strong local resistance that Jammeh faced.
Tijan was released after President Barrow ordered for all political detainees without trial to be released immediately. If Jammeh had managed to hold on to power, he would have been on death row and if lucky spend the rest of his life in prison.
Amadou Scattred Janneh, a former information minister was handed down a life sentence for treason after printing and distributing t-shirts that read: ‘end dictatorship now.’
The judge during Janneh’s trial stated that he would have preferred to give Janneh a death sentence had it been permitted under Gambian law.
Tijan went back to his shop and piecing what is left together to continue his business. It is his only source of income in a country where the majority of the people earn less than US$500 a year.
While many of the young people Tijan’s age journey across the Sahara and perilously across the Mediterranean to reach Europe, Tijan stayed in impoverished Gambia and put his artistic skills to use, hoping to build a thriving company that would create jobs.