At least three Gambian-Americans that were part of a failed putsch to oust the Gambia’s exiled autocratic ruler, Yahya Jammeh were given a heroes welcome to the West African nation three years after the botched attempt.
Real estate developer Cherno Njie, U.S. military specialist Alhagie Barrow and former U.S. Air Force Seargent Papa Faal were welcomed by citizens of the country at the Banjul International Airport, a port they had planned to seize as part of their plot.
They arrived in the country with their families and friends and welcomed to their native homeland that they risked their lives to rescue by the country’s Minister of Agriculture, Omar Jallow [also the leader of the PPP party] and veteran religious cleric and activist, Imam Baba Leigh.
“We are hopeful for rebuilding a nation rid of such violent tragedy. We are hopeful for a country that is safe for children who do not fight for such battles down the road. We feel that we have no other choice,” said Njie, who financed the attempt.
Njie, Barrow and Faal were among five American citizens prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice and received various sentences for their role. At least two others, Banka Manneh and Alhagie Boye are yet set to complete their probation and custodial sentences, respectively, this month.
Three people have died in the early dawn assault on the heavily fortified presidential compound: a former Gambian presidential guard chief, Lt. Col. Lamin Sanneh, U.S. Army Cpt. Njaga Jagne and former Gambian army Sgt. Alhagie Nyassi.
A memorial prayer was held for the lost comrades in Kanifing, a suburb fewer than five miles outside the Gambia’s island capital, Banjul.
“We paid a heavy price in the loss of three of our compatriots, Lt. Col. Lamin Sanneh, Captain Jaga Jagne and Alhagie Jaja Nyassi. We are home today, to pay tribute to these valiant men. We return to commemorate with their families, friends and love ones,” said Njie.
The men, seen as quite and very successful in the U.S. are seen as the unlikely folks that would have risked the American dream they were living to overthrow a dictatorial regime in a tiny West African nation.
Unlike many opposition activists on social media, they stayed away from making public comments on platforms like Facebook were Jammeh faced stiffed opposition. But they met regularly through phone conferences, buying weapons and hatching a plan to “restore democracy in The Gambia.”
Former President Yahya Jammeh was an iron-fist ruler. He brutally repressed dissenting voices, maimed, tortured, killed, and arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition supporters, critics, rights defenders, pro-democracy campaigners, and journalists.
Jammeh was defeated by a little known real estate developer, Adama Barrow, who surprisingly appeared as the presidential hopeful of the then-main opposition party, the UDP before being backed by a coalition of seven opposition groups to hand Jammeh a humiliating defeat in last the December 2016 election.
Jammeh first accepted defeat but refused to cede power. The political fumble led to a two-month-long logjam that saw West African troops entering the country to flush him out of power. He fled to Equatorial Guinea, where he is given a safe haven by the Central African nation’s authoritarian ruler, Theodore Obiang.