Friday, January 21, 2011
Reconciliation And Homecoming
NEWS BANJUL THE GAMBIA (MB)- One of the more fascinating accounts of Sir Dawda's story is his reconciliation with president Yahya Jammeh and his return from exile. Here in his own words, the News and Report Weekly Magazine brings you a narration of how it happened, based on excerpts taken from Sir Dawda's autobiography Kairaba.
On Thursday 29 August 2001, my niece Mina Alami-Njie arrived at 15 Birchen Lane in the company of two of her elder sisters, Mariam and Fatma. It was certainly a happy family reunion....
Mariam opened the conversation and said the visitors from Banjul had something to say. Mina explained that she had come to London with a message from President Jammeh. The president had ask her to consult with Mariam and Fatma to see if they could convince me to come home. She said the main point President Jammeh wanted to emphasise in the message was that he did not think it proper or of any advantage to the image of the Gambia that I should continue to live in exile. The president was therefore asking me to consider returning home as an elder statesman, in dignified retirement befitting a former head of state.
I was sincerely touched. But ...to (to) cut a long story short, she and Deputy Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Abdoulie Kujabi, got into conversation about me ending my exile and returning home. Soon after that conversation, Kujabi called Mina inviting her to a meeting with the president at Kanilai President Jammeh told Mina that he had been thinking about the matter for some time and would be pleased if Mina, Mariam and Fatma were able to convince me to return home. At the end of the conversation, the president asked Mina to travel immediately to Haywards Health and that while she was there a phone call from State House would confirm all of it.
Early n the morning of 31 August 2001, the phone rang. I answered it was Abdoulie Kujabi at the other end of the line. ... Kujabi asked me to stay on the line – president Jammeh want to speak with me. The president was obviously in high spirits and broke immediately into a casual conversation asking after my health and family and paying all the customary courtesies. He sid I was his father and continued to refer me in those endearing terms for the rest of the conversation.
...In the end, he stated the essential reason for his call, which was to make a formal request for me to end my exile and come home to my people. He told me the government was ready to give me back all my properties, which he said, would have long been sold off had he not considered that they belonged t his father, a man who had worked for many years for his country. He assured me that the properties were still there... The president said that he had spoken with my son Dawda before he left the country and had told him clearly that he had nothing against me.
He said he was asking for a cordial way cut of this unfortunate situation in which his own father was living in exile because he knew what I personally stood for. At was why he had seized the opportunity when the matter came up to consult with Mina and to send her to England to see me. In consideration of my enormous contribution to my country and the fact that my country did not belong to him or anyone else, he said he would advise that I take his offer. He asked that I should forget the past; what had happened had happened and he concluded the saying that Allah was a witness to the truth that he was speaking from the bottom of his heart. He said he had made it clear to Mina that all he wanted was a clear conscience concerning my affair.
I did not throw caution to the wind. I reminded the president that there has been a hint that there had been hints that a government delegation was about to see me on this matter. But he said that he had long shelved that idea of famility and had decided not to talk to talk to anyone outside the family about my affairs. He would rather trash matters out between the two of us was happening on the phone at that very moment.
When we return to main subject of his phone call, the president referred to our ethnic connections pointing to the fact, which I confirmed, that my maternal grandmother Sona Sambou was a Jola from Karoni. He recalled that as a young man he was in the crowd which gathered when I came to Kanilai during an election campaign and that all I had given a gift of a handsome walking stick to his uncle Jejew, the renowned born healer.
We were nearly an hour and a half into the conversation when the president asked to make certain expectations of his clear. He said reconciliation between us did not mean that I was compelled to make any statements in support of his party. He was not asking for my support just that I return as an elder statesman....
After a brief pause, I told him that I observed he was now an accomplished diplomat. President Jammeh broke into a heartily laugh and we carried on a short flurry of quite friendly exchanges. He then mentioned that Mariam had once asked him if it would be possible for his government to provide a pension for me once I came home. He informed me that he told Mariam that a pension would be my entitlement, and that should not be a problem indeed, the government tabled the issues before the National Assembly that passed the bill in June 2006 establishing the office of the Former Presidents (See Appendix 2).
Anyway, president Jammeh drew the conversation to a close with jovial small talk that we continued to exchange. We laughed together and we were bidding each other goodbye.. the phone rang again and Kujabi came back on.
Kujabi said that at last he would sleep well when he went to bed. .... He advised that all I had to do was to accept, and everything would be resolved. ... Kujabi repeated the promise to make a public statement of the president’s intentions and I asked that he send me a copy of the statement before it was broadcast. He promised that he would do so.
President Jammeh came on again and ... saying a final good bye. He mentioned that I would be free to do whatever I wanted when I came back. I assured him that I would think over the matter and consult my family friends. He closed in English, expressing again the deep sense in him of a son wanting his father to come back home.
I replaced the receiver. All eyes were on me. Mariam broke the silence. She said I must accept the offer. .. It was 2 am, so I asked my nieces to go to bed and get some well-deserved sleep. I spend the coming days thinking deeply over those dramatic two hours on the phone with president Jammeh. Mariam and Fatma could not see why I had to think long o this matter. I explained to them that the issue was complex one and every detail had to be thought out properly. Mina went back to Banjul, her message delivered successfully. ...
The next day, 1 September 2001, I disclosed the offer from president Jammeh with my sons Dawda, Kawsu, Foday and Ebrima. In the discussion they pointed out that I had spent over seven years and almost all of the meagre resources I had trying to restore democracy and the rule of law in the Gambia without breaking the law and through peaceful means43. I was also not getting any younger at 77. They pointed out that the APRC regime was each day gaining more recognition and respectability in the international scene. They advised that I should accept the offer, but to wait until after the elections were held and things had quitened down before returning home.
Some time passed and nothing happened. It was not clear to me why there was a lull since Kujabi and the president phoned me. I had still not received the promised draft I asked for of any statement the president intended to make so that we would all be on the same wavelength, as it were, on the matter. However, it also struck me that there had not been an inauguration ceremony for the president since his election in October. I assumed the two things were connected. I was right. President Jammeh finally took the oath of office on Friday 21 December 2001 and, in his inaugural address, announced he had granted me unconditional amnesty.
In a phone call I had with Omar Jallow I pointed out to him that I thought the word amnesty was rather inappropriate, he and I analysed the mood of the moment and he advised strongly that we ignore technicalities and semantics and concentrate on the spirit of the language rather than the text. He urged me to accept the offer. He had heard reactions already from some quarters urging me not to accept but he advised that I should never be swayed by those opinions. He said my peace of mind and my homecoming from a long exile were important...
I also called Alhaji Sir Alieu Sulayman Jack. I brefed him on the situation and we talked about the announcement in the inaugural address. He offered his candid views and at the end of our conversation he left me with one rather magistraterial instruction: “do not forget your aides”
All the reservations I heard were those I knew were from inside my team in London who were jittery over my possible predisposition and opinions I had obtained both within and outside UK, it was the fear most of my aides had as did a few others that the British government might rescind their asylum status and take away their benefits as soon I was reconciled with the government and went back home.
I cleared that grave misreading of the sylum regulations when I quickly invited my ideas to Birchen Lane 14 January 2002 for deliberations on the subjects of my return to the Gambia. Sara Janha came; so did Phoday Jarjussey, Momodou Lamin Kassama, Modou Njie, Alpha Jallow. Sarjo Jammeh, Momodou Ndow Njie, Momodou Bobb, Tijan Touray and a few others. I was frank on the issues and listened to the reservations or endorsements they had to offer. They were anxious to know how the contact with President Jammeh had come about. I gave them details of Mina’s visit. They asked what my response was to the offer. I told them I would request the government of t he Gambia for the extension of the same privileges to everyone who wanted to return, which was all I could do.
They listened but with each playing the usual cards very close to their chest. Some pleaded with me not to leave until I was able to negotiate the return of their properties to them. Others suggested that my return must e guaranteed in writing by President Jammeh. Frankly, some o f the conditions they put forward I simply did not consider feasible the shift of emphasis from the goodwill and informality of the family level negotiations between President Jammeh and me could easily hamper the reconciliation process by bringing in formality and third parties.
It was clear to me that some of my ideas were not ready grasping that the discussion between the UK government and me was also working around recommendations I forwarded that, by extension, anyone who asked to come with me would be covered by he same privileges that would be granted with me and members of my immediate family. Letters between McDonnell and Baroness Amos in February and May 2002 finally confirmed that my refugees status in the UK would not be jeopardized in the medium term by my return to the Gambia. The baroness point out that any return, though voluntary, would be, some extent, an exercise to test the water and in those circumstances re-assessment of my refugee status would not be made until two years after my return. Within that time, I would retain indefinite leave to remain in the UK. That, by any stretch of the immigration, was mightily generous already considering that, ordinarily, a refugee who went back to their own country for any reason automatically lost their refugee status. These privileges were extended to all my aides but, in the end, only three of them took the offer and submitted their names to travel with me.
On 16 January 2002, I caught the seven o’clock train out of Haywards Health to East Grinstead and went to the Queen Victoria hospital where I had an operation for contract in my right eye. It was a successful one. The job on my contract complaints would be finally completed later in July after the operation on the left eye. Then I gave thanks to medical science that I received my full sight again. Over the couple of weeks, I refrained from reading and, miraculously, very soon, I began enjoying my full and brilliant view of colours again.
The news of the reconciliation spread fast and arouse interest at the level of the OAU and among Gambians in the Diaspora. On 19 February, I honoured an invitation from the Ghanian High Commissioner to the UK, Isaac Osei, to visit him in his office, Osei a fellow Akara44 discussed with me the details of my proposed return, Chilel, Alex da Costa and I met Osei and his deputy and we went over the major details of the offer from Banjul. I briefed him on how I keep the international focus on the issue in light of its importance. ...
Osei promise to relay my greetings to Accra and to let Kufuor know of my deep appreciation of his kind gesture of calling me on the phone while I was in Tenerife and asking that I keep him updates. Osei briefed us further that President Kufuor was in touch with regional leaders who were keenly following the situation. They wish to see me return safely.
Meanwhile, arrangement were on course for Dawda and Kawsu to visit the Gambia and take inventory of the properties as president Jammeh has promised. They left on 8 January 2002, and I called Omar Jallow to him know my two sons were on their way to Banjul.
On the 11 January 2002, Kawsu and Dada were invited to meet the president at Kanilai. He reassured them that the properties were safe and that arrangements would be made for them to be inspected. They found my farm at Banjulinding run down and much of the equipment if not stolen in a poor state repair. My son Ebrima today manages the farm after extensive repairs were carried out on it.. dawda, a civil engineer, observed that the property at Brikama was structurally unsound and recommended its demolition.46 34 Wellington street was also in a poor state of repair. The Gambia navy would vacate 7 Louvel street, leaving it in pretty good shape. My residence on 40 Atlantic by Gamsen took several weeks to complete, which delay my return home. President Jammeh had insisted that ht house be renovated before homecoming.
Even though President Jammeh had structed that all my properties be return to me, 66 Dobson street and three other smaller undeveloped properties of mine that were sold to AMRC were never returned.