Talibeh Hydara, Standard Newspaper

 

Banka Manneh, a Gambian resident in the United States, is the chairman of the Gambia Civil Society Associations. Banka left for US in the early days of the Jammeh regime and has since been an outspoken critic of the former dictator who went into exile last month.

In December 2014, Banka was involved in the ill-fated plot to overthrow the Gambian regime of former president Yahya Jammeh. He was later arrested in the US, tried and sentenced to six-months in prison by a court in Minnesota for aiding and abetting in preparation of the failed coup. He was also given three years probation and US$200 fine.

Banka was jailed along with three other US-based Gambians—Cherno Njie, Papa Faal, and Alagie Saidy Barrow—all pleaded guilty to violating the Neutrality Act.
In this Q&A, Banka talks to Standard Editor about his exile in the United States and his preparation to return home after more a decade in exile.

When did you go to US?
I moved to the United States in 1995, a year after the Yaya Jammeh led military coup.

What were the reasons?
I went to the U.S on a mission but then decided to stay because of the uncertainty back in The Gambia.

During your stay in the US, how did you turn your life into a meaningful one?
Mostly working two jobs (and sometimes three), I went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. This gave me the opportunity to secure very good jobs. Some years later, I went back to school to earn my Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA). During this period, I also began to get more vocal against the human rights abuses being meted out on innocent Gambians by Yaya Jammeh and his henchmen in The Gambia.

You have been against Jammeh’s regime for years, what do you hate the most about him and his leadership?
Total lack of the rule of law. The man treated the country as his personal fiefdom to the point where the Constitution was totally disregarded. This led to the sorts of callous brutality, corruption, sycophancy, “flamboyant life style,” and maladministration never before witnessed in this once peaceful country. In the end, all the institutions crumbled rendering the country unrecognizable to even a casual observer. By the end of 2000, Gambians had lost whatever little dignity they had left.

Where do you think he could have done better?
Respect the Constitution, allow checks and balances by letting the media function freely and coming to terms with the idea that our system had three branches of government for a reason.

After many elections, Jammeh remained and you were involved in the team that tried force against him in 2014. Why?
John F. Kennedy once said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Yaya pretty much made it impossible for a change of government to take place without resorting to force. If anyone had any doubts, the intervention of ECOMIG to enforce this past December election results should finally put that issue to rest for him/her. His recent actions have fully vindicated the December 30 incident. The fact is; we were dealing with an evil monster who wanted to stay in power by any means necessary, including committing the worst crimes unimaginable.

You were tried in US for violation of the Neutrality Act and subsequently jailed for six months. While in prison, did you regret going that far?
United States is a country of laws, she is bound to act when those laws are violated. The U.S gave me everything I got, including a good life, education, and many other wonderful opportunities. So I have never had any intentions to offend this country at all, and that’s why I have lived here for more than two decades and never been arrested until the December 30 incident. The only thing I regret about December 30 is the breaking of U.S laws and the loss of lives of Njaga Jagne, Alagie Jaja Nyass, and Lamin Sanneh. I love the U.S.A.

Many exiled Gambians lost their parents or loved ones while Jammeh looked certain to rule for a billion years, did you lose anyone back home but couldn’t return to pay your last respect?
Of course yes. I have lost brothers, uncles, cousins, step-mother, aunties etc. and could not visit to pay my last respect. As you know, there are many Gambians in that same boat.

How much has this struggle to get rid of Jammeh taken from you? And is it worth it?
Financial security. I used to have, first marriage, a business, time away from my wife and kids, and my mother not being able to return home for 13 years. It’s all worth it. Country first – always.

Your release was widely celebrated in the Diaspora; people consider you a hero. Do you feel like that?
I am not a hero. I was only doing what any citizen would do for his/her country. I am sure any Gambian that had access to the information regarding the kinds of horrors taking place against our people in that country would do the same if called upon. So I was just an ordinary guy doing what I had to do.
Jammeh has gone into exile. Do you feel satisfied that he’s gone or you want him to face justice?
He has to face justice. I hope that is high on the agenda for the coalition government. We won’t rest until the victims have their day in court.

When will Banka Manneh return home and do you have any intention of serving in government when you return?
I am just working out some few issues here in the U.S and I will be heading home. I have not given the idea of serving the new government much thought so I am not ruling it in or out.