I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” George Washington, First President of the United States.
George Washington, as we are all aware also knew that the meaning of honesty is being “free of deceit and untruthfulness; sincere” because he has lived it. His courage in leading the troops and inspiring them during the war of Independence from Great Britain by the United States is to this day the stuff of legend. When names of men of courage are called, his is always a forgone conclusion.
As it turns out, our dear Gambia also has her own George Washingtons, They come from every part of the country; both urban and rural, and from all backgrounds. These are the men that are willing to put their lives on the line for their nation in an attempt to secure freedom, peace, and prosperity for a people denied these basic rights. They have names like Alhagie Jaja Nyass, Njaga Jagne, Lamin Sanneh, Modou Njie, Alagie Barrow, Bai Lowe, Papa Faal, Banka Manneh, Cherno Njie, Landing Sonko, Dawda Bojang, Musa Sarr – all of them men of highest integrity.
Njaga Jagne, Papa Faal, and Alagie Barrow have similar stories. Before he died fighting to liberate Gambia from the clutches of tyranny, Njaga Jagne led an ordinary life as a U.S Army Captain. He did several tours overseas before settling with his wife and kids in Kentucky. If his occasional Facebook postings expressing disgust and frustration at the human rights abuses taking place in The Gambia are anything to go by, he was one person who showed signs of desperation to do something about it. Alagie Barrow and Papa Faal were rarely on Facebook if at all. They too were in the U.S army, did several tours during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rose through the ranks, and left honorably. They didn’t exhibit any signs that they intended to do something about the mess in their homeland. All of them men of few words, but that is the Modus Operandi of brave men – less talk and more action is what defines their attitude towards issues. Njaga, Alagie, and Papa aren’t the type that will beat their chests in an attempt to intimidate or boast. When you talk to family and friends of theirs, words like loyal, kind, gutsy, resolute, caring get dropped like rain in describing these mild mannered gentle giants.
Alhagie Jaja Nyass is yet another ordinary gentleman. Kejau Touray of GambiaDaily’s description of this patriot couldn’t be more apt: “Jaja Nyass, hailed from Bakau, a nephew of army commander Ndow Njie and because of that many of us did not regard him with any seriousness, but Jaja proved everyone wrong, he was down to earth, one of the fittest Gambian soldiers, daring, physically and mentally courageous, who, the Turkish Training Team, often cite as an example of physical and mental courage, primarily because of his daring jumps from very tall obstacles, half way down the swinging ladder.” Before he left the UK to take part in the liberation fight, he led a quiet live and even got married just barely a month prior. He gave his young bride a goodbye kiss not knowing whether he would return or not.
Lamin Sanneh was the State Guard Commander prior to leaving The Gambia to settle on asylum in the United States. He had fallout with Dictator Jammeh because he was not happy with the abuse going on. When Yahya discovered that Lamin was not a Jola (Lamin’s Sanneh last name is very common among Jolas and he also hailed from Foni, a predominantly Jola Constituency), he was much eager to get rid of him. Upon arrival in the U.S, Lamin got a job and settled with his wife and kids in Maryland. However, the memories of the human rights abuses he left in The Gambia continue to haunt him – his conscience wouldn’t allow him to ignore them unlike many before him have done, and just move with his life.
Modou Njie, Dawda Bojang, and Bai Lowe’s stories are similar and intriguing on so many levels. They all served in The Gambia National Army, and left on principles because, just like Lamin Sanneh, were not happy with the killings and brutality against innocent civilians. But unlike Lamin, these took what is described as the “Backway” to reach Germany. The “Backway” is the riskiest form of travel since it involves going through other countries – often very hostile environments, to get to Europe. They suffered a lot before they could get there. Yet, after arriving and beginning to settle down, they picked up their bags and decided to head back to The Gambia to liberate it from the madness that obtains there.
Musa Sarr was also an ex-member of The Gambia National Army –a principled soft spoken man with a very calm demeanor about him. But don’t let the calmness fool you – he explodes like a grenade on any suspicion of injustice towards anyone. He too left the army bitter about the wrongs done to his colleagues and overall abuse in the country. He sought refuge in the neighboring country where he was always on standby to join any effort to end the dictatorship in his home country. He is truly a man of his words.
Not much is known about Landing Sonko, but word is that he worked closely with Lamin Sanneh when Sanneh was an officer in the army – Sonko was a junior ranking soldier. His commitment to duty and country was what attracted Lamin to this fellow. He believed that it is the patriotic duty of soldiers to come to the rescue when the constitution of the country is being abused especially when it is costing innocent lives. This was his driving motivation. He was in the country serving in the army when he decided to join the gallant men.
Banka Manneh and Cherno Njie have similar stories. They both came to the United States to seek education and after graduating, stayed to pursue the American dream. Cherno went on to create one of the most successful real estate companies in Texas, while Banka went on to work in corporate American mainly in the Construction Industry. They have both been very troubled by the abuses in their country of origin, despite their U.S citizenship statuses. Banka for his part has always been an activist, he organized protest marches against the killings, disappearances and tortures in The Gambia, lobbied International bodies and governments to intervene, helps the Opposition parties with funds and was even part of the group that helped create the only amalgamation of all opposition parties to contest in the elections called National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD), engages in social media campaigns, generally very active in the Diaspora, and at the local level in Atlanta. Cherno has funded many initiatives for democracy advocacy in The Gambia.
So looking at the profiles of these individuals, one can wonder why they were willing to sacrifice all the comforts they are enjoying to liberate a faraway country that some of them haven’t even visited in a long time. The answer for that question lies in the daily reports of killings and other horrible human rights abuses in The Gambia that come from human rights groups, personal stories, online radio stations, and President Yahya Jammeh’s own open pronouncements and actions that have turned this once peaceful country into the worst dictatorship anyone can imagine. Many Gambians care deeply about their country and these daily briefings do take their toll. Some have resigned our faith to God, but this minority of gallant men has decided our faith as a nation lies in our own hands. Freedom is neither cheap nor handed on a silver platter. Their honesty, integrity, and courage forced them to make the ultimate sacrifice just like George Washington and those gallant men and women did to free American from the bondage imposed on it by the British. The conscience of these brave Gambian men didn’t allow them to sit still, continue with their daily good lives and pretend it is someone else’s responsibility to free their nation from slavery. In doing so, they have proven to us all that they “possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what” we “consider the most enviable of all titles” – “the character of an honest man.” For that, we remain indebted to them forever.
Njaga, Jaja Nyass, and Lamin Sanneh lost their lives during the battle. They fought bravely too. We will continue to pray for their souls and comfort their families. We owe them a debt of gratitude for making the ultimate sacrifice. Modou Njie was captured; we will continue to fight for his release. We are hopeful that freedom and justice will prevail someday soon; their sacrifice will not be in vain.
Honest men who gave their country their all, we shall never forget that!