Freedom Newspaper: Can you briefly describe your journalistic life?

Alhagie Mbye: To be honest with you, my life as a journalist in The Gambia was exciting. I love every bit and piece of it. Even though friends and family members were concerned about my safety and well being, I was still pushing the pen. I think I was motivated by my sincerity and honesty and had the conviction that what I was doing is right and many had appreciated my efforts.

Freedom Newspaper: As a former Independent Newspaper Senior Staff Reporter, and London-based West Africa Magazine Banjul Correspondent, what was life like in those days?

Alhagie Mbye: Yes I was the most senior reporter at the Independent Newspaper since my friend and colleague N.B Daffeh left for England. He created a vacuum and I missed him a great deal but he told me his decision to leave was equally important. He is magnificent and outstanding lad. I was happy that editors appreciated my work and some of them confessed that they cannot believe my determination and strength of mind to do all those interesting and valuable contribution to the paper. I can fully remember when Editor-in-Chief Baba Galleh Jallow told me in the computer room in the presence of staff that my stories have make a difference and that sometimes he had a enough reserved quality lead stories coming from me. He really made me proud of my self. My Editor in London was equally happy and grateful with my performance and as a matter of fact he is still in touch with me. I hate to sit inside the office waiting for information; instead I usually tour the country to search for the best stories. Looking for such stories I spent in night with strangers in Kiang, Badibou, URD and other places. I spoke to people from all walks of life ranging from farmers to fishermen to express their concern, apprehension and appreciation. As much as many of them criticized the Gambia Government many had unbelievably support for President Jammeh and his administration. As a journalist it was my duty to report this information fairly and accurately.

Freedom Newspaper: Why should the NIA arrest you all the time?
Alhagie Mbye: That’s the Multi-million Dollar question. May be you should ask them. The NIA acting from orders believed that it is the agency’s birth right to pound on me like vultures at any time regardless. In my opinion they were merely scared of information provided to the general public which was why they accused me with undermining State security etc. They knew very well that such allegations are sheer fallacy. I had loads of encounters with the NIA through unlawfully detention or incarceration in their dungeons sometimes for days without any regards to my basic human rights.
Freedom Newspaper: How were you treated during your past arrest by the NIA?
Alhagie Mbye: I was never treated well by the NIA. Never! Instead they tried to break my resolve and determination which was impossible. One of such arrest, was on a peaceful Friday evening, I was just about to break my fast during the month of Ramadan. It was a good timing for the officers. NIA personnel Demba Ceesay and Babou Njie who are no strangers to me, including another tall slim officer whom I never met apparently kidnapped me and drove me around Kerr sering village before they suddenly stopped and talked among themselves for a while. Later they speeded to the NIA Headquarters in Banjul. As usual I was dumped in a dungeon full with mosquitoes and other dangerous insects. I spent another two days in cell without eating. I never thought I can stay alive for so long without food. Finally the third day they brought me the worst dish I ever had in my life and I was asked to eat with some other prisoners. However having said that I never contemplated the NIA was capable to torture me. I used to be very cautious with allegation of torture because it is a very serious one. Sadly I was brutally tortured during my last arrest with electric appliance attached to a high voltage machine that was inserted on my ears and private parts. While I was screaming, officers stood by enjoying the barbarity and laughing among themselves. The brutality of Demba Cessay, Babou Njie and Wassa Gassama who introduced himself as Mr. Killer is unspeakable. Gassama or Killer even told me during my torture session that he had disguised as a journalist during the Guinea Bissau civil war and had killed civilians. I could never believe in my life that Gambians are capable of mistreating any human being as such and since then the myth that foreign men were hired by the administration to torture never in my vocabulary. I don’t know Gassama very well but Ceesay and Njie used to be normal photographers wandering around town looking for petty contract during local ceremonies. In fact Njie worked at Saffideen photo lab in Serekunda around Bambo and had some experience in electrical work because he was also working opposite Saffideen at a metal workshop. His experience in wire and cable now take pleasure at the NIA by inserting wire attached to heavy electric to maim and injure innocent people forever. Senior officer such as former NIA Director Abdoulie Kujabi (now in prison), Captain Saine (the blind officer), Salimina Drammeh now involved in the current diamond saga involving the German nationals and Captain Bojang’s role in my torture cannot be under-reported. They openly gave orders for my incarceration. I must confessed that due to such appalling experience, I am now involved in some human right projects.

Freedom Newspaper: During the 2000 Presidential Elections, you filed a piece to the West African Magazine in which you reported that the polls were fraudulent. Some Casamance citizens were allowed to vote. Can you elaborate more on this story?

Alhagie Mbye: I gathered the information from my best trusted sources about the fraudulent polls. As a matter of fact, while I was still investigating the story, opposition members who attended a special conference at the Kairaba Beach Hotel with local and international journalists and international observers from Commonwealth member countries and others places also complained about such problems. I could remember a Gambian voter’s card owned by a foreign national was tendered as evidence. However I treated such allegation with impartiality and during voting time, two of my sources who happened to be from Cassamance working in the country but holding Gambian voter cards took me to locations where such cards were issued on a massive scale. It took place in Tallinding, Tabokoto and Bakau. I interviewed some of them and went ahead with the story and hoped it would help all stakeholders to rectify the situation. The stakeholders appealed to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) who later agreed that anyone whose name failed to appear in the original register would not allow to vote. To my utmost surprise less than forty-eight hours prior to Election Day, the IEC announced it had received instructions to reverse that decision. I could remember the opposition protested but it was too late. I reported the story not only to the Independent Newspaper but also to the West Africa Magazine in London. The article was not digested in good faith by the authorities and the mighty NIA acted again and arrested me.

Freedom Newspaper: Has the opposition ever sought to use you to sell their agenda to the international media, as believe in some quarters?

Alhagie Mbye: The last thing to do in my life is to allow anyone to use me for his personal interest. My journalistic Code of Conduct can never be compromised. The most dangerous thing for a journalist to do is to be used by other people because if you allow it to happen you will end up in ruins forever. Reporting opposition rallies, meetings and press conferences that rarely covered by the National Media paid for by the tax-payers don’t necessary mean that I was sympathetic to their cause. I respect divergent views and opinions no matter who utters them. Equally I reported loads of stories about President Jammeh and the APRC. I do so to the extent of attending the same prayer with the President at a Bundung Mosque to report what he had to say. If you have a good memory Pa Nderry you could recalled when I was with you reporting in a Banjul court when a rich Chinese business man in a legal wrangling with his partners later offered me a large sum of money. I was following the case for months and as a poor reporter I flatly refused his offer. You even hailed me for that. Money is sweet but to me pride is the utmost. You may also recalled when Baba Jobe invited me to his place for a ‘hand-sake’. I again refused his generous offer. The NIA offered me a job while in detention but I emphatically refused. So only a barmy person will associate me with siding anyone of selfish purposes. Therefore my association with any politician or political must be based on professional reasons. In the end of the day journalist need contacts and the best sources are the embedded ones.

Freedom Newspaper: How about Lawyer Darboe? Is he your friend, as Fatou Jahumpa Ceesay (current Speaker) used to allege. I remember FJC branding Pa Nderry M’Bai and Alhagie Mbye as opposition journalists during our days at the Daily Observer. How would you react to such accusations?

Alhagie Mbye: It was shocking and scandalous allegation but never mind because I never responded to that outrageous allegation. To be honest with you I have very high regards for Fatou’s family. Her late father may his soul rest in peace used to be very kind to me when I was a boy. I usually visited him for lessons including History, government and Geography even though he was still lying in bed very weak and unwell. I was the best history and government student in class by then. He always told his wife at his Banjul residence that I was always invited despite the fact that not many people were allowed to see him during that period of his life. I still appreciate that. Fatou Jahumpha had contributed a great deal in persuading NIA Director Kujabi to ‘teach me a good lesson’ and had made phone calls to the NIA asking how much pain I was treated. All the same but always remember that what goes around comes around.

Freedom Newspaper: What can you tell us about the Baba Jobe’s Blood Diamond and Armed Trafficking story that led to your arrest by the NIA? What actually happened?

Alhagie Mbye:The Blood Diamond story was a serious and revealing allegation. The threat by the United Nations to investigate the Blood Diamond and Gun-Trafficking which Baba Jobe was accused to have involved with was an important story as far as I was concerned. During my investigation, a prominent member of the July 22 Movement member called Fa-Bakary Kolior Camara rang me many times and requested me to interview him regarding the matter. Finally we met and he revealed that arms and money were supplied to them during training. Mr. Camara said he was prepared to testify against Baba Jobe and gave evidence to any international court regarding the matter. I contacted the government side for reaction including the defending of Baba Jobe by a government press statement and another press conference organized by the Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Sedat Jobe who categorically denied Jobe’s involvement in the matter. So what was the real meaning of arresting me?

Freedom Newspaper: What happened when Fabakary Kolior Camara was also invited by the NIA to shed light on the interview you had with him?

Alhagie Mbye: Camara was never invited at the NIA. In fact he was arrested for three days. The NIA officers threatened him to retract his statement. I found him looking very worried and extremely nervous at the NIA office. He was crying explaining to officers that his mother in Jarra was confused about his whereabouts and needed to be released. NIA officers Tijan Bah who was until recently working at the Gambian Embassy in London and Demba Ceesay used confrontational method between a journalist and a source. The whole episode was video recorded through out and the two men threatened to put me behind bars until when they were convinced that I had in possession the evidence of my interview with Camara. One of the NIA Directors happened to come out from his office was honest enough to tell his junior officers to stop the recording and let me leave. Camara who was still wearing a UDP shirt absurdly told officers that he was supporter of President Jammeh and was prepared to be paraded National Television to pledge his allegiance to the APRC. He was in true agony. However after the senior officer’s intervention, i left the NIA a ‘free’ man. When he was released, Camara rang me again and had apologized for what he told the NIA officers.

Freedom Newspaper: In your view, what most have prompted Fabakary Kolior Camara to deny the claims attributed to him? Was he threatened by the NIA?

Alhagie Mbye: Off course he was speaking under complete duress and coercion. As I said earlier he was still crying for his mum and taken into consideration that these NIA men are capable and proficient of what they do, i cannot rule out anything including torture. NIA officer Tijan Bah told me Camara was not tortured but I cannot believe him simply because he was the same person Tijan Bah who told me that former Student Union leader Nyabally was never tortured while under NIA custody contrary to what actually happened. However during my detention at the NIA, I saw evidence that Tijan Bah was one of the most brutal and vile officers at the Agency.

Freedom Newspaper: Has Baba Jobe met you at the NIA during the interrogation session?

Alhagie Mbye: Frankly speaking Baba Jobe never met me at the NIA. Remember that he was a very strong man in government and his instruction is enough to help him get whatever he wants. Beside anything the man has been very generous to many other people and as a result gains lots of admirers and supporters with vast influence.

Freedom Newspaper: The same Baba Jobe was indicted by the United Nations for armed trafficking and the sale of “Blood Diamonds.” In your view, has the government of the Gambia created the “Baba Jobe factor” to harass and bully opponents? Where you surprised when the government disowned Jobe one fine morning?

Alhagie Mbye: Yes the poor man was indicted. Later he ended up in the horrible Mile Two prison after he fell out with President Jammeh. Funnily it was the same government who publicly announced and wrote letters to the United Nations protesting that the man was innocent. Many had argued that he is a scapegoat and his family and supporters are very angry about what is happening to him. He really deserves an appeal. Also was Baba Jobe used and dumped is another matter.

Freedom Newspaper: What is your most favorite story you authored since you started journalism?

Alhagie Mbye: It was when I wrote an article convincing and persuading the World Health Organization (WHO) to help provided meningitis vaccine to a million Gambia children. I was told by heath official at the Department of Health that each vaccine at that time cost One Dollar and it was hard or rather impossible for the Department to conduct any vaccination without outside assistance. The lives of thousands of Gambian children were at stake. My appealed was considered. Another story was when I reported the toxic waste that was dumped at the Banjul waters when large amounts of money reportedly exchanged hands between unscrupulous government officers. I believe it was a very unpatriotic moved and I even end up disguising as a staff of the port and took pictures and recording information from files regarding the deal. It later became a bone of contention at the National Assembly. The Prison Hunger Strike was also another favorite story. The story entitled ‘Hunger Strike Reported at Mile Two’ was very disgusting and repulsive. I learned about the situation of those inmates some of them imprisoned for more than ten years without trial. I took names of the men from my source and was assisted by another source to enter the prison in order to confirm the story. Unfortunately after publication, I end-up been arrested with Editor in-Chief Baba Galleh Jallow. The former Interior Minister Ousman Badjie was very furious about the article and had influenced such arrest. A guarantee of D50, 000 was offered to grant us a bail and I remember Baba Galleh telling officers to leave us alone and go after criminals.

Freedom Newspaper: What inspired you to take up journalism as your profession?

Alhagie Mbye: During my school day I used to love debates and writing. I write a lot and was good in memorizing. I could memorize anything even a full book. I also admired journalist especially when i saw then report in newspapers, magazines or on television. I love smart people and journalists are and hate oppression and bulling in all forms and journalists are very instrumental in combating such evils in our society. I was in high spirits when a British student told me in London that I personally inspired her to do journalism while she was in the living in the Gambia with her parents.

Freedom Newspaper: What have you learned during your previous arrests by the NIA?

Alhagie Mbye: I was able to know from first hand experience what the NIA is capable of doing. It also helps in my resolve and determination that no power in this world will live forever. But let us equally remember that evil cannot be defeated with evil. It is only righteousness that could defeat devil. Journalist must be sincere and not hypocritical. The Journalistic Code of Conduct be guided at all times despites anything. Our emotional must not be reflected in our writing. We must give credit where it is due.

Freedom Newspaper: Do you remember the names of the NIA officers who arrested and tortured you? If yes, please release their names.

Alhagie Mbye: Yes I have just named few of them. However it is not the end. Names must be mentioned because it is very essential. Currently I am working on a project and that such names must be exposed for the whole world to see. This is not a revenge but instead a means of trying to stop human right violation in Africa and by sharing my experience with other people.

Freedom Newspaper:What can you tell us about your encounter with Colonel Peter Singhateh? What actually went wrong?

Alhagie Mbye: Singahteh met me at the British High Commission in Fajara where I was invited at a colorful reception by the then British High Commissioner and his Assistant. A Gambian military officer was traveling to England for military training with the support the High Commission. Few days ago, I wrote about an alleged coup plot and contacted the former Army Public Relations Officer Bunja Darbo (now in prison implicated in the latest coup attempt) for the Army’s version. The story was published. So when Peter found me talking with Embassy officials, he started grumbling and soon a quarrel erupted. I think he was out to intimidate me and the Independent Newspaper by uttering serious allegations. I told him loud and clear that I have nothing to fear as far as I was reporting the truth. I also informed him clearly that I am a Gambia n , and my parents are Gambians and my grand parents are Gambians therefore it will be ridiculous for him to try to scare me in any form. After the ceremony, he had kindly offered me a lift in his car but I declined. The confrontation was reported in the following Independent edition. While Demba Jawo was still Editor in Chief at the Independent, Peter Singateh rang the office to extent his apology to me but we never spoke. However I must note that I was very worried to see him frequently inside his jeep parking in the dark few meters away from my house.

Freedom Newspaper: Do you feel intimidated when Peter confronted you in the presence of diplomats at the British High Commissioner’s residence?

Alhagie Mbye: No I was not intimidated which is why I responded that way. I believe that God is the creator of mankind.

Freedom Newspaper: You once reported about a coup story, which resulted to your arrest. What was wrong with the said story? Or was it harassment by the NIA?

Alhagie Mbye: I reported these coup stories so it was the duty of a responsible government to conduct an investigation and not by merely arresting me. What have the NIA gained by arresting me for that?

Freedom Newspaper: Do you miss the Gambia and her people?

Alhagie Mbye: I missed the investigative journalism. I missed the pat on the back and the slap on the shoulder from my admirers. The smiling faces of hard-working, intelligent and highly discipline people from all walks of life. I missed the farmers in Kiang and Badibou, the fishermen in Tanji and Brufut and those brilliant interviews from politicians, business people and men on the street etc.

Freedom Newspaper: How was your relationship with journalist Deyda Hydara?

Alhagie Mbye: Late Hydara may his soul rest in peace was not only mentor but an uncle. He was a very honest man and an independent think. He always sat there in his officer with the door wide open for everyone. He was a very down to earth man who smiles for everybody. He loves people unconditionally which is very important in life. It took me months after his untimely death to erase his mobile phone number on my phone. I couldn’t believe such an important man was gone just like that.

Freedom Newspaper: What was your first reaction when you learnt about his murder?

Alhagie Mbye: I said to my self that it was the wrong person because an innocent lovely patriotic man like Hydara cannot be murdered by any sensible person. The perpetrators must be brought to justice or else we will never be forgiven by God. Deyda was an asset to Gambia and Africa and I am still wondering how people could be so wicked in life. Even if one is reluctant to belief in judgment day, he should value other people’s life. Deyda soul will rest in peace because he was a very clean human being.

Freedom Newspaper: Now let revisit your days at the Daily Observer. When Amadou Samba bought the Observer what happened? Do you encounter any problems with the new management?

Alhagie Mbye: When things changed at the Observer I stayed for a while to study the situation and to add to my experience because history was in the making. However in the end of the day Mr. Samba is the owner of the Observer and no one has a right to deny that. So you either accept what he want or quit. He is a businessman and is guiding his business interest and in my opinion people must respect that. Period.

Freedom Newspaper: Who is journalist Ngang Thomas? Has he ever tried to censor your pieces?

Alhagie Mbye: Uncle Nyang is a very interesting man. I like him a lot. I called him uncle because his son in Banjul was my good friend. I used to read his newspaper when I was a school boy. My favorites section of his pages was ‘the Bee’. I had the same respect for him until when he was appointed editor at the Observer. Directly he never censored me, however indirectly he does. He was very charming and anticipative and always invited me to his office. At one stage he asked me to change my style of writing and switched on fashion writing. I found it very hard to comply because it was not my area. Uncle Nyang was later removed from the Observer. In fact his role as a political figure of the APRC disqualified him as an editor of any independent newspaper.

Freedom Newspaper: What make you to quit the Observer?

Alhagie Mbye: The reason why I left the Observer and packed my bags in haste was simply because I believed strongly that if you are in some one’s house, you must respect what he wants. If you cannot then you have to look for another place. By then, Baba Galleh has already registered the Independent Newspaper. I had enormous respect for Baba as an independent minded and truthful person. I joined his calls for an alternative media house. I never hide my feelings about Baba’s sincerity and until today no one can make me doubt that.

Freedom Newspaper: Do you enjoy working at the Independent? Independent was censor free, right?

Alhagie Mbye: Yes I do. The Independent was good and respected by many. If not I will never joined them and would rather look for another job. There was no censorship what so ever. My work has been valued by all the editors and I still keep evidence of praises in my favour by editors. The staff has been amazing and it was reliable establishment. I never believed that no body in his right state of mind would ever contemplate its closure. I must add that later some of the reporters at the Independent Newspaper were unhappy especially when Baba Galleh left for the United States. As a result some moved to the Observer or the Point in desperation while others disappeared and never returned. It was a sad situation but you cannot blame them. The arrogant and uncontrolled bullying attitude of Managing Editor Alhaji Yoro Jallow and the hypocrisy of some executive members of the Gambia Press Union who were reluctant to intervene had angered many of these young reporters. I am in possession of a list of complains to that effect. Some of the freelance reporters were in near destitution while the Managing editor continued to look after himself.

Freedom Newspaper: Has Yahya Jammeh changed since you left the Gambia? Or is he getting worse in terms of media freedom and good governance?

Alhagie Mbye: Off course there is great deal of infrastructural development. Even a blind person cannot dispute that fact. Development in the Brufut and other areas are shining examples. In terms of media freedom yes it is true that more should be done. There is no justification for the closure of independent media houses and the harassment of opponents of the regime. Human Rights violation must be investigated and violators prosecuted before it is too late. President Jammeh’s advisers must help him more in that direction. Remember the National Anthem ‘the Gambia our homeland. We must never be part of any destabilization endeavor and those willing to do so must be exposed. Everyone must bear in mind that we cannot afford to cope with any kind of conflict in that country. As I always tell you, we must not be part of any sensational journalism. We must not also support tribalism. Jolas are full Gambians as Mandinkas and Wolofs or Fulas. Jolas are respectable and very hard-working people. No single group is more essential than the other in the Gambia. We are all partners in the development of our motherland. If we prop up tribalism we will all live to regret it because the consequence is damaging. We must treat all Gambians equally. We must not be control by emotions in our reporting. All articles must be investigated properly and falsehood dispelled because there is no room for mendacity in journalism. Those who don’t respect journalism rules should look for another job.

Freedom Newspaper: Has the APRC government ever tried to bribe you to quit journalism?

Alhagie Mbye: As I said before including examples I cited I cannot take bribe from any one. It is my instinct and natural feelings that can’t accept it.

Freedom Newspaper: Your critics say you enjoy being arrested? Is that true?

Alhagie Mbye: No I do not enjoy arrest. I think no body in his right sate of mind will enjoy arrest and torture. Freedom is very sweet. Moreover unlawful arrest is repugnance especially when it have to do with the NIA who careless about human rights. If you have a taste of the notorious NIA dungeons then you will know whether or not it is a thing for someone to enjoy. The NIA was only exercising its uncontrolled powers over me but I do hope that there must be a day of trial and judgment on earth or hereafter.

Freedom Newspaper: Has the Jammeh government ever threatened to take you to court because of your past stories against the system?

Alhagie Mbye: They tried but later backed down. I had no case to answer. Instead the government should be in the dock for the senseless torture inflicted against me. I remember when NIA officer OC Tamba, who earlier refused to allow me medication while in poor health under custody handed over my court file to a Nigerian –born State Counsel and asked him to deal with the matter. The counsel called his attention that it was impossible for him to do it alone but Tamba suddenly walked away and left the State Counsel bewildered.

Freedom Newspaper: Any last words?

Alhagie Mbye: We should be truthful and sincere no matter what. If not we are all doomed to fail. Remember the pot cannot call the kettle black.

Freedom Newspaper: Thank you Editor Mbye for granting us this interview.

Alhagie Mbye: My pleasure.

Posted on Sunday, July 01, 2007 (Archive on Monday, July 30, 2007)
Posted by PNMBAI  Contributed by PNMBAI
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