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An open Letter: The Senseless Massacre of Forty-four Ghanaian Nationals in The Gambia

By Mathew K. Jallow
By Mathew K. Jallow

8/19/2009 10:55:59 PM -

President John Atta Mills
Accra, Ghana July 13th. 2009
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Dear Mr. President,

Sir, congratulations to you and the Ghanaian people for being the sub-Saharan African country chosen to host newly elected American President, Barack H. Obama. Political events in Ghana over the past several years have demonstrated that your country truly deserved this honor, and your countrymen can be proud of how far Ghana has come with respect to the institutionalization of civil societies, free, fair and tamperproof conduct of elections, respect of the two-term presidential limit as enshrined in your constitution, and the truly remarkable peaceful transition of power over the past few election cycles. To the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, West Africa in particular, Ghana has been a leader, a beckon of hope that Anglophone African countries have admired. Today, many proud Ghanaians are returning home from overseas to take advantage of the new economic opportunities being created, to be the vanguard in your country�s remarkable social, economical and cultural transformation. Gambians truly envy the spirit of your peoples� commitment to live up to the true ideals of democratic and accountable governance. The true application of the rule of law, fair dispensation of justice, and opportunities accessible to all without regard to tribe, religion or other discriminatory barriers, is becoming pervasive in every sector of Ghanaian society, and that is the way it should be. If you keep up the spirit and transform this new tradition into an entrenched political culture, your country will soon become the Botswana of West Africa.

The primary reason for writing, however, is the recently concluded report pertaining to the unconscionable massacre, in The Gambia, by Gambian military and security forces, of nearly fifty Ghanaian and five other ECOWAS nationals from Togo, Guinea-Conakry and Senegal. Yahya Jammeh�s recent offer to compensate the families of the Ghanaians whose slaughter he had ordered back in 2005 is the closest he has come yet to affirming his guilt in this horrific incident. Jammeh�s sleek attempt to extricate himself from blame in your countrymen�s slaughter, has been challenged by The Gambia media, who know how he operates and how things of this nature work in The Gambia.

To begin with, it was the Gambian media which first broke the news of this horrendous barbarity not long after it happened, but to our dismay, the Ghanaian authorities at that time seemed to ignore the story, probably because to the government of John Kaffur, it may have sounded too bizarre to be credible. But fast forward to now, Gambians for the most part refute the findings of the recently concluded investigative panel and the report submitted to your government as totally fictitious and not worth the paper it is written on. For starters, everyone in The Gambia knows for a fact it was Yahya Jammeh who ordered the slaughter of the defenseless immigrants from your country, Togo, Guinea and our neighbor Senegal, and there are credible eyewitnesses who will reveal the full story of what really happened. The rationalization that these victims were mistaken for rebels is as dubious as it is fantastic. Sir, how can a group of unarmed young men carry out a military overthrow of a country where they have no accomplice and where they know no one, and are unarmed, hungry and disheveled? During the interrogations, the group had in fact explained in no uncertain terms that they were immigrant transients on their way to the Canary Island off the coast of Morocco, but Jammeh instead of investigating further, decided to take their lives instead. Gambians are making it abundantly clear that Jammeh, as head of the military junta in our country, personally ordered the senseless slaughter that occurred on the beaches of Brufut and Tanje.

Now, Jammeh has finally realized the futility of denying the self evident, and his offer to compensate the families of his victims is in the opinion of most Gambians, an admission of culpability and a confessed to complicity in the commitment of such a heinous crime. Judging from the way that he has dispatched nearly eighty innocent Gambians to their untimely death over the past years, we can say with absolute certainty that he was the architect of the slaughter of the fifty innocent immigrants most of who were Ghanaians. Now that Yahya Jammeh has admitted that his security forces are to blame for a heinous crime, the wheel of justice must begin to grind. As Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Jammeh is uniquely positioned to get to the bottom of this crime, and bring the guilty to stand trial. And we are confident that at the end of a thorough investigation, one primary actor in this sad tale who will be found complicit in the cruel ordeal would be Yahya Jammeh himself.

Sir, this genocidal crime cannot just be swept under the rug because Jammeh has agreed to compensate families of his victims, nor will we allow political expediency to override the rule of law. We urge your government to take this matter to its logical conclusion in the interest of justice for the victims, their families and our two peoples. The government of Ghana needs, therefore, to rethink the agreement you signed with Yahya Jammeh in Tripoli recently, because a crime was committed, and this matter is no longer an issue of diplomacy, but of law. This matter must not be laid to rest until a full accounting of what happened is brought to light, because the report on which the recent memorandum of understanding you signed with Yahya Jammeh in Tripoli, was a work of fiction and, therefore, lacks credibility. Moreover, despite the fact the victims were foreign nationals, the crimes were committed on Gambian territory, and The Gambian, has a prosecutable offence against Yahya Jammeh and his band of executioners. Sir, notwithstanding your desire to normalize relations with Jammeh�s regime, therefore, your government must not be driven by political expediency to take the easy way out. The only way the dead can be honored is by thoroughly investigating the circumstances surrounding their executions. Sir, according to the report, Jammeh has blamed members of his military and security forces for the executions, and we in The Gambia have become accustomed to him never taking responsibility for his action, but this time, we refuse to allow his lies and deception to take on a ring of truth to them.

In a new development, Jammeh recently sent representatives to Nigeria to propagate lies and give false information regarding the massacre incident with the intent to conceal the truth, because the regime is aware that the testimony it gave to the investigators is replete with lies and is totally lacking in credibility. For instance, the existence of the notorious Lamine Tunkara and Captain Taylor, the offending human smugglers mentioned in the report, is being called into question. These two people probably do not exist in our country, and many Gambians have determined that they are made up names. In addition Sir, apart from fishing canoes, there are no boats in The Gambia that the elusive Mr. Taylor can captain across the Atlantic Ocean to the Canary Islands, the destination of the would be immigrants. Finally, we understand that the investigators never interviewed any of the eyewitnesses to this unimaginable cruelty on that fateful terrifying dark night when fifty innocent West Africans, all citizens of ECOWAS member states, were mowed down by the crackle of machine gun fire. Jammeh can now pay the families of his victims, but that does not make the crime go away, on the contrary, it should be the beginning of the litigation phase, and the ECOWAS court in Abuja, should take up the case. Sir, Jammeh, having admitted wrong doing by Gambian security forces, must be impelled to produce the perpetrators and himself to tell the people of Ghana, Gambia, the ECOWAS member states, Africa and the world, what really happened on that day so long ago.

Your Sincerely
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Mathew K. Jallow

Mathew K. Jallow, a renowned Gambian human rights crusader, is Associate Editor of The Gambia Echo Newspaper, Interim President, Gambia Press Association, USA, and International Coordinator, The National Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in The Gambia.

C.C
Ban ki-Moon, Secretary General, United Nations, New York
Dr. John Chambas, President, ECOWAS, Abuja, Nigeria
President, The Africa Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Executive Director, Media Foundation for West Africa, Accra, Ghana
Executive Director, Amnesty International, London, U.K
Executive Director, Committee to Protect Journalists, New York
Senegalese Foreign Minister, Dakar, Republic of Senegal
Nigerian Foreign Minister, Abuja, Nigeria
South African Foreign Minister, Pretoria, South Africa
U.S Ambassador, Banjul, The Gambia
British High Commissioner, Banjul The Gambia
Chinese Ambassador, Dakar, Senegal
The Ghanaian Press