The Gambian Diaspora

The Gambian Diasporas consists of Gambians and friends of the Gambian living outside The Republic of the Gambia. Twenty-two years of dictatorship, tyranny, oppression and suppression under Yahya Jammeh, led to thousands of Gambians young and old from all works of life, to take refuge outside the Gambia either as economic migrants or political exiles. This demographic includes many youths who took the dangerous Mediterranean journey to Europe (called The Backway).  United by their patriotism, love for country and the democratic rule of law, these diaspora’s fight against Yahya Jammeh’s misrule has become known in some quarters as “The Struggle”.

As the brutality and totality of Yahya Jammeh’s militarized rule became evident, these exiles used a multitude of internet and social media platforms to organize themselves into activists and pro-democracy organizations across the world. They created internet email lists such as Gambia-L and Gambia-post; AOL Messenger chat rooms, internet radios, Facebook and Twitter to keep each other and the world informed about the events in their homeland. They organized themselves into global non-partisan organizations to advocate for human rights and for a union of pro-democracy opposition parties in the Gambia to take on Yahya Jammeh’s increasingly brutal dictatorship. Global organizations were accompanied by country and local level Gambian groups organized in various countries around the world all aimed at supporting Gambia and Gambians. In addition to non-partisan activities, Diaspora Gambians went on to form Chapters for all the political parties. Many of these became lifelines for sustaining opposition parties under the Jammeh regime.

Diaspora Gambians’ first major break Gambian politics came when the Save The Gambia Democracy Project (STDGP) negotiations led to the formation of National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) which went to register success in parliamentary by-elections in 2006. The NADD alliance soon disintegrated due to disagreements over who should be Flag-bearer for the 2006 Presidential Election. Diaspora success in shaping Gambian public opinion began with the creation of internet radio stations, Blogosphere, Facebook Live, Viber and WhatsApp social media platforms. By 2011 Diaspora radio and news outlets had dominated Gambian media space. With persistence and perseverance, diaspora news by online newspapers and radios namely, Voice of Diaspora (Shortwave radio), Freedom Newspaper, Hello Gambia, Gainako, Kibaaro and Kairo and Sidi Sanneh Blogspot became the primary source of news about the Gambia. In 2013, Fatu Radio entered the scene and later Diasporium Radio in 2014.

The Diaspora Struggle for democracy in the Gambia took a new dimension when on December 30th, 2014, a group of Gambian exiles in the American and Europe led an aborted attempt to seize power from Yahya Jammeh. The group led by Lt. Colonel Lamin Sanneh (GAF Retired); Captain Njagga Jagne (US Army Retired) and Captain Alhagie Jaja Nyass (GAF Retired) were captured and executed in Banjul. Investigations into the incident led to the arrest, trial, and conviction of several prominent Gambians in the United States of America. Mr Cherno Njie (Texas), Mr Banka Manneh (Georgia), Captain Alagie Barrow (US Army Retired) were given prison term in the US and Captain Papa Faal probation for their role in the December 30th, 2014 insurgency.

With the world put on notice, Gambians in the diaspora renewed efforts to organize and act every way possible to support efforts to restore democracy in The Gambia, through peaceful means. Shortly after that Gambia Democracy Fund (GDF) was born. GDF against all the odds used the GoFundme crowdfunding tool, and community fundraising events to raise funds for the opposition. It is noteworthy to mention that although Yahya Jammeh was able to use Gambia government resources and media to sponsor his party’s (APRC) political campaigns, the opposition was left to fend for itself.   In October 2015 and May 2016, the Coalition for Change Gambia (CCG) and West Africa Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) organized a series of conferences on and about governance, the rule of law and democracy in The Gambia. These gatherings brought together members of opposition parties in the Gambia as well as diaspora civic organizations to strategize ways to create a united coalition. With partners on the ground, the diaspora now sees a chance to change the regime in The Gambia finally.

In April 2016, this new alliance between the diaspora and resident opposition in the Gambia was tested.

The regime’s clampdown on peaceful march by United Democratic Party Youth Leader Ebrima Solo Sandeng  culminating in the death of Solo Sandeng has for the first time tested the opposition’s resolve to stand up for their rights and the diaspora’s ability to mobilize funds and public opinion. Two days after Mr Sandeng’s arrest, Lawyer Ousainou N Darboe addressed his party followers before leading his party executives in a peaceful

“We want Solo Sandeng, dead or alive”

march. Mr Darboe and co. were swiftly arrested, detained and tried in a court that heavily favoured the views of Yahya Jammeh. Lawyer Darboe’s speech, the march and the ensuing court trial that followed, were broadcasted live on social media giving Gambians for the first time, another version of news on the Gambia. Those events became known as Kalaama/Mbaatu Revolution.  In addition, the diaspora through Gambia Democracy Fund (GDF) quickly raised funds to support families of those arrested and jailed. In the process, Gambians in the diaspora deployed social media tools like WhatsApp and Viber to communicate voice notes and videos to party militants and members of the public about the latest news. Gambians also went on Twitter, which brought this event to the attention of the international community.  The public’s reaction to events on the ground has provided the momentum and impetus for a renewed effort to a united opposition.

With UDP’s Lawyer Darboe and members of his executive in prison, Mrs Fatoumata Jallow Tambajang and Mr Halifa Sallah of PDOIS chaired a series Gambian Opposition for Electoral Reform (GOFER) talks that led to an opposition Primary Conference in October 2016. Once a united opposition Independent Candidate was selected, Diaspora Gambians got what they have been yearning for! Energized and determined Gambia Democracy Fund (GDF) led a global fundraiser in the weeks resulting in the December 1st, 2016 elections, raising an estimated four million Dalasi (D4,000,000) to fund the Independent Candidate Barrow’s campaign for President. At the same time, the Diaspora deployed voice notes on Viber and WhatsApp, Facebook Live videos, marathon programming on radios, newspapers and blog spots to take over and dominate the Gambia’s media space. Afraid of the inevitable, the regime resorted to shutting down of the internet and international telecommunication gateway hours leading to the election on December 1st, 2016.  Despite such actions, the diaspora was able to deploy technologies that allowed them to receive and disseminate election results as they were announced at counting stations.

Days and weeks after the December 2nd, 2016 declaration of victory, the diaspora continues to support the transition leading to the inauguration of President-Elect Adama Barrow. Through efforts by the Gambia Diaspora Consultative Council (GDCC), Mr Maila Touray was able to travel to The Gambia to work with the Coalition Transition Team. During this period, he helped restructure the media team on the ground, facilitated access to communications hardware and equipment as well as provide valuable counsel to the President-Elect’s team. The diaspora supported the development of this coalition website with a diaspora database page that allows Gambians world over to register and add their name, contacts and resume for consideration by the Barrow Government.

COALITION QUOTE DURING CAMPAIGN:

“We are grateful for the work Gambians are doing by supporting our efforts during the campaign. Thank you GDF for raising funds for Coalition 2016”

President Adama Barrow