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Did Hon. Sallah Overreact?

Hon. Halifa Sallah has won the respect and admiration of a lot of Gambians, even those opposed to his political ideology. He has every right to ensure his reputation is not stained in any form and that the respect he earned endures on for posterity. He needs to have the record straightened regarding anything that bears his name and that is the right thing to do. But there is the right thing and then the right way of doing the right thing.

When President Barrow said “it was easier to criticize than take responsibility”; apparently in response to Halifa Sallah’s criticisms, he was visibly irate at the press conference that ensued while he laid out his impeccable public life.

There was the issue on the National Assembly floor between him and the speaker which also brought forth angry backlash which he later retracted.

Those who interacted with him on Gambia L list serve encountered similar defensive postures.

In as much as we should all agree that he deserves respect and that his name and character should not be unfairly attacked; realistically there are certain unpleasant things that come with public life. Yes, to the person concerned, his family, friends, loved ones and those who look up to him in admiration, any negative comment directed towards such a person is hurtful. But as a public figure and an aspiring national leader, he needs to choose his battles and the strategy thereof.

In the latest episode, Halifa attacked the person of Gen. M. O. Cham for his testimony at the Truth Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) which he deemed as unrepresentative of the facts as he recalls them. At the very least, he pegged himself a grade above Gen. M.O Cham and other service personnel; “…having languished in Mile Two Prisons at the Maximum Security Wing in both the First and Second Republic, in those very cells which petrified those men in uniform but not one like me who dared to continue to speak truth to power, over and over again, risking being taken to the same dungeon, I still chose not to appear before the Commission because I have no pain in my heart to heal.”

Was this outburst necessary? Was the chest pounding necessary over a matter as simple as recalling the exact location of an encounter nearly a quarter of a century ago? We will transcribe relevant parts of General Cham’s testimony and contrast it with Halifa’s response to see if it is warranted or if General Cham maliciously intended to besmirch the name and reputation of Hon. Halifa Sallah. Why would he call General M.O. Cham’s testimony “outrageous fabrications” and in his rebuttal reaffirms the exact same claims with one slight difference of where exactly the meeting occurred.

General Cham recalled the encounter in his testimony as follows, as transcribed from an oral testimony; “…Yes, certainly, I went to their residence in Churchill’s Town, uh this was around midnight; and then I first spoke to Halifa Sallah…”

Halifa denied the location of the meeting but not the meeting itself. He stated; “No soldier has ever met me in my home. A group of soldiers came to the PDOIS office where I was buried for days monitoring and receiving intelligence report on the situation [events of July 22, 1994]. My interaction with a soldier whom I did not know was brief since I wanted them to leave the premises with speed.”

It follows to say that the soldier is question was in fact then Capt. M. O. Cham who was the civilian recruiter for the junta. So no contest there; Halifa may not have known General Cham at the time and he did not have a reason to, but he (Sallah) is a well-known public figure and a prominent person like him could be easily identified. So no contest there either.

General Cham stated that they offered Halifa and Sam Sarr both a ministerial post. Halifa confirmed that there was an offer of a ministerial post; “A Ministerial post was offered and I told the person that they will get my reply.” Again, this corroborates General Cham’s oral testimony which is transcribed thus; “though he didn’t definitely say yes he was coming on board; but then there was like “okay let’s, let’s; let’s; let me sleep over it and then get back to you tomorrow.” Again, there is no fabrication there.

Both Sallah and General Cham confirmed that after the encounter with him (Sallah) the party proceeded to meet Sam Sarr. General Cham stated; “So as I went out of his [Sallah’s] house, I went to Mr. Sam Sarr whom we have shortlisted for the position of Minister of Agriculture, the same conversation. When I came out of the house of Mr. Sarr, Halifa was coming out also and then we met, you know, in the corridors there and then I left them to talk and then I went.”

Halifa’s own account states that “They visited Sam Sarr who lived next door to the PDOIS office and stayed a bit longer than expected. I advanced towards Sam’s house to find out what was going on and met him bidding them goodbye.” Corroboration yet again.

And on and on it went; there are lots of areas of convergence in the stories. Obviously, Mr. Cham was asked of his impression of the encounters and he stated it as a matter of opinion that; “In principle, to be fair to them, they were not very keen to participate in a military government. But I thought; this is my own impression, you know, with our insistence and our conversation, they were not also, you know, they didn’t reject it outright so we gave them the time to think and then report, or come to State House the following day, you know, and then tell us their position.”

As it is evident, Halifa has every right to demand an accurate depiction of the events EXACTLY as they happened, but if such detail as where the meeting took place was not properly communicated, a simple rectification to that effect would have sufficed. Gen. Cham did not just say that he visited Halifa Sallah’s house, he stated that it was in Churchill’s Town, that fact shows that there was no malice intended. Halifa lives in Serekunda, the PDOIS bureau is in Churchill’s Town right next to Sam’s house. So we know the location is Churchill’s Town. Just like Halifa did not know then Capt. Cham in person, it may be that General Cham assumed that was Halifa’s house rather than an office. Simple oversight, if the lead counsel pressed him on that fact I am sure he would have clarified

Not only that, Halifa can offer to write this rebuttal to the Commission to clear things up or present himself as a witness to clarify the issue. But what is more disheartening is that Halifa seems not to see the essence of the TRRC. In the opening remarks of his rebuttal he stated that “I still chose not to appear before the Commission because I have no pain in my heart to heal. Duty compelled me to do everything I had done to combat injustice.”

The thing though, is that this is not about Halifa’s pain but rather an account of the ills of the past regime. A people entrusted with the affairs of the nation that turned on that nation and her innocent citizens. We need a full account of the wrongs that were committed by them, to put mechanisms in place to prevent a recurrence. We have seen the witnesses so far all expressing forgiveness for what injustices were meted out to them. Halifa may not need any healing but he owes it to us, to posterity and the nation to relay his story as regards the carnage that took place in the country during those dark years, a written submission could suffice. This is by no means to say he MUST, but it certainly will help that he does as a victim and front runner in ushering in the new dispensation part of whose mandate is to depict an accurate record of past injustices; injustices he fought against.

What if prison wardens get called to testify and they also give accounts of their encounters with Halifa during his unjust incarceration, will we see more rebuttals? His name will be mentioned in several testimonies and that alone is enough to compel him to set the record straight with his own accounts. Waiting on the sidelines with keen ears for any mention of his name and then offering rebuttals in the media to witnesses has the potential of undermining the credibility of the entire commission.

What if people who are named or whose family members are named come out to do the same? We will be conducting an exercise in futility.

We may disagree with Hon. Halifa Sallah on the right approach to governance and other issues of national import or on political ideology; but what he has justly earned is the love and admiration of many and the respect of all for his dedicated service to country. History, will remember that well and these unnecessary foot notes are avoidable.

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