When Captain Bah of The Gambia National Army appeared before the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), he shed tears throughout his testimony and expressed sorrow for his conduct in torturing and humiliating elders simply because they were officials of the former government and because he was ordered to do so.
We reacted with “those are crocodile tears!” We claimed that if former President Jammeh was not defeated he would still be serving quietly and going about his business unapologetically. It is true that two decades have passed since he participated in physically torturing people and no evident attempt was made on his part to reach out to his victims to apologize to them prior to the setting up of the TRRC.
The second person to appear before the commission as a former perpetrator with a more despicable rap sheet and blood stained hands for his participation in extra judicial killings, repeatedly is former Sergeant Alagie Kanyi. He also made a tearful testimony before the commission for his role in those heinous crimes that the former government lied about and concealed for over two decades. He too apologized and said he is sorry for his callous acts, again “crocodile tears” were shed.
But are they truly sorry? Fact is Bah and Kanyi are both guilty by their own voluntary admission. General consensus is that both deserve to be stripped off any privileges they currently hold. Both deserve to be charged, tried and sentenced according to their crimes. They both deserve to pay, no questions about that, even though in the case of Capt. Bah his victim said publicly that he has forgiven Capt. Bah for the violations against his person.
As much as we agree on that, it is not so easy to say with certainty that in fact they are not sorry now that the magnitude of their crimes is dawning on them, Kanyi admitted to constantly taking intoxicants to drown out the guilt. Those who knew him at a personal level say he was not remorseful about his actions at the time. Our conclusion that these two men are still not sorry for their heinous crimes may in fact be true, but…
One thing also stood out in their testimonies, both men had their own close family members present when they gave testimony. Both men broke down when they referenced their own family members and how they kept them in the dark about their dark side, in fact they broke down hardest during those points in their testimonies. That reaction points to at least two things.
First; they victimized and disappointed their own families by their own deliberate actions. In fact we can be so bold to say they shocked their family members, a reflection that their actions are contrary to their upbringing, influence came from outside (peers, environment, etc.).
Secondly, there are various reason why one expresses remorse or says sorry for a deliberate act. Either they got caught in the act or the act they are trying to keep a secret got revealed; they finally were made to face their victims or hear first-hand how their actions caused grief to others; or that they are simply sorry for the distraught they brought upon their own families. What we expect is for them to be sorry for doing the act itself by realizing for themselves that the said act is wrong. The evidence for that kind of remorse is to cease and desist and that is not so evident in the case of our two subjects. They continued in their jobs, although former Sergeant Kanyi did leave the army as a way of detaching himself from the environment that enabled and encouraged him to carry out those heinous crimes according to his testimony
In light of the foregoing, it is hard to say one is not contrite or that their tears are crocodile tears. No matter how sorry they are, they broke laws, violated the human rights and dignities of fellow men and hence deserve to be punished accordingly, being sorry does not negate that fact. the law must take its course.
But equally important is that in order for us to not lose our humanity too, we need to recognize the emotional trauma others may be going through even if that be brought on by their own hands. Empathy is a great part of our humanity.
Although inexcusable, both men also recounted how they were under orders to carry out their crimes. that is a lame excuse and does not absolve anyone of culpability. But in there too is a lesson for us to learn; people prey on our weaknesses and use them against us.
Bah trusted a “big brother”, one he looked up to. The atmosphere was such that majority of Gambians received the coup well because of long years of poverty and surging corruption. In that environment of general acceptance, any perceived opposition to the coup was seen as being against the common good. That was the grounds used to justify the abuse of former government officials who were seen as perpetrating corruption and seeking to undermine the junta. Bah’s account says as much, that he was told his victim was actively seeking to destabilize the country.
Kanyi on the other hand strikes one as a loud person, one who likes the spotlight and not the sharpest tool in the box. When such is recognized in a person, he suffers for it when he comes into contact with sinister characters. Not trying to say that he was a victim, in fact from accounts of those familiar with him, it appears he sought to be recognized as an exceptionally loyal brute, so he was put to use. His notoriety made him a somewhat larger than life character. By his own admission, himself and Edward Singhateh killed two officers, and that he was part of the firing squad that killed six other men and also a participant in the bludgeoning to death of former minister Ousman Koro Ceesay. Beyond that he said he never took part in any killing s or abuses and in fact left the army subsequently as a result. But his name surfaces a lot in various other accounts, truth or not his name is one mention of which does not automatically arouse second thoughts. That typifies his notoriety and the claims that he reveled in it.
Whatever the case may be, we all agree that they are guilty as charged and should face the consequences without question. But let us allow them to show remorse for their deeds. It may have been two decades old with no prior attempt at apologizing but a closer look will tell us that carrying such dark secrets with no one to share them with is traumatizing and when an opportunity like the TRRC presents itself, it is hard to come forth and admit wrong doing, especially one as heinous as the killings and the gruesome natures of those killings.
In the midst of all these, a new set of “victims” are emerging – families of the perpetrators, especially their children. Just like the innocent men and women they victimized and deprived their families of their love and company, their actions are finally catching up with them and in the process casting their loved ones in negative light and increasing the likelihood that they will be ostracized. The perpetrators should finally grow a spine, give up any privileges they have and accept their impending punishments with a little bit of dignity.