In 1995 in front of the American embassy, members and sympathizers of the PPP staged a demonstration against the actions of the military junta. They paid a heavy price for it. Open protest against any action of the Jammeh government would not be staged again, no matter how peaceful. That was until April 10th, 2000 when students assembled to March in protest at the torture to death of one Ebrima Barry by agents of The Gambia Fire Service. Their protest was met with live bullets from state security agents. That heavy handed reaction spurred angry reactions and further protests the next day and the response from the state was the same. When the dust settled, over a dozen children, a journalist and Red Cross volunteer lay dead. April 10th and 11th would live in infamy as the day The Gambian state turned on the most innocent of her citizens; children and mowed them down in cold blood. The killers, who were agents of the state, were granted indemnity. This was the price of protest in Jammeh’s Gambia, torture and murder.
Despite this fact, and with full knowledge of the risks associated with such open protest, on April 14th, 2016, accompanied by a handful of his fellow party members; Solo Sandeng would lead the next protest against Jammeh’s government. Prior to the protest, he spoke passionately about ordinary Gambians he met across the country and how they looked up to his party with hope that they have what it took to restore sanity back to the country. He was not going to give up on those people and their desire to see a free Gambia borne out of the political process.
These desperate yet hopeful compatriots are the reasons that kept many politicians like Solo Sandeng in the fight against Jammeh despite the odds. This was his only motivation; a reformed electoral landscape that would truly reflect the will of the battered Gambian people. Like many, he believed Gambian elections were so rigged that the will of the Gambians were never really acknowledged. The following was captured in a homemade video interview before the protest:
…natives of Casamance come to vote [in The Gambia]. I had mentioned it in Senegal before. I told them that Gambians are very upright people because a Gambian native does not leave his country to come and vote in elections in Casamance or in Senegal rather. But people here vote in elections in Senegal and leave to go install a government in The Gambia by voting in Gambian elections to get compensated in dalasi, because they get paid. Under this (APRC) government, we’ve seen busloads of people ferried in from as far afield as Mauritania, brought in to be registered voters under claims that they are Gambians. I even had confrontations with them during the registration period. But with all that, the long and short of it is that Gambians need to unite, be one in purpose and rescue their country. Once the country is rescued, let everyone go establish their own parties. We don’t care if we end up having one hundred and fifty parties in this one country, but let that be the case at a time when we have a leader who would respect the law, would not oppress people, would be sympathetic to our plight, and would give Gambians their dues under the law. Once that state of affairs is attained, let there be two hundred parties; but today, having two or three parties benefits Yaya Jammeh more than it benefits Gambians and that is what he is seeking.
We fervently believe that if we have mobility and logistics, we can remove that from this country. As we speak, constituencies that we previously did not get votes in, I swear to Allah, if we go to them today, they declare their support for us. They tell us, “it’s you who can rescue this country, please come to us with your message…
“I do not mean to interrupt, but there are claims, especially from the diaspora, that Jammeh cannot be voted out through the ballot box. What is your response to that?”
That is an illusion! There are clear signs that Yaya Jammeh’s government has collapsed. – Solo Sandeng
This was the mindset with which Solo Sandeng took to the streets; the belief that the Gambian people have had enough of Jammeh, if we unite our efforts we can remove him but not without much needed electoral reforms. A member and an official of an established political party he was, but in the urgency of the times, he saw beyond that and was motivated only by the desire to see a Gambia free of the iron fist clutches of a bloodthirsty tyrant, confident that in a free and fair environment he can convince many to his side and would prevail in a fair political contest.
Besides taking up arms to attempt to stop Jammeh’s killing machine, this was the next most daring attempt at raising a voice of dissent in The Gambia under Jammeh. In fact, as far as Jammeh was concerned, peaceful protest was as bad as armed revolt because they both amounted to attempts at “destabilizing the country” so they both received the same penalty; death. Armed only with a banner and a bullhorn to demand electoral reforms, Solo Sandeng and Co. set out on a mission to stare the tyrant in the face and demand reforms so that Gambians can speak loudly and freely!
Of course, the tyrant’s minions, the feared National Intelligence Agency’s (NIA) agents would set upon them and what followed made its way into the history books for eternity. All the accomplices were dehumanized beyond imagination, some to succumb later from the cruelty meted out to them. With Solo Sandeng himself beaten to death within hours of his arrest.
Ebrima Solo Sandeng and Co., the heroes and heroines who sacrificed themselves to set the Gambia on the path to change when all hope was lost. Men and women to whom the country will owe an eternal debt of gratitude! The series of events that ensued in the next eight months following the cold-blooded murder of Ebrima Solo Sandeng would culminate in the dethroning of a two decade sit tight tyrant to birth a Gambia free of state oppression at the magnitude unleashed by Jammeh.
Although some, led by current president Adama Barrow would prefer we forget about Solo Sandeng, we will always remember. We pray his soul rests in peace and his sacrifice to never be forgotten.