I returned to Gambia on Dec. 28, 2000, amid continuous struggle.
My rent had accumulated while I was away in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and I had no money to pay it. Many people did not know about my operation, nor did I tell them where I was. Because of the operation on my leg, I was still quite slow to move around but I did anyway.
I had returned to take up journalism and make a name for myself. I already had contacts in many quarters. They could give me tips on news and current happenings. I made friends with some police commissioners, although it did not prove easy.
I returned with two major feelings, joy and the thought of starting over. I was joyful because my wife delivered a baby girl on Oct. 3, 2000.
With renewed vigor, I set out to become an exemplary journalist. The competition at my newspaper was enormous. At the same time, I was still teaching to boost my finances.
In 2001, I applied for a full-time position at the The Point newspaper, and it was accepted with pleasure because they knew how resilient I was. Father Emil Sambou, a Catholic priest who became an assistant to Emil Kujabi, asked me not to leave their school. He offered to send me to any school of my choosing. It was too late.
People at school asked where I was going to work. When I told them, those who knew the dangers involved in being a journalist in Gambia said, “Oh my God, you are brave.”
I tried to get hard news items, but it was tough to come by because many people, my fellow teachers included, kept quiet when I came around.
One of the stories I wrote was about a Sierra Leonean who was brought to Gambia as a child because of the war and was given to a disabled man who could not use his legs.
He was a very poor man, and the girl, Kumba, remained in slavery, working for the man and his kids day in and day out. Kumba, who was a sister to my brother’s wife, had no peace and no way out. After my story was published, the police emancipated Kumba and allowed her to move to the city.
My brother’s wife was angry that I mentioned her name and quoted her. Kumba is a very good person and thanked me. Her sister remains my enemy to this day.
I had started making a name for myself, but some people felt I divided families.
I made several good friends along the way. Some police commissioners were my sources. When we had breaking news I always called them to confirm. It worked quite well.
The best thing I did was to get a pen name. My sources knew me as Manlafie Badjie. I told them I had a Gambian father and a Sierra Leonean mother. They believed it because I could speak some of the Gambian languages. I fit into society quite well.
At this time I still had a problem with my leg. It was stiff and could not bend. Well, I was working towards another operation, the third and final excruciating operation. I was tired, but I was looking forward to being normal again.
There was a big challenge ahead of me. Getting into journalism full time was a task worth meditating on, but I was burning within to change some of the things I saw. I began looking at the deep-rooted problems in the community. Meanwhile, my old enemy, Emil Kujabi, watched me, wishing I would get into trouble. I was cautious but their watchful eyes were too many.
I started a column titled “Christian Panorama.” This carried news about the Catholic mission and some other Christian activities. I soon became popular in that community.
I also embarked on writing hard news on corruption with a surreptitious name to cover myself. My new pen name, Modou Lamin Jarjou, was of Gambian descent. This one lasted only a short time because too many people asked me about the person behind the name. I eventually changed to another Gambian name, Manlafie Badjie. This baffled people more. This was at the peak of my writing breaking dangerous news.
I wrote a heartfelt story I had dug into quite well. It concerned Ghanaians who lived in Gambia and fished. They had built beautiful houses in Ghana but pretended to be very poor, living in a little shantytown called Ghana Town in a Gambian town named Brufut.
This group of Ghanaians brought in kids, as they fooled their parents in Ghana by telling them that they would bring their kids and they too would eventually build them skyscrapers as they were doing. No one knew over there how they struggled to get fish from the sea. They brought their neighbors’ kids anyways. The news moved the populace.
My son, Glen, was in the 5th grade then. He heard me discuss the story with his mother, and we made fun of the story as it appeared on TV. While in his class, my son’s teacher, Rose Mendy, brought the newspaper into class and shared the news with the children. My son quickly stood up and proclaimed, “My father wrote the news about the Ghanaian child slave.”
One of the Ghanaian chiefs I contacted, Mr. Doe, faced a huge challenge for the story. He asked me not to write it; they were trying to deal with it, he said. But I did not agree. It was my job and I had to do it. He and his friends made me their enemy. I survived it, but the place was getting tighter for me.
My main source began to be cold toward me. My story had implicated his best friend. He was unhappy because he knew by my pen name that it was me.
My boss, [The Point co-founder] Deyda Hydara, had been shot dead [in December 2004] for his critical stance against the government’s handling of the state of affairs. He had always advised me to be very careful, teaching me not to walk in the night, whether alone or with people. It was bad for me as a stranger, he said.
After a party one night he dropped off some workers. He was trailed and shot, killed on the spot. The situation put me on my guard. Indeed, my enemies were numerous. But I had a special passion for investigative stories, stories that made our paper stronger.
I got a lot of news leads, and they created enemies for me, especially those associated to those dangerous happenings. The situation became very charged for all journalists at this time. I was reprimanded even by taxi drivers who saw me in T-shirts bearing Deyda Hydara’s name.
The National Intelligence Agency (NIA), remained watching.