The sun was at its peak, the air too dry to walk around on painful legs. I looked pale and gaunt from the operation and hunger that squeezed me.
But that was of little concern to me; my relationship to my baby’s mother became my worry. I did not want her to leave me. Despite what some people thought, I wanted to stick with one woman, and I wanted to marry her. But she was listening to her family members, who controlled the way she lived then and said she shouldn’t marry me.
To prove my worth I had no option but to work hard to raise some funds for myself again and rent a good house to live in. I had proved myself as a journalist, so I started off with an investigation. This time on a more serious note.
Things were happening, but it was difficult to put it all together. I was well known because of my previous stories and Gambians were reluctant to speak with journalists.
There was massive corruption in the police force, most of whose members looked like hungry old men while others were quite thin like vultures running round a carcass.
My intention was to break through their culture of silence. I already had a tool to do so.
Read Augustine’s most recent chapter, Part 12: Deceived in Hard Times, or scroll down to follow his incredible quest from the beginning.
I learned Wolof, one of their popular local languages, and Mandinka, another popular local language. The two tribes are rivals, so it was not common that people spoke both languages. I learned them both.
I continued my investigations in these languages. In some areas, if I spoke one language I pretended not to understand or speak the other. If and when they changed languages to keep something from me, I would still be listening and gaining information. After a while there was no doubt as to why I was gathering so much momentum on my investigation.
Drug trafficking was on the increase in that tiny little country. Armed robbery was another large criminal industry.
Some taxi drivers were themselves armed robbers.
One criminal enterprise gathered a massive amount of assorted goods from attacks committed by their taxi drivers. The head of the group was a notorious armed robber, who created a brilliant hideaway for his stash in a local dump. The accumulated trash disguised the loot quite well.
In Talinding Kunjang, a small Gambian town, I got a glimpse of some of the armed robbers, who also dealt drugs. I started investigating and connected with the police public relations officer.
I let him know that there was a bombshell [heist planned later] that day [by] the armed robbers. He directed me to the commissioner in charge of the area. He was a pleasant man and very eager to trap the robbers.
I was certain that I was going to be hailed. I was taken to the station in the dark to join the police on patrol that night. I was introduced as Manlafie Badjie, in disguise. I did not disclose my real name even to the public relations officer.
I took a trip with two officers and their boss, Commissioner Badjie, to see where the raid would take place overnight. They saw the place after I pointed them to the house with names of the robbers. My article came out the next morning and it was a success.
Another story, perhaps my best, was about Ghanaians who had brought in children and used them as slaves in Ghana Town, a fishing village near the town called Brufut.
I found a really appalling story about very poor boys and girls whose parents in Ghana believed they were sending their children overseas to become rich building big houses. Instead they ended up as slaves in Gambia.
The city was mixed with newcomers from Mali and other West Africans who were running away from poverty. Gambia offered more opportunities for those willing to work hard, but it was difficult for the lot.
There was risk involved in reporting in a country hostile to reporters. As typical of dictatorial regimes, the Gambian government only wanted reported that which they determined was news. Contrary opinions and views were not acceptable. As I wrote more dangerous stories I became less safe. My colleagues were in a similar position.
I was friends with Pa Nderry M’bai, a reporter for Voice of America. It was a job he liked. We also worked for the same newspaper. As things got dangerous for him he managed to flee Gambia ahead of the government forces. He came to the United States and set up his own online newspaper, Freedom Newspaper.
Safely free of the Gambia government, he became quite critical of it. He published raw news from the office of the president. Those who were friends with him in Gambia were put on the government’s radar and were monitored. I was one of them.
I gave Pa breaking news that could not be published in our papers. Passing along this information was the greatest secret of my life. When the secret police monitored me I relaxed at work. After work I went to my French class and then home without coming out. No one would have believed I had any hand in Freedom Newspaper’s articles against President Jammeh.
I was interrogated frequently as I walked around town searching for dangerous news. It took days to complete an article. At the Point Newspaper, I was concerned with my columns, the Christian Panorama and Society and Development, and the investigative stories I delved into.
After our slain CEO and founder, Deyda Hydara, was killed in cold blood, Pap Saine took over. Pap was my mentor. He cautioned me about walking around at night, even to come to the paper. He said it was unsafe for me as a stranger in Gambia.
Pap Saine was a journalist but was extremely afraid of government trouble. He did not want to be killed, so he was very careful and fearful.
One week, while Pap was in Taiwan, powerful news leaks reached the Freedom Newspaper in America. They made headlines in Gambia, and people, even my coworkers, all pointed fingers at me. This increased the chance harm could come to me by persons unknown.
That is what happened to two of our most radical reporters, Alhaji M’bai, brother of the editor of the Freedom Newspaper, and Justice Darboe. Alhaji managed to seek asylum in the United States. He was lucky. Justice was attacked in his home. He fled his home and went to Italy as a refugee.
Because of the harm that could come to me because everyone assumed I was the cause of the leaks, I had to be more careful with people and coworkers.
While I did not relent, I waited a while before starting my next investigation.
A man had committed suicide. He was a caretaker. I had a very good source who was quite close to the situation. He called me always to come write about the suicide, but he told me not to bring my recorder, pen or notebook.
When I arrived a woman and her son recognized me from a TV program. I quickly denied it and moved on.
The dead man had decayed while hanging in the middle of his tiny room. There was no apparent reason for the suicide. He was an uneducated man who had left his village and family to come search for money to keep the family going. It was a hard life for him, I learned. He lived in a studio just behind the house he was taking care of. When I arrived the stench was excruciating. He had died several days before. He was taken down and to the hospital, then buried.
My article came out the next day, but under another name, Manlafie Badjie.
The woman and son I deceived? We later became friends when I saved the old woman’s job as a professor at their university.
As if I had not been initiated into problems properly, I went ahead with new stories on hard-hearted criminals. I always informed the inspector general of the police, who would send his men for the operation. I never knew the inspector general was one of the thieves.
After one of my articles a hardcore criminal from Mali was arrested. He spilled the beans on the inspector general, who was later arrested with a lot of others who were close to him.
The inspector general was sentenced along with the others, some of whom have died in prison. During his trial, he mentioned me and I was invited to give witness. However, I was already on my way to the United States. He was locked up for five years and was recently released.
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