Ndey Tapha Sosseh: Journalist, Unionist, freedom fighter

Friday, December 15, 2017

In her first interview since she returned to work as advisor to Minister of Information, Ndey Tapha Sosseh, former President of Gambia Press Union speaks about the death of Deyda Hydara – an incident that was to define a lot of Ms. Sosseh’s life and struggle as a press freedom advocate and fierce human rights defender.

In 2009, Ndey Tapha Sosseh, as President of Gambia Press Union wrote to defend the reputation and memory of Deyda Hydara when Yahya Jammeh went on TV to castigate the assassinated journalist. Jammeh reacted with arrests of leading editors and senior journalists in The Gambia and throwing them in prison. An international outcry ensued and they were “pardoned”.

Ndey was to live in exile since then and was voted out of office when the current GPU President, then Secretary General, ran against her at a Congress in 2011.  The rest is history. In this interview, she spoke only on the murder of Deyda Hydara and related matters.

So Ndey, how did you receive the news of Deyda’s murder back in 2004?

Disbelief and shock at first when Sheriff Bojang who was then editor-in chief at the Daily Observer told me about the horrific news.  Sheriff informed me that Deyda died (no, was killed) and that he was from the mortuary but that I should not go.  At this, I became nauseous and dizzy as I couldn’t imagine that such a thing could happen in The Gambia.

I had this bad habit of disconnecting my phones after a long day’s work.  As news spread of Deyda’s death every one tried to reach me including my mother, who was desperate as she was out of the country and feared for my safety as well.  She had got the news early from a family member of Deyda’s.  After calling frantically, she eventually sent someone home to check on me.  By this time a deep sense of anger and pain engulfed me and I really could not come to terms with what had happened.

How did you react…?

The night before, leaving the Daily Observer, around 10 p.m and driving past The Point, I glanced towards my left to see if Deyda’s car was still out there (it was a habit).  Though I was unaware they were celebrating the anniversary of The Point.  I just assumed, as in other days that I left before him and that they were wrapping up.  So Deyda could not be dead as just a few hours before I had left him at his workplace.

Then I realised that something had to be done.  I could not let my motions get over me and put me in a state of inertia.  I got the phone and called DA Jawo, then the President of the GPU, and other senior colleagues including George Christensen, Sam Sarr all of whom were just as upset, disturbed and horrified as I was.  I spent the whole morning talking to our elders in the media and most of the conversations centred on why this happened and what we thought of an appropriate position to take.

Did you ever think of quitting after this incident?

Family members and friends were bombarding me with calls some of whom used the opportunity to remind me that it was dangerous being a journalist and that I should consider quitting.  Their timing was wrong for it was not in the midst of this disaster that they should ask me to quit.  The incident if anything strengthened my resolve to stand up against injustice.  For the death of Deyda was not only an injustice to his person, but to his family and the media fraternity as a whole.

Many suspect that President Jammeh was behind the shooting.  What do you think?

As a journalist, it is inappropriate of me to say what I think, particularly in cases such as these.  Rather I have a responsibility to dig and try to find out the truth.  Years later, I had the opportunity to meet and interview in Dakar, a former jungler who indicated names of senior people in the army (and government) at the time and including the President, insisting that the whole time during the “operation” his senior was in touch with the head of state.

That’s interesting… so there were indications Jammeh had a hand in Deyda’s killing?

In 2015, another former jungler told me in Bamako that if Jammeh could reverse certain decisions, “getting rid” of Deyda would be the first.  When I asked why?  He said Jammeh strongly believed that all the international outcry and global scrutiny of his actions started with the killing of Deyda.

But, prior to this, the fact that the State never investigated Deyda’s murder; that President Jammeh was so touchy over the issue, leading eventually to him attacking Deyda personally on TV in April 2009.  His overreaction to the GPU’s response to his televised diatribe against Deyda, leading to the arrests, detention and conviction of senior members of the GPU Executive and several editors all led at the time to a natural conclusion that the State had a hand in Deyda’s death.

Are you hopeful that the killers will ever be brought to book?

Over the years, with proceedings and the decision of the ECOWAS Court, media outings of certain actors, it is evident that the State was involved.  I am however looking forward to the TRRC Sittings where it is likely we will get to the bottom of who gave the order for Deyda’s killing and the motive.

Even as editor of the pro-government Daily Observer at the time, you joined the condemnation and protests of Deyda’s murder, why?

Why? It was the right thing to do.  I did not even think and still do not think that there was another option.  Not joining the protests would have been the height of betrayal to the slain colleague, to the profession and to my conscience.

It would have been easier for me to quit the profession than not join the protests.  I was in fact at the heart of it all, attending all the strategy meetings on what steps to do, was co-opted as member of the ‘organising committee’ for the protest march, had input in the letter delivered to the IGP, etc. and was part of the team, alongside senior colleagues – Swaebou Conateh, George Christensen, Sam Sarr, D.A. Jawo, Madi Ceesay - that met with the National Security Council at the time chaired by the Vice President, Isatou Njie Saidy, to express in very strong terms our regret about the demise of our colleague and to indicate our disapproval of attacks towards journalists and the media and the need for government to take steps to assure our safety and security.

We had this unshakeable determination, and unwavering commitment to get to the bottom of Deyda’s assassination and to ensure that such a thing would never occur again.  The red line had been crossed and there was only one thing to do – PROTEST.  This was the only way in which we could show our collective anger against this atrocity and to show in no uncertain terms that we would not be cowed.

Dr. Amadou Scattred Janneh was Minister of Information at the time… You later worked with him in the civil society group, Coalition for Change Gambia?

My unequivocal stance at the meeting at the NSC had some positive outcomes.  From there I made two lasting friendships, one with Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh who was minister of Information at the time and the current Deputy CDS, General Yankuba Drammeh.  Both of them reached out to me after the meeting expressing their solidarity and appreciation for the position that I took at the meeting.

Looking back, what lessons have you learnt from this incident?

The solidarity demonstrated by senior journalists, the Gambian public (because of the position of the GPU), the international journalists’ community and the lessons learnt made me realize the importance of unionism and also led to senior journalists asking me to stand (uncontested) as the GPU Secretary General a few months later.

I have since been engaged regionally and internationally in other movements that denounce similar trends in other countries.  Journalists are still slain for seeking information and in almost all cases the perpetrators are never brought to book. At the level of the Nobert Zongo Cell for investigative Journalism, we in West Africa will continue to denounce, protest and work with Governments where possible, to ensure that the safety of journalists is a priority and impunity a thing of the past.

Thank you Ndey, for your tie to speak on Deyda Hydara’s murder.

Thank you, Sanna.

Source: Picture: Ndey Tapha Sosseh