Open Letter | Still keeping up pretences: An Open Letter to Mustapha Njie


Image: Dave Manneh


By Dave Manneh and Abdoukarim Sanneh for The Brufut Land Restitution Secretariat   


Mr Njie,       

   

You gave a lecture on “conscience” - the other week. We learned about it late but hope you will accept our excuse for coming to the party a little late.  


You are keeping up the pretences - we see.  


Despite familiarity with the fairy-tale of the genesis of your wealth, we watched the “lecture” with an open mind. We had assumed with time your conscience and moral fibre would have been fortified - thus ennobling you to admit your errors and make amends.  


You were in scintillating form - and captivated your impressionable audience - no doubt. You looked resplendent in that colourful and flowing Nyetti Abdu. The crown-like perching of the Aboki hat on your head added a certain symbolic paradox to your sartorial choice. Crowned emperor of [fill-in-the-gaps]! Perhaps?  The missing element was a griot ensemble - headed by a hallam player and backup women vocalists - belting out “Njai Jatta Njai, Gaindeh Njai, Alburr Njai, Njai Kulli Jatta Njai.”           


As abstract concepts, both the substance and the delivery were faultless. But those in awe either are oblivious of your past or chose to disregard it. The theatrical interlacing of the teachings of prophet Muhammed (PBUH) with Wollof philosophical musings, stroked a chord with many in attendance, we sensed. To communities in Yundum and Brufut, understandably, the performance was a masterclass in deceit. 


Though not unique to you, the predominance of “Muslims” in The Gambia must have featured high in your calculations. Hence, though the performance was an exemplar in impression management, one wonders if the deeper symbolism was not its object lesson in hypocrisy and insincerity. As a test of the growth of a moral backbone or the awakening of a dormant conscience, however, the speech fell short.       


We suspect publicly expressing contrition was daunting - or mustering the courage to come clean on the specifics of the Yarambamba and Brufut projects overwhelming. But it was a missed opportunity, nonetheless. 


These lands are significant, as they are the singular source of your prominence and prosperity. You used them as collateral to secure loans from ShelterAfrique and other investors. The provision of those loans catapulted you from an aspiring developer into the big league. The result: the “Taf Global Africa” empire. 


There is a social context to why what happened has happened: a material wealth-poor Gambia and many a Gambian apathetic and complacent. Added to this triune of deficiencies is the devastating effect of the social malaise of callousness and depraved indifference. Permitting belief systems to hijack logic compounded by the creeping normalisation of a “transactional” culture does nothing against the shattering of communal social fabric. 


These factors are the underbelly of the ecosystem that enables the “rich and powerful” to use their wealth with efficient expediency. Affluent persons whose dubious wealth would ordinarily make them bywords for iniquity are instead celebrated and feted as saviors. To maintain the pretence, such persons fall back on cultivating certain mythical personas - embroidering and weaving their biographies through curated narratives and perpetuation of fallacies. 


For perspective: many would have never heard of Mustapha Njie, give you the time of day - without the proceeds from those lands. You would not have gained an army of “dubious influence peddlers” and “social influencers” who hero-worship you.  Some do so in craven calculations of benefitting from your “philanthropy,” whilst for others it is a case of shaky ethical and moral foundations. Whatever the motivations of each subgroup, their perception of you as their benefactor fit into the performative benevolence that is prevalent among us.  


The composition of the latter subgroup is quite interesting. It is the cognitively dissonant diasporic/transnational, “educated” class - who flaunt their anti-Jammeh “struggle” battle scars and credentials with great fanfare. Yet they express admiration for people who enabled Jammeh’s tyranny, and worse, whose current status are a result of abuse of rights.  


To us, this is the paradox of these “diaspora strugglers.”  


Mr Njie, you owe your exalted position and prestige thanks to abuse of fundamental rights, violence, and the threat of violence the dictatorship hung over the plundered communities. A servile security service, coupled with an emasculated judiciary, further enabled the autocracy to bend both important and fundamental legal strictures. We had judicial despotism in all but name. 


Mr Njie, you would agree that the confiscation of swathes of ten-plus [10+] and thirty-plus [30+] hectares in the most desirable and expensive areas of The Gambia is bad enough. It is unjustifiable to give these to a single individual. It contravenes all codes of propriety - including the substantive issue of lawfulness - in transgression of the inviolability of private property. 


The nature and scale of the expropriation remains an outlier in our nation’s history. At conservative estimates, it is akin to emptying communal coffers off tens of millions of US dollars and gifting it to you. In financial terms, this is what you might call an incredible windfall return on investment. This speaks to the staggering scale of the thievery. 


This is the consequential bit of your back story. The rest are mere embellishments, fabrications, and myths. 


To continue to hide behind Jammeh’s excesses is both unacceptable and unreasonable. To profess innocence in this abuse will not withstand the slightest scrutiny. And neither can it add legitimacy to your enrichment of self at the expense of these Kombo families.  


Our inheritance is the seedbed of your prosperity - and the engine of your intergenerational wealth-creating behemoth. We, therefore, will not relent in our pursuit of justice and accountability. The reason for this stubborn determination is obvious: the past most often informs the present and sometimes foretells the future.  


Lest we inadvertently give a modicum of respectability, we shall not mention the “compensation” forced on these landowners. Such blatant disregard of basic human decency could only happen in a dictatorship.  


Despite the cocooning of yourself in comforting myths, these lands are a fundamental part of who you are today. No questions. We wanted to remind you we can present a credible counter-narrative - just in case.  


Across the globe, individuals, families, and communities are mounting fights for land restitution – challenging injustices that go as far back as 1910. These efforts are laudable as effective instruments for restoring social and economic justice.


The unlawful seizure of lands of yesteryears has resulted in today's unequal distribution of economic and political power. 


Look at your case: you are wealthier than the combined wealth of these clans. All decent people can see that piercing sense of injustice  Throughout Europe, governments continue to offer restitution to Jewish families for the theft of their assets. Recently, the House of Lords reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to the Terezin Declaration. This is an effort towards seeking reparations for descendants of people whose properties Nazi Germany seized. 


Greek Assyrians have embarked on a search for justice - 110 years after the Ottoman Empire drove them off their lands in northern Iraq in 1910. Many of them fled and settled in Greece. Their descendants picked up the mantles where their forebears left off - in the fight for justice and restitution.  


Two examples in the US:       

  

Manhattan Beach, California: A $75 Million property has been returned to the rightful owners - 100 years after racist lawmakers misappropriated it from a Black family.  


Portland, Oregon: Families are seeking reparations for the city’s urban development agency’s destruction of the homes of 171 Black families - to make room for a hospital expansion in the 1970s.  


The Talai clan in Kenya is continuing its fight against the British for eviction from their lands during the colonial era. This community took its case to the UN. To the British government’s embarrassment, UN special rapporteurs protested the UK’s failure to provide “effective remedies and reparations.”   


With land’s intricate links to identities, histories, and a sense of place, we continue spearheading efforts toward a class action lawsuit. The lands are our birthright and have been in our families for generations.  


Though we have an array of considerations and options at our disposal, we will accord you and your family the basic decency and respect you did not think we deserve. Do you recall, how at your and the late Baba Jobe's beckoning, Jammeh's notorious paramilitary thugs laid into our people? Some of our clan elders were in their 80s. They never recovered from their ordeal.

 

The cases cited show the prevalence of fights to correct historical injustices. And it gives renewed relevance to Kombonkas. The legal challenge should serve as a desperate wake-up call to the impending horrors and spectre of landlessness that awaits their descendants if they do not stand up.  


I am sure you can appreciate our position - even if you do not understand our intentions.  

So, this talk on “conscience” was a lost opportunity. It should have been the perfect moment for a confessional, and atonement. There is no room for equivocation or moral ambiguity here, Mr Njie.  


It is fine and dandy to talk theoretically about “conscience,” “decency” and “truthfulness” but when the speaker is the embodiment of the very opposite, decent people shake their heads. 

 

There was a symbiotic (parasitic) relationship between you and Jammeh until you fell out. What a terrible fate you would have met had you not bolted when you did. I can only imagine how you must have felt listening to the chilling narration of how Jammeh's junglers snuffed the life out of your one-time friend and confidant: Baba Jobe - at a TRRC hearing. This reaffirms the truism that one trusts murderous, psychopathic narcissists at one’s peril.  


The most valuable lesson from your “talk,” - albeit it should not have been a revelation is that in the avowedly “we-are-all-one-big-family" Gambia - people will create a saint out of Satan if it serves their self-interests.  


To end, do not underestimate the determination of the dispossessed to claim their land. In our case, we are in no hurry, for this could be an intergenerational battle. The crucial point is this: we have nothing to lose.  Can we say the same for you and your inheritors? 


Best wishes,          
Dave Manneh and Abdoukarim Sanneh for The Brufut Land Restitution Secretariat   


Publisher’s Note


Views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the publisher. 


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