When exactly can we conclude that a job (may be your job) is a curse rather than a source of blessings to you or your family? The answer to this may not be that simple. But for now let’s leave it at that.
It is now more than six solid years on, nobody seems to have a clue on the whereabouts of Ebrima Manneh commonly known as Chief Manneh. Manneh a journalist who worked for the pro government Daily Observer newspaper in Banjul as State House Correspondent was reportedly arrested by plain cloth officials of the Gambia National Intelligent Agency (NIA) on 7th July 2006.
Since that fateful day, his life (Chief Manneh’s) is not worth living. Only my opinion! This is more so because reports from most ex-arrestees of the infamous NIA in the Gambia paint gloomy pictures. Ask the Manneh family and the answer will be clearer.
Mystery upon mystery
Chief Manneh’s whereabouts is not the only mystery surrounding this journalist. Whereas some top Gambia government officials believe the journalist is dead, others have publicly claimed the contrary. In April 2009, Marie Saine-Firdaus, then Gambia’s Justice Minister told parliamentarians that Manneh was not being held by the state. “I have enquired from the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, the Inspector-General of Police, and the Commissioner of Prisons, and to the best of their knowledge, information and belief, Chief Manneh is not in their custody,” Saine-Firdaus was quoted saying in a parliamentary question and answer session.
In a dramatic turn of events, former Justice Minister, Mr. Edward Gomez (immediate successor to Ms. Marie Saine-Firdaus) hinted that Chief Manneh is alive. In a local tabloid, however, the Minister added that “We shall talk about this case at a later stage when it is more convenient, when I can prove to you beyond any reasonable doubt.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists in March 2011 frowned at President Jammeh for reportedly saying “Let me make it very clear that the government has nothing to do with the death of Chief Manneh or Deyda Hydara (a newspaper editor whose murderers remain unknown) or the disappearances of so many people”. “The official silence on this case is cynically cruel,” wrote CPJ’s Africa advocacy coordinator, Mohamed Keita, who insisted that “President Jammeh owes the Manneh family an explanation.”
In barely two months ago, the Inspector General of Police, Yankuba Sonko is reported to have claimed that he had received information from the international police organisation, Interpol, suggesting that the missing Gambian journalist is in the United States of America. The Gambia Press Union and Manneh’s family reacted quickly, pressing for more details.
“The Gambia government officials have been making conflicting statements over the disappearance of Chief Manneh”, GPU said in a statement to the media. “Rather than engage in a speculative expedition, it is important for the state to do its utmost with the sole objective of locating Chief Manneh’s whereabouts.”
Will Letters Help?
Meanwhile, the global press freedom body, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on Friday 6th July 2012 wrote to the US government to investigate claims that the missing Gambian journalist was in the US. According to reports, IFJ sent out an open letter to the US government, requesting Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s ‘personal intervention’ in investigating allegations of the presence of the missing Gambian journalist in the US.
“We write to request that Mrs Clinton investigates the allegations by the Gambia Government that journalist Ebrima Manneh is alive and lives in the US,” Gabriel Baglo, IFJ Director for Africa Office is reported to have said. “Considering its leading role in the world with regard to respect for the freedom of the press and democracy, we urge the US to give this request due consideration with a view to bringing to an end a long wait for the journalist’s family and friends,” the IFJ Director is further quoted.
Press Freedom Situation
Press freedom has suffered badly under Jammeh over the past 18 years. In the Gambia, the media is subject to draconian laws regarding “false publication” and “sedition” which carry jail terms and heavy fines, and the Jammeh administration has closed two newspapers and two radio stations so far. In 2004 a veteran journalist and a strong critic of the Gambia media laws and human rights record Mr. Deyda Hydara was gunned down. His assailants remain unknown to date. According to a report commissioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2011, 17 Gambian journalists were exiled between 2001 and 2011. Meanwhile, the 2011/2012 Press Freedom Index ranks Gambia 141 out of 179 countries.
There are about seven regular newspapers and two news magazines in the Gambia. Most of the newspapers in the Gambia are privately owned. The Gambia as yet has only one television channel, the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), which is owned and controlled by the government.
Thus the lingering question for all is when actually does your job turns out to be a curse?