Basidia M Drammeh.
Finally, the Gambia’s chief spy, Osman Sowe, appeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission to testify about the excesses of the dreaded and defunct National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
His testimony has attracted Gambians’ attention inside the country and overseas, considering his institutional knowledge as the head of investigation and his subsequent elevation as the nation’s intelligence service’s spy chief, now known as State Security Service (SIS).
From the outset, Mr. Sowe was determined to distance himself from any wrongdoing at the notorious agency premises by using all the linguistic tools at his disposal and suggesting that he only knew about it 12 years later after being in the service. He equally denied ordering torture or inheriting what he termed as the torture machine or “talk true machine.“
Irritated by Sowe’s reluctance to vomit out the truth, Lead Counsel Essa Faal accused the testifier of deliberately concealing evidence by awarding at least seven contracts to renovate the Agency. In the process, the torture chamber has been painted, and other torture objects have been taken away. DG Sowe, who has kept a cool head, insisted that the motive was to do away with the institution’s notorious past and was never meant to tamper with evidence. As he hit the buffers in his attempt to extricate Sowe’s confession, the Lead Counsel lectured Sowe about what tampering with evidence entails asserting that the torture chamber should have been kept intact to serve as a reminder of the tortures met out to Gambian brothers and sisters. The Director-General ultimately confessed though he attached hypothetical strings to the admission and in his concluding remarks he offered an apology for anyone he might have wronged.
Mr. Sowe might not have been directly involved in torture, but he cannot be absolved of the responsibility because the torturers were under his command. Elsewhere the DG would have resigned for that responsibility. However, resignation is not in Gambia’s civil servants’ dictionary, for there have been very few officials who have tendered resignation for taking responsibility for an institution’s failure or shortcoming.
I believe the TRRC would serve as a learning curve for our security operatives, for many might not have thought their actions or inactions would haunt them one day. The security agencies, as articulated by Sowe himself, are there for the Gambian people. After all, the Gambians they have tortured, on the orders of the powers be, are their brothers, uncles, aunts, sisters, nieces, nephews, friends, friends of friends, or relatives of relatives.