Gambia Has Decided was about the empowerment of citizens
#GambiaHasDecided was a civil society initiative led by a diverse group of young Gambians professionals. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the outgoing President Jammeh challenged the election results and annulled the elections. This was contrary to the constitution.
Interview with Salieu Taal, initiator of #GambiaHasDecided
The GHD initiative successfully mobilised Gambians during the subsequent political crises of 2016 and catalysed a peaceful movement which galvanised Gambian society. For the first time in the history of The Gambia, the people stood up to the then-dictator in peaceful protest.
The GHD went viral through its effective use of the hashtag #GambiaHasDecided, mobilised in social media and distributed via T-shirts, billboards and street graffiti. #GambiaHasDecided was a potent voice of dissent against Jammeh during the months-long impasse that united Gambians against tyranny. The initiator and co-founding member of this civil rights organization is Salieu Taal, who told AfriCourage about the origins of the idea.
The current president of The Gambia Bar Association, Mr Taal is very passionate about his country. Before his involvement in initiating Gambia Has Decided, he was a member of many associations and civil rights organizations including Ebola Free Gambia.
Read his interview with AfriCourage on democracy, human rights, supporting rights activists and much more.
Who is Mr Salieu Taal?
I am a Gambian, and a lawyer by profession. I was the initiator and co-founder of Gambia Has Decided, a civil rights organization formed during Gambia’s political impasse of 2016.
What is Gambia Has Decided about?
Gambia Has Decided is a symbol of hope. It was a platform that allowed a small group to create a hashtag that belonged to all Gambians. After Gambians voted against dictatorship on the 2nd of December 2016, Gambians were jubilant when the results were announced. They thought they had toppled a dictatorship and indeed the former president Yahya Jammeh congratulated Mr Adama Barrow on his victory. It was the happiest moment in The Gambia, particularly for young people. However, it was only a week later that Jammeh announced on TV that he was annulling the election.
I decided to call various people of influence, some of whom were friends and invited them to see how we could mobilise other citizens and ensure that Gambian voices of dissent were heard.
We quietly came together and brainstormed. We maintained pressure and decided to consolidate our message, just as we had done in our campaign for an Ebola-free Gambia. My advice was that we should not get angry on Facebook or on other social media outlets, and neither should we protest in the streets. My preference was to base the campaign around hope and positivity. Our goal was to vote Jammeh out, and we wanted to ensure that leaders respected our voice.
So the initial idea (#JammehMustGo) was later amended. We believed that The Gambia is bigger than Jammeh, so then we came up with #GambiaHasDecided. Within a few hours of the first use of the hashtag, there were positive responses, but the identity of the hashtag creators remained unknown.
How and why did you become a civil rights activist?
I am a Gambian and I have always been engaged and active, but not particularly in politics. I have also been engaged in many initiatives and of course I have been very active in the Gambia Bar Association. I felt that I could do more to help The Gambia to move forwards.
So before we took the #GHD initiative, I told my members that we could be killed or lose our properties, and that anybody who didn’t want to take the risk was excused. We all agreed our strategy, and began to print T-shirts, billboards and posters using #Gambia Has Decided. We knew it was risky and that national intelligent agents were hunting us, but our identities were unknown to them. The message spread across the entire country, despite the efforts by state intelligence to destroy our billboards. But they were unable to counter us because the message was everywhere, it was in every part of the Gambia.
What were the achievements for Gambia Has Decided?
The major achievement for Gambia Has decided was that Gambians came together with a collective and united front. This can always influence and bring about change. For us it was about citizens’ empowerment.
After the successful resolution of the political impasse, the spirit of Gambia Has Decided is still in the Gambian people, because they are now coming up with ideas like the Occupy Westfield and Occupy Brikama Area. Gambians are now taking ownership of their rights – for us, we did it peacefully without insulting Jammeh or anybody.
Was violence or repression ever directed against you personally as an activist?
When the security agents discovered that we were the people involved, we were traced. I was informed by a friend that the police launched a hunt for those responsible. One day I came home and found a security vehicle at my gate from the state intelligence agency. We all vacated our homes and were smuggled out using different vehicles. The state security later back came to my home and arrested my driver. They asked him for my whereabouts but he didn’t disclose anything to them. When I heard this information, I fled to Senegal.
Did Gambia Has Decided have any impact on the Gambian population?
We went to the university of The Gambia, we joined up with the National Youth Council and they informed their regional groups in the country. They came and collect hundreds of T-shirts from us and sent them across the country.
Do you think that marches, sit –ins and other demonstrations helped or hurt Gambia Has Decided?
Gambia Has Decided had a specific mandate to play a role and ensure that Jammeh left. At first we were discouraged, because people were saying that we should go onto the street but I told them that this would provide an excuse for Jammeh to attempt to kill us and declare a state of emergency. It is through dialogue you can easily change the mind of the people which we did and able to succeed. We were able to change the mind of the security forces and some were even demanding T-shirts from us.