Imam Ba-Kawsu Fofana
La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland), a poem set in mediaeval France, recounts how the Frank forces under King Charlemagne’s nephew, Roland, faced the pagan Saracens warriors at the battle of Roncevaux in 779 AD, and seeing the numerical disadvantage they faced, one of Roland’s men tried to convince him to call off the battle in the most classic poem, The Song of Roland, and he said in part:
The pagans are in force,
While of our Franks, it seems, there are too few.
Therefore, companion Roland, sound your horn!
King Charles will hear, the army will turn back."
Roland replies, "That would be mad, insane!
For I would lose renown throughout sweet France
Fast forward to now. For standing up to his beliefs and remaining faithful to the true tenets of Islam, Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana has become the regime’s newest perennial enemy, with ignorant NIA agents harassing, arresting and detaining him under orders of Yahya Jammeh. For unlike the paid Supreme Islamic Council members under the leadership of the maddeningly docile Imam Momodou Lamin Touray, who are agents of the Yahya Jammeh regime, Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana has drawn a clear line between religion and government, and refuses to be corrupted by monetary inducements, preferring to remain true to the teachings of his Islamic faith. On the other side of spectrum, are Gambia’s religious leaders, including the Imam Ratib of Banjul, Cherno Alieu Mass Kah, said to have been handpicked by Yahya Jammeh to head the Banjul congregation, have remained mute even when faced with overwhelming evidences of gross human rights abuses that include intimidations, murders, execution and the wholesale incarceration of innocent citizens and non-citizens alike. But the desensitized Islamic leaders are not the only ones riding this ridiculous bandwagon of apathy and uncommon disregard for justice, and the prevailing climate of fear, intimidation, murders, forced disappearances, the Catholic Church in the Gambia too is. They are also effectively condoning the insanity with which Yahya Jammeh is dishing out hundreds of thousands of dalasis to singers from Senegal, religious leaders, witch doctors in the sub-region, and anyone smart enough to stroke Yahya Jammeh’s ego by singing his praise or writing poems and other articles that show him in good light. And, just last month, Robert Ellison, the Bishop of Banjul, sent a letter to Yahya Jammeh on his “birthday” which reads:
On behalf of the entire Catholic Diocese in the Christian Community of The Gambia and on my own personal behalf, I wish to congratulate Your Excellency on the occasion of your 47th birthday celebration on Friday 25th May 2012. May the Almighty God continue to shower His blessings on you for good health, wisdom and vision in your ongoing good leadership; and also on the first family, government and the Gambian people.
As we approach the rain season for 2012, I wish to take this opportunity to assure you of our fervent prayer to God for a good rainfall that would produce an abundant harvest. We also wish too assure you of our constant prayers for your indefatigable and selfless efforts at maintaining peace, security and stability in both The Gambia and the Sub-Region. Your Excellency please accept the assurances of my highest consideration.
Robert P. Ellison, CSSp
Bishop of Banjul
As a Gambian Catholic, Bishop Ellison does not speak for me, and I disassociate myself with his narrow minded sentiments as completely inappropriate and totally blind to the reality of what is happening in the country. The Bishop may be living in a cocoon or he is blinding himself to the gross human rights abuses in the country. Perhaps his disgusting sentiments are motivated by non-religious pecuniary considerations, which are keeping him mute in the face of the injustices in the Gambia. I am not sure what part money has played into Bishop Ellison’s blind disregard of Gambia’s political realities, but sometimes last year, he was photographed at State House with Isatou Njie-Saidy sitting by his side, ready to receive the tens of thousands of dalasis on display in a huge bundle on a table. It was one of many ceremonies a representative of the Catholic church had attended at the State House to accept gifts of money from Yahya Jammeh; money that belongs to poor Gambians. Today, if Gambia’s religious leaders need a moral compass to emulate, they don’t have far to look. Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana and Bishop Telewa Johnson embody religious righteousness; they are Gambia’s beacons of light in a country cast under the dark shadow of Yahya Jammeh. For anyone who cares about a just society, the rule of law and a clear separation between religion and politics, Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana and Bishop Telewa Johnson, offer hope and inspiration. Today, the continuous arrests, detentions and relentless intimidations of Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana has captured the attention of Gambians everywhere as amounting to nothing more than an effort to interfere with his practice of his faith.
The past decade has seen to gradual erosion of religious liberties in the Gambia, with Yahya Jammeh sometimes singlehandedly determining the times of religious worship and observance to fit his political calendar. Last year, Yahya Jammeh’s phone call held-up Friday prayers in the Gunjur mosque, only for him to call back much later to announce he would not attend prayers there after all. By the time of his second call, with Gunjur villagers still waiting for his arrival, it was past the 2 pm prayer time as anointed in the Holy Quran, and still Imam Momodou Lamin Touray said nothing. Three weeks ago, Yahya Jammeh again announced through State House channels, a ban on pilgrimage to the Islamic Shrine in Gunjur village, where for decades people across the region have gone to pray and offer sacrifices. But Imam Fofana and Imam Touray are polar opposites, and the people of Sanchaba Sulay Jobe can be proud of Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana, as we all are. We admire his courage in standing up for his religious convictions despite what the regime has put him through. If other Gambians, in particular, the educated elite, displayed half the courage of Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana, Gambia would have long ago been freed of the Yahya Jammeh’s dark shadow. This madness cannot continue. At some point, we all have to be like Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana in spirit, each in our own way, and for once to have the guts to stand up something. Gambians recognize the suffering Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana has been put through for the sake of our country, and we are firmly behind him. And to borrow and adapt from The Song of Roland, Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana, continue to hold your head high up; For you have gained renown throughout sweet Gambia.