Book Review: “The Duty to Disobey: My Encounter with Yahya Jammeh’s Witch Doctors”

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Book Review: By: Basidia M Drammeh

The faith of the author Mustapha Ceesay, a former police officer who also served the United Nations Mission in Sudan, did not shake a bit in the face of the most traumatizing experience of his life- his decision to disobey an unlawful order by Jammeh to pledge allegiance to him before an idol shrine at the Police Headquarters in Banjul.

The shrine was run by witch-hunters from Guinea to presumably cleanse the country from members of society perceived to be disloyal to Jammeh. The hardest-hit victims of the exercise were mainly in the Kombos and Foni, forcing many residents to flee and relocate elsewhere, fearing being abducted by the witch-hunters.

Some victims were allegedly forced to get washed and consume concoctions that led to their death, while others were tortured and killed. On top of that, the victims suffered stigma, and degrading humiliation, having been undressed by their victimizers, who were far younger than them- a taboo in our society.

Mr. Ceesay’s refusal to comply with what he termed as an “idolatrous cleansing exercise” at the Police Headquarters where he served as an assistant to Deputy Inspector General did not go down well with his superiors, including the former IGP Ensa Badgie, who insisted that he should comply or face the consequences. Yet he staunchly and unshakably stood his ground, citing religious reasons.

Mustapha Ceesay, the Author

Ceesay hailed from a profoundly religious family. His great-grandfather, Kantongba Ceesay, established Kiang Kantong Kunda, where the family still maintains imams; hence his religious beliefs entail that Allah is one and has no associate. Unfortunately, his resistance cost him dearly. Not only was Ceesay unceremoniously demoted, but he was also banished to the furthest part of the country- Fatoto- as the severest punishment for his failure to comply. That meant separation from his family and less salary due to the demotion and psychological trauma.

Ceesay’s woes did not end there; instead, he was tracked by security agents and received death threats from private numbers accusing him of being a traitor, apparently due to his employment by the British High Commission, where he worked after resigning from the police.

Ceesay was determined to expose Jammeh’s excesses but soon realized he could not do it alone. As such, he contacted politicians and religious leaders, including the late Islamic scholar Jibril Kujabi.

He wanted them to prevail on Jammeh to stop the witch-hunt. However, the prevailing atmosphere of fear, intimidation, and reprisal prevented many politicians and religious leaders from confronting Jammeh, apart from Halifa Sallah, who dared raise the issue but ended up in jail before the charges laid against him were eventually dropped.

Unfortunately, he referred to a State Imam at the time who ironically defended Jammeh, absolving him of claims that he was involved in the witch-hunt.

To cut a long story short, Ceesay finally felt the threat to his life was real, forcing him to flee to the United States of America in 2012, against his will, for he always wanted to serve his country and its people.

Mustapha, who is still struggling to come to terms with such an agonizing ordeal, is teaching us that one must not, under any circumstances, yield to pressure, intimidation, and threat to compromise their principles or abandon religious beliefs. Ceesay could have complied just like everyone did in the police force but decided to stick to his religious convictions no matter what.

The book is worth reading.

Disclaimer: I have never known or met Mr. Ceesay, but the book inspired me to write the review so that we can draw moral lessons from it.

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