“Now everyone knows that my father did not abandon us; he was killed.”
These words offer cold comfort to Haddy Cham, who for six years did not know her father’s whereabouts, or if he was even still alive.
Haddy, 22, says her father, Ndure Cham, went missing when she was about 14 years old.
“Our lives changed when my father disappeared. We went through a very rough time. We had to move to a family compound. One family member kept harassing us, taunting us that our father had abandoned us. I feel relieved that people now know that was not the case; he could not visit us because he was dead.”
According to testimonies before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), President Yahya Jammeh’s administration accused Ndure Cham of masterminding a coup that was thwarted in 2006. At the time he was the Army Chief of Defence Staff. At first he escaped the fate of his alleged co-conspirators, who were arrested. Some were jailed while others were extra-judicially killed.
Ndure Cham was suspected to have gone into hiding in Senegal those first days, but he was arrested in his home village of Numu Kunda on August 9, 2013. According to testimonies at the TRRC, he was kept in solitary confinement until his execution by the Junglers in Kanilai, Jammeh’s home village.
“When I found out what happened to my father during the TRRC process, I cried, but I was also relieved. Even though it was painful to hear the truth after all these years, we finally knew what had happened to him. I felt relieved that, finally, everyone now knows the truth.”
It was not easy for young Haddy, copping with the trauma of losing her father and coming to terms with the controversial circumstances of his disappearance.
“When my father went missing in 2013, I was in the eighth grade and living with my uncle and his family. My family was not certain about my father’s whereabouts. We were just hearing rumours that he was in prison, while some people claimed he had been killed. We had no way of verifying the information. We were too scared to go to the police or anywhere else to seek information. It was during the TRRC hearings that we got to hear the truth about what happened to him.
“My mother was seven months pregnant when the soldiers came to our house to look for my father. My mother told them that she did not know where he was. They left, but late at night men dressed in black came back and took her away in the back of a truck. She did not know where they were taking her and why.
“When I heard people saying my father may have been killed, it affected me a lot. I could not concentrate on anything. I kept thinking about him and crying. I could not sleep well because I thought I was seeing him at night.
“Except for one of my uncles and his wife, who took me in, paid my tuition fees, and gave me lunch money, no one else helped us.”
Haddy remembers her father as a happy person, and that he was happiest when he was with his family. He loved building things, planting trees, and listening to news. She firmly states that her father loved his country and was immensely proud of The Gambia.
What important lessons did Ndure Cham learnt in his life? “I’m not certain, but if I was in his shoes, I’d say he learnt that one should not trust people too much. And one should never think that people love you the way you love them.”
Perhaps her cryptic answer indicated that she was thinking about how her father was betrayed by his trusted aide, who plotted with the Junglers to capture him from his hideout.
What is her favourite memory of her father was?
“All the times I had with him were my favourite. He made everyone smile when he was around.”
Among Haddy’s most cherished memories are of her father taking her and her siblings shopping, and of him at home during weekends, joking and teasing everyone, and always teaching them new things.
“I want my father to be remembered as an individual who wanted the best for his country,” said Haddy.