Sanna Camara: Returning home was exciting and somewhat surreal for me

3 May

It was touching for me as a father and husband… These are moments you wouldn’t trade for anything in life, he says (Photo Credit: Facebook/Sanna Camara)

The Gambia’s human rights record worsened in the last 22 years. Journalists and citizens critical of the government and its policies knew this all too well. They have been targeted with various forms of harassment, summary arrests, torture, jail terms, exile, enforced disappearances and even death.

On World Press Freedom Day 2017, Front Page International (FPI) features four journalists (two returning from exile and two who endured repression from within) to recount their stories.

Sanna Camara, the publisher of the Gambia Beat, was forced to flee the country after persistent harassment by Gambia’s police. He was accused of spreading false news after publishing a story in which the police admit failings in tackling human trafficking.

The story, ‘Police admit ‘problems’ with human trafficking’, whose original link is no longer accessible, was based on an interview with police spokesperson Superintendent David Kujabi to get his reaction to the U.S. State Department’s 2014 TIP shortly after it was released.

Camara, who later fled the country and now lives in exile in neighbouring Senegal, has since published a version of the story on his blog, titled: ‘Problems’ of human trafficking in The Gambia’. Read his story…

How do you feel returning home after a few years in exile?

The experience of returning home after 2 years, 7 months in exile was both exciting and somewhat surreal for me.

How did your family felt on your return? What did they say to you?

To my family – especially my kids whom I have not seen in at least 2 years – it was really unbelievable. It went weeks before it dawn on them that “daddy” is home now, for good. Several days after my return, they would ask me, “Daddy, are you leaving me again?”

It was touching for me as a father and husband. Thinking all the day of sickness, loneliness, empty bellies and lack of electricity during the nights they have to endure because daddy was not around to provide. Or, my son fractured his ankle playing football in the neighbourhood, and my daughter was chosen a valedictorian in the graduation ceremony at nursery school. These are moments you wouldn’t trade for anything in life.

Several days after my return, they would ask me, “Daddy, are you leaving me again? (Photo Credit: Facebook/Sanna Camara)

Professionally, as a journalist, what have been some of the progress you made during your stay in exile? (The positive side of being in exile)

I was able to expand my network as a journalist, developed my capacity as an independent practitioner of the trade. I also experienced the work

of press in a completely democratic environment as Senegal.


What has been the most challenging for you as an exiled journalist? (The negative side of being in exile)

Finding a job as an English speaking ‘journo’ in a French speaking country had great impact on my abilities. It denied me great opportunities which would have somewhat turned into positive value for my work, and made life in non-income situation as an exiled journalist even more challenging.

Over the years, what will you say are your best moments as a journalist: Reporting for renowned media organisations? Or being interviewed by renowned media organisations on press freedom and the political situation in Gambia?

For me, it is a combination of many things to make up best moments. For example, writing a good piece on renowned international publications that impacts on the perception of the world on the struggles in your country, or attending events where you have the opportunity to talk about your experience as a journalist in the general tyranny my country was going through.

Please explain more about the media houses you reported for and the topics or about those media houses that have interviewed you and the topics of interview?

Writing for the World Policy Journal, Democracy Watch News, Internet sans Frontieres, or my stories on other media being picked up by Al Jazeera online, Huffington Post or others I cannot recall.

Gambians voting in a new government has ensured your safe return, what are your hopes for the future: on press freedom, freedom of expression, good governance and democracy?

It took more than votes to effect change in The Gambia; years of sustained campaign by rights groups, civil society organisations and international media has tilted the narratives on the side of change.

Gambians voted against Jammeh in the past but could not effect change…

Anyway, my hope is to see a consolidated democracy and improved environment for independent journalism in The Gambia, a greater citizens’ participation in the reconstruction process and freedom of expression.

Thank you so much for your time…

  • Interview by FPI’s Modou S. Joof, Editing by FPI’s Demba Kandeh

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