Mbye Njie Talks Civil Rights; From Macon to Gambia
First thing I would go do is see my mom. I haven’t seen my mom in 26 years. I have a brother and sister I haven’t seen in that amount of time... I grew up on the beach, so being able to go back out there on the beach...
he Western Africa country of Gambia is currently under a government mandated state of emergency as its ruthless dictator Yahya Jammeh contests the results of the December 1 election he lost to Adama Barrow. Jammeh has been in power since he launched a military coup in 1994. The human rights record of Yahya Jammeh has been nothing short of astonishing and sickening, ranging from calls of violence towards homosexuals, murders of student protesters and journalists and even the poisoning of so-called “witch doctors”.
Mbye Njie is an entrepreneur who spent ten years of his childhood in Macon and currently resides in the Atlanta area. Njie is from Gambia and called in to The 11th Hour and The Creek to talk about the current situation in his home country.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you ended up in Atlanta.
I was born in Gambia, West Africa. I lived there until I was seven and then I moved to Macon, Georgia. My dad met my step-mom who was a teacher at Wesleyan- well she was a teacher at Mercer at that time she ended up moving to Wesleyan. I grew up in Macon, raised in Macon until college. I went up to Davidson College in North Carolina. I’ve been in sales and I’ve moved around but I’ve been in Atlanta for the last eight years now.
Tell me about your app, Legal Equalizer.
We came up with the app in December, 2014. That was when we first came up with the idea for the app but we didn’t release it until almost a year later. It was in response to all the issues with police shooting unarmed people and what was going on in the country at that time. For me, I had a personal experience when I was here where, within a month I was pulled over four or five times by Dekalb County Police. I was given one ticket in that whole time, and it was for like, I didn’t stop at a stop sign long enough. The last time that I got stopped, the officer pulled me over, and then decides to tell me that I had a warrant out for my arrest. At this time, I still had the ticket that I had gotten like a week ago at my apartment. I’m like, “Officer, I just got pulled over a couple times before and no one told me that I had a warrant out,” and he says “Well, maybe their computer’s were off or something was wrong,” or whatever, whatever. So he makes me go in the back of his car, I sit in the back of his car for about 30 minutes while he goes and comes back and says that something was invalid, or something was wrong, “but you’re free to go.” So me and my mom went to go make a complaint about it and they ended up telling us that profiling was legal and that we should do something about it, so I just created an app. The app pretty much does three things for you if you got pulled over. It has a one-touch button that let’s three people know- friends, family, loved ones- that you’ve been pulled over and that you’re alright but also gives them the exact location and if they don’t hear from you they can call that local police department from that location. The second thing it does is to let you know your legal rights- your first, second, fourth, fifth amendment rights that you need to know when you get pulled over, and then it records the encounter, we save that video of the encounter. We are now right under 100,000 downloads, so you know its still growing and its something we’re still working on. We’ve been working with police departments, as well. We’ve actually been working, talking with the police chief of Dekalb County, ironically, on a regular basis on how we can work together to bridge the gap between police and community and how technology can help bridge that gap as well.
So you’re from Gambia, and there’s a situation going on there right now. If you and I were talking on the street, and I didn’t know anything about Yahya Jammeh, how would you describe him to me?
I would describe him in the way that people have described him before: he’s Africa’s worst dictator, which takes a lot of work to be the worst dictator in Africa. That’s not an easy title to come by. You have a lot of competition for that. It’s a title that he’s proud of, he’s been described as that egotistical dictator who doesn’t believe in human rights for people. He’s imprisoned and tortured for nothing. Freedom of speech, freedom of press is not allowed. That’s just a simple way to put it: Africa’s worst dictator.
Jammeh has been in power since 1994, but he just lost reelection. He apparently conceded, and said he would give up his seat and now he’s saying he’s not going to do that.
Right. This interesting part of the story is that- the election was December 1 and he lost that election, and on December 2 he went on national TV and he conceded, said he lost the election and that it was the will of the people, that the Gambian people had spoken. He said that God had brought him in and that God had spoken that it was his time for him to go. And then a week later he concedes that.
Now the personal aspect of it for me is that the chairman for the election council is my uncle. That’s my first uncle, pretty much one of the people that raised me while I was in Gambia. He’s a guy that Jammeh had actually imprisoned early during his rule. So it was shocking that here’s someone he’s imprisoned, that he ruined his life and his businesses and then 15-20 years later you’re making him the person that’s in charge of the election commission. He’s the first one we’ve had in Gambia that hasn’t been able to be bought off by Jammeh, that didn’t say “hey, no matter what the results are, you’re still going to win.” So it was a week of elation and celebrating where people in Gambia were shocked that he actually conceded, that he actually would give up his power, and then a week later when he decided that he wasn’t going to concede and go back on his word then that was the Jammeh the Gambians know.
If you could go back to Gambia today, what would be the first thing you would want to do?
First thing I would go do is see my mom. I haven’t seen my mom in 26 years. I have a brother and sister I haven’t seen in that amount of time, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, you know, go see them. Obviously, there’s Gambians here and I’ve had Gambian food here but just to eat food at home. I grew up on the beach, so being able to go back out there on the beach, go to the market, but seeing family, that would be the first thing, to be able to catch up on, literally, 26 years.
What do you think will be the outcome of this situation in Gambia?
It’s crazy because the situation changes every single day. In the past week, we’ve had thousands, and thousands, and thousands of Gambians fleeing the country, because we don’t trust what’s going to happen, but you’ve had the African State Committee in West Africa, the Economics Council there. Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, those countries all kind of working with Jammeh for a peaceful resolution. He’s been offered asylum in Nigeria. He’s been offered asylum with a golden parachute in Morocco, and hopefully he’ll take it. He’s losing his ministers on a daily basis, in the past 36 hours he’s had five ministers resign and flee to Senegal, that’s where most people are fleeing right now. Then, just within the last hour and a half, [Jammeh] declared a 90-day state of emergency for the country. This 90 days where, if nothing happens, he can go and change the constitution and keep his power. Nigeria already has a warship out there making sure power is going to be transferred. We’ve had Senegal and their army getting ready so, hopefully it can be done peacefully and we’ll have the inauguration Thursday, and we’ll have a new president and a new opportunity for the country. But right now, nobody knows what goes on in his head, you know, and I honestly fear that he’s got some mercenaries because he knows half his military isn’t going to fight for him come Thursday, and we don’t have that big of a military in the country anyway. BBC and other outlets have reported that he’s gone to the child soldiers who fought in that Liberian war for Charles Taylor. Anything can happen here in the next 36 hours before the inauguration is supposed to occur. We’re hoping for peace, but we’re not expecting him to go quietly.
We really appreciate you talking with us today, and we hope for the best for your family that is still in Gambia.
I appreciate it, man, and we’ll know shortly what happens. Hopefully it will be a country where I can get my friends and family here to go visit. It’s an English speaking country with beautiful beaches. Before [Jammeh] came, there was no violence whatsoever, a popular destination for Europeans. Hopefully it can be something I can one day get you guys to come visit the country, come chill out on the beach and enjoy the food and culture of a new Gambia.