A Houston man and his friend who disappeared in their native Gambia four years ago have been confirmed dead, killed under orders of the nation's former president, according to family members.
Alhagie Mamut Ceesay, a father of two, had lived in Houston for 12 years and worked as an "infrastructure systems analyst for Houston and Texaco," according to an earlier story by the Huffington Post.
Ceesay and his friend, Ebou Jobe, who lived in Long Island, New York, returned to Gambia in May 2013, intending to launch a cashew exporting business, according to his sister, Juka Ceesay. The men disappeared in June 2013 and were feared to be casualties of a brutal regime by dictator Yahya Jammeh. (Jobe was a father of three, and an operations manager at a Walmart, according to HuffPo).
"His heart was in Africa, to help rebuild where he came from by going back and investing and [living] in the community," Juka told the Press in 2014.
As we reported then:
Ceesay kept in touch with his wife, Ndeye Kane, and 5-year-old son Ebrahim via cell phone and Skype in the month before he disappeared, and did not relay any concerns or signs of trouble. Then, in June, the office space Ceesay and Jobe rented was completely cleaned out, and the friends' rented truck had vanished.
The circumstances around their disappearance are vague, but Juka says her family believes someone with a grudge may have told government officials the men were in the country for nefarious purposes. (The lack of information has spurred many unconfirmed reports, like this Gambian newspaper's claim that both men have been executed).
"Somebody gave the wrong signal to that government about my brother and his friend, and that's why they were captured," Juka says.
Jammeh, who imprisoned journalists and critics, and vowed to behead every gay person in Gambia, has since been ousted in a democratic election. Juka said that her sister and mother, along with Ceesay's wife, felt safe enough to return and press for more information on the men's fates.
The men's deaths were revealed by questioning of some of Jammeh's former soldiers — called "jungulars" — and confirmed to Ceesay's family by a U.S. embassy official in Gambia, Juka said.
Exiled Gambia journalist Fatu Camara first reported the sad news last week, writing that the men had cashed out their retirement and bank accounts before moving to Gambia, and the supply of cash may have raised eyebrows.
Arriving in the Gambia with a lot of cash, their presence easily caught the attention of the unscrupulous characters within the security forces Jammeh planted in the general population to keep a watchful eye on all the goings and comings of innocent Gambians. These elements would go to him with all kinds of reports, including ones meant to secure a license to blackmail hardworking citizens. They all figured the easiest way to get anyone in trouble is to tell Jammeh the person is plotting to stage a coup. The dictator swiftly gives orders for such person to be killed and buried “six feet deep.” Such was the fate of Alhagi and Ebou.
[Jammeh] was informed that the two dual Gambian-American citizens have arrived in the country with rocket launchers with the intent to ambush his convoy in a bid to overthrow him. Never mind that these two had no prior military training, and a search party....that was dispatched to the house they were renting failed to produce any evidence of such – their fate was already sealed. [Jammeh] gave orders to his “Jungulars” with specific instructions to “finish” Alhagi and Ebou.
Camara said she was also a victim of Jammeh's regime. Although she served as Jammeh's press secretary in 2013, she said she nevertheless wound up on Jammeh's enemies list and was charged with "tarnishing the image of the president," which carried a 15-year sentence. (Jammeh was apparently a bit paranoid. He also believed in witches and conducted literal witch hunts).
Camara said she spent 25 days in the same jail where Ceesay and Jobe were later detained. She was able to bond out and quickly moved to the United States. She told the Press that, while detained, she witnessed guards torturing prisoners.
Juka, who has a background in public relations, became her family's spokesperson and tried to enlist the help of American officials, who couldn't seem to be less interested. She received no help from U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. We also had no luck when we reached out to staff in those lawmakers' offices in 2014. (Michael Ivy, a staffer in Cruz's office at the time, said he had passed Juka's message along to the Senator's then-immigration liaison, Melissa Miller.)
We had also followed up with the U.S. State Department, where Juka had sought help from a division chief named Jack Markey. When she finally got Markey on the phone, Juka said, the bureaucrat told her that "we are not magicians" and were powerless to look into the whereabouts of the two men.
Even though he was in fact not a finder of missing people, nor a puller of rabbits from top hats, we had still tried to speak with Markey, but all we got instead was a brush-off email from a State Department flack, apparently on auto-pilot, who told us that all inquiries should be directed to the Gambian government.
While Juka and the rest of her family had long suspected the worse, the confirmation last week of the men's deaths has still devastated their survivors.
Camara said the new government will conduct an investigation into the disappearances of Ceesay and Jobe, as well as many others who went missing under Jammeh's rule.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.