Journalist in exile: Interview with Sainey MK Marenah

Written by Alieu Khan

Known for his good sense of humour, Sainey MK Marenah was on the path of becoming a prominent journalist in The Gambia when he began to have troubles with the law for his reportages. He won a two-year-long legal battle, and few days later, fled the country. He has since been living in exile in Senegal where he continues to practice. In this exclusive interview, he among others expressed his intentions to return home to marry, learn and push the pen, but…

What’s On-Gambia: Tell us briefly about yourself?

Sainey:My Names are Sainey MK Marenah, a young Gambian journalist currently based in Dakar, Senegal. I am serving as Banjul- Dakar Bureau Chief for Diasporium Media Network, based in the US.

Is it true that some of The Gambia's finest intellectuals are from your home village, Kudang?

Yes, is true! My home village Kudang, located in southern Central River Region is the birth place for some of the country finest intellectuals and I am proud to be part of or associated with some of them. 

Some of these finest intellectual include our step dad Dr. Lamin Marenah, first Gambian to have PhD and one  of those chosen to be the Gambian president in the first republic;  Lara Ceesay, former SG and now a senior official with UN; Kumba Marenah also with the UN; Dr. Saihou Sabally, formerly of MRC; Sheriff Saikouba Ceesay, first Finance Minister of The Gambia in the first Republic, plus her daughter Hawa Ceesay Sabally, a veteran and well respected constitutional lawyer and former Justice Minister, among others.

Are they giving back to Kudang?

Yes, most of them are doing extremely well for their families and supporting village development endeavors.

What can you tell us about your experience working as a journalist in The Gambia?

Wow! A very interesting question. Well my experience being a journalist in Gambia is something that was challenging, fascinating and at time bizarre. I have learned to be a very strong journalist simply because of the environment we found ourselves in.  The Gambia is one those countries where journalists work under a hostile environment characterized by draconian media laws.

I chose journalism over many professions not because of money but my passion to speak up for the voiceless and as well hold those representing the masses accountable to the people; contribute towards national development by giving timely information to citizens in order for them to be able to  make informed  decisions.

Basically, I suffered a lot working as a journalist in the Gambia. If you recall in January 2014 I was arrested by plainclothes officers claiming to be operatives of the National Intelligence Agency. I was accused of publishing false news with intent to cause fear or alarm to the public. My arrest, according to my court document, was in relation to a story I authored about the defection of some Green Youth supporters of the ruling party to main opposition party, UDP. 

I was tried in court for 11 months on those flimsy and bogus charges, later freed by the court based on the fact that the prosecution failed woefully to establish the essential ingredients of the case.

Prior to my arrest, I was on several occasions, intimidated by security officers and even Judges, who supposed to safeguard my rights. [For example] In August 2010 while covering the high profile criminal trial involving the ex-Inspector General of Police Ensa Badjie,  now pardoned  by the president, I was reprimanded and called by the sitting Judge (Justice Amandi) to explain to the  court why I should not be sent to jail for writing something that has never transpired in his court. But thanks to Lawyer Borry Touray, then representing ex IGP Ensa Badjie, whom the judge claimed I misquoted [I was spared].  Mr. Touray made it clear that all I reported, quoting him as saying that his ‘client was severely tortured at NIA to obtain his statement’ [was true]. Barrister Touray’s submission left the judge mute as he was in fact shown copies of other newspapers reporting same facts. That is how I regained my freedom from that particular incident.

Imagine, how many journalists fled The Gambia over the past years due to fear of persecution, harassment and even death? That alone will tell you being a journalist in The Gambia is like living in hell.

Are you happy in Dakar or wants to proceed to a Western country?

Not actually. My intention is to go back to my country, continue my university programme I have started before I fled as well contribute towards the development of the media industry. But this is provided my security and protection is guaranteed by the state otherwise I have to move out to build my capacity as a professional journalist.

What do you think of the online media's coverage of The Gambia?

Good question and purely my opinion. I believe Gambian online has done tremendously well in term of raising awareness on happenings in the Gambia, but at the same time, some have caused harm to the public due to irresponsible journalism.

I believe what is lacking in some of online newspapers is ethics which is a cornerstone of professional journalism. There is more room for improvement.

What way do you continue working as a journalist in Dakar?

I am of the view that as a journalist, you can work anywhere you are… and my circumstances should not allow me to relax and fall my hands together without doing anything. If I do that I will defeat the purpose of my profession which I have sworn to defend (laughs).

And trust me since I came to Dakar, some couple of months ago, I have seen a big difference in my career as a journalists, having got some part time assignment from both CNN and Aljazeera is something I can say is dream come true.

Here in Dakar, I was able to practice independently without any form of intimidation or harassment. I can wake up; go to work without thinking I would be arrested.

How is Killa Ace doing in Dakar? Do you think it was a good decision for him to join the thrill of being a cyber-warrior?

I have visited him a couple of times; he is living good and in happiness with his young family.

Why he joined the thrill of being a cyber-warrior? I think Killa Ace is not a cyber-warrior, he is a rap and hip hop artist who stood for the oppressed people in The Gambia at a time when most of the artists are focusing on praise singing for the power or the people.

Apart from Killa Ace, who is your favorite Gambian musician and why?

Another interesting question!  Why do you say apart from Killa Ace?

Jaliba Kuyateh is my favorite artists because his songs to me make more sense than any other artists, and he really understand what he is doing. His messages are powerful and very insightful.

Gambian artists need to do lot of work and focus on the prize and stop bringing each other down, by that way many will make it.

What's next for the Kudang journalist?

Get married, build my beautiful family and be my own boss. I can foresee my own independent media corporation in the future. In Shaa Allah.