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Remembering Deyda Hydara, four years after his murder

I last saw Deyda Hydara alive on December 14, 2004, only two days before his death. To this day, the gunmen who shot dead the Gambia's best-known journalist as he drove home from work are still at large. The crime remains unsolved.

This morning, I joined Deyda's widow, Maria, his adopted daughter Nellie and more than 100 family and friends for recitations of the Holy Quran in his memory at his residence in the capital, Banjul.

Yet, December 16 was not supposed to be filled with sorrow for the Hydaras. Deyda's newspaper, The Point, was founded on December 16, 1991. The date is also his wife's birthday.

But on December 14, 2004, the brief conversation Deyda and I shared was about our apprehensions about working in a hostile environment. We had witnessed a series of arson attacks on media houses and physical attacks on journalists over political coverage--in complete impunity. We were also fighting for our freedom against the government's attempt to enact repressive media bills. I did not know it was the last time I would see Deyda.

I remember Deyda as a champion of press freedom. I first heard his voice circa 1975 when he was a radio DJ for Radio Syd, the Gambia's first private broadcaster. Later on, as the managing editor and co-owner of The Point, he penned a column called "Good Morning Mr. President." The column was popular because it addressed the president directly about issues of public interest. When two officials asked him to drop the column at a meeting I attended, he refused, saying that people have a right to know about pertinent issues.

Deyda was a journalist with a deep sense of civic duty. In fact, he will be remembered for advancing humanitarian causes through the media. It was through his advocacy in The Point that Banjul's Muslim cemetery was fenced. His stories about the mentally ill at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital allowed for funds to be made available for the renovation of the hospital's psychiatric ward.

Today, journalists in the Gambia work under very difficult and hostile circumstances. Always casting a shadow over them are the disappearances of reporters, like that of "Chief" Ebrima Manneh, and the closures of independent media outlets, such as Sud Fm, Citizen Fm, the Citizen newspaper, and The Independent newspaper, which was sealed under police guard until June of this year. None of the cases of arson attacks on the media have ever been investigated.

In October of this year, when the West African Journalists Association awarded Deyda a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award, Maria Hydara commended friends of her late husband, far and near, for always remembering him. As for myself, I will always remember the words of Deyda at a journalism training workshop organized by the Gambia Press Union: "A journalist has to be committed to providing truthful information to the public and must at all times be responsible to the public. A journalist has to transcend sentiment to be able to do the job right." Deyda lived and died by those principles.

Madi Ceesay is a journalist based in Banjul, the Gambia, and the founder of Media Agenda, a journalism training organization. He was a 2006 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award.

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Comments

What an unfortunate event. The government of Yahya Jammeh should resign as they can't find the perpetrators of this serious crime for four good years. I have no doubt that Deyda was killed by the thugs of president Jammeh. Jammeh knows those who were responsible.

I join Madi Ceesay, the media fraternity in The Gambia and the world over, Deyda's friends and family in remembering the fateful day, four years ago, when some cowardly gun-men still at large, took away from us one of The Gambia's most principled and dignified journalists.
Madi's tribute couldn't be more fitting for a man who gave his all in ensuring that no one in authority tramples upon the fundamental rights of ordinary people - The right to inform and be informed was what he believed in, fought and died for!
On this day, December 16, 2008, FOUR YEARS ON, I join all those in the quest for peace and justice in once again appealing to the authorities in The Gambia to do the right thing by apprehending the culprits of this most heineous crime and bring them to justice. If there is nothing sinister in anyone's closet, I see no reason why the balistic evidence and other evidence privy to the NIA cannot be enough to get a conviction.
I, like many of my colleagues in The Gambian media, will treasure every moment i spent working with Deyda. He was an inspiration and remains so until the day we shall see again. Adieu tonton Deyda!

Rather unfortunate to see a defender of the truth slain in cold blood by a group of thugs calling themselves a Government. Deyda's death may be unaccounted for today, but surely, Justice will be served at the Hague someday...... Jammeh and his group of bandits will join Charles Taylor and account for their stupidity and cruelty.
Long live the memory of this great Citizen, journalsit and father. Viva Deyda!

Rather unfortunate to see a defender of the truth slain in cold blood by a group of thugs calling themselves a Government. Deyda's death may be unaccounted for today, but surely, Justice will be served at the Hague someday...... Jammeh and his group of bandits will join Charles Taylor and account for their stupidity and cruelty.
Long live the memory of this great Citizen, journalsit and father. Viva Deyda!

I personnally extent my deepest sympathy to the Aidara family.For me DEYDA was a brother,a friend.Anytime I heard of his name , it feels my heart .I can only ask Maria to give it to the mighty Allah .May his soul rests in peace ,may Allah forgive him and pay him all his good deeds.He was a great man,courageous, and I hope Vieux will take after his father. I think Mariama will know who I am.Deyda was my school mate but during our life we were just like brother.Adieu mon frere

wants to remain anonymous December 18, 2008 12:00:17 PM ET

Wow,
As he wants to be called Professor now, not President. Professor Jammeh....Justice is coming for you....

Jammeh and his murderous thugs have taken The
Gambia into the darkness.The assassination of Deyda Hydara is just the tip of the iceberg.
Remember the schoolchildren gunned down in the streets of Serekunda,the 44 Ghanains butchered at Brufut,Nigerians murdered with
impunity,not to mention the unknown number of
Gambians who have gone missing,presumed killed
by our heroic Jola.
It is my earnest desire to see this excuse of a man being held to account,the sooner the better.He has brought nothing but ridicule to a once proud country.

The Gambia used to be regarded,quite rightly,
as the safest country in Africa.This was back
in the Jawara days.Then came boy Jola,with his
July22 nd thugs,and soon things changed--for
the worst.
Jammeh is the worst kind of individual.Low
intellect,unreliable,unstable,a bully,liar,
thief and killer on a grand scale.
The Gambia is now anything but safe,and all thanks to this maniac who thinks he can rid
the World of all it's illnesses.What an oaf
he is.

It is absolutely non acceptable situation which facing journalist in every corner of this world regardless the extent of democracy experienced in either country.
Yellow journalism is quetly opposed by rulling leaders as well as rich peoples who accumulates their wealthy illegaly.
Plz activists should join together to condemn this situation and encourage the journalists to play their role as a watch dog of the public in beliving that the only award will come from GOD and non else!
GODBLESS AFRICA JOURNALISTS
GODBLESS TANZANIA JOURNALISTS