A Senegalese Merchant Testifies
Back in 2002, with my colleague Olivier Bercault, we had discovered in the abandoned files of Hissène Habré’s political police, the DDS, the names and stories of two Senegalese merchants who had entered the underworld of DDS jails. Demba Gaye and Abdourahmane Gueye, had been arrested by the DDS at N’Djaména airport in March 1987 when they came in on a French military plane from the neighboring Central African Republic. They were interrogated by the DDS and then placed in separate jails. The documents told us that Demba Gaye died eight months later in “Cell C” of the Locaux prison – known as the “cell of death.” The documents also showed that Abdourahmane Gueye was finally rescued and handed over by Habré’s Minister of the Interior to the Senegalese ambassador.
Our Chadian colleagues remembered them as simple merchants who could not understand what was happening to them. It was my friends Clément Abaifouta and Sabadet Totodet who had taken the body of Demba Gaye to the mass grave at “the Plain of the Dead” outside N’Djaména, where so many other bodies rested.
For years we searched in vain for Abdourahmane Gueye, the survivor, until at a press conference in Dakar in 2005 the Senegalese activist Alioune Tine publicly revealed the existence of the two Senegalese victims, giving their names. The next day, Abdourahmane Gueye, having heard his name on the radio, showed up at Alioune’s office, eager to share his story.
The case against Habré had a new face in Senegal.
For the past ten years, the lanky Abdou, as everyone calls him, has been telling his story to Senegalese communities at home and abroad, to his religious leaders, to the press and to Senegalese politicians – including now-president Macky Sall whom Abdou and I met with Chadian victims when Sall was in the opposition.
Today he told his story to the court trying Hissène Habré.
The courtroom was more crowded than usual, as many of Abdou’s friends and family came to hear him. The local press also turned out in greater numbers.
In an easy and clear manner, Abdou recounted his nightmare in the jails of a world that was not his, a country that he did not understand. When he was first dumped in a packed cell at the “Camp de Martyrs” prison, he asked if he could see a lawyer. The one man in the cell who spoke French laughed and said, “there are no lawyers here, there are no judges here. This is the DDS and the DDS belongs to Hissène Habré.”
Like other survivors, Abdou described the inhuman conditions in his jail: malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, prisoners taken away at night, corpses which rotted before they were evacuated.
After his disappearance was reported by the French army to the Senegalese authorities, his government began looking for him. It was finally the Senegalese ambassador to the region who came to fetch him. The ambassador gave him the bad news that his colleague Demba had died.
Habré’s supporters have been attacking Abdou in the press for years, accusing him of gold trafficking and illegal entry into Chad, but after testifying, Abdou told us “I’m very happy. I feel at ease because no one could deny what I said. This is what I have been waiting for years: my moment of justice”.