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Student reported on attempted coup in Africa

Politics in the small African state of Gambia suddenly became very important for University of Copenhagen student/journalist

As a student at the Centre of African Studies, Rasmus Bronde Stouby felt that his future degree would lack credibility if his knowledge was gained only in a classroom in Copenhagen, and not from experience on the African continent itself.

For this reason, Rasmus traveled to The Gambia during his third semester for a traineeship with Gambia Media Support, a Danish NGO focused on media and training and ‘capacity building’ of Gambian journalists.

For the student and journalist Rasmus, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time.

Risky job

While he was there teaching basic journalistic theory to Gambian reporters and conducting research about the difficulties Gambian journalists face in obtaining information necessary to publish stories, rebel forces made a coup attempt against President Yahya Jammeh in the capital city of Banjul.

”Few people wanted to even talk about it,” he explained to the University Post when he was at home, safe in Copenhagen.

”It can be dangerous. You have to always think about what you say, and to whom. Can you trust that person? Even now I’m not sure how much I should say – ‘someone’ could read this and visit my friends in The Gambia. Maybe it’s paranoid, right? Or maybe it isn’t… hard to say with confidence when you are there, writing stories and publishing them, or if you have friends there.”

Stay indoors

At the time, details about why the coup attempt against President Jammeh, who himself came to power in a coup d’etat in 1994, was even occurring and who was perpetrating it were scarce. People weren’t willing to speak openly about the situation, according to Rasmus.

This is an understandable sentiment in a country where journalists can be penalized with hefty fines and imprisonment for what they publish. Covering a coup can be a risky job with serious ramifications.

”Journalists disappear without a trial and without a trace,” he says.

”It was exciting when a friend called and told me to get supplies and stay in doors for the rest of the day because something was going on in Banjul. Gunfire. Military. No one knew. Will they be successful? Am I really going to sit here in The Gambia and see what it looks like when power shifts from one coup-maker to another?” he continues.

Return to ‘normal’

Rasmus posted updates on Gambia Media Support’s website and even appeared on the Danish TV2 news.

”I spent the coup-night writing updates and listening to the radio and scouring the internet for information and calling everyone I knew there on the phone to find out more [but] nothing was happening. It was all in the rumours and on the internet.”

To date little information has emerged about the failed coup, and life in The Gambia seems to have returned to normal.

”It has been quiet. People talk about it, but not very loudly and not very much,” he says.

Who knows what is going on?

Newspapers have moved on to other topics, and the whole attack appears to be amateurish in planning and execution,

President Jammeh seems secure in his position, and so far the event has not had consequences other than slow traffic (due to military checkpoints). At least for the average citizen, according to Rasmus.

“But who knows what goes on behind the scenes?”

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