Deyda Hydara Jr. was 14 years old when his father Deyda Hydara, the dean of Gambian journalism, was shot to death by unknown assailants in the country’s capital Banjul in 2004. His father was killed as he returned from a celebration marking the 13th anniversary of The Point, a weekly newspaper that he edited and founded, just after writing a column highly critical of new legislation that would tighten controls on the Gambian media.
After waiting seven years for the Gambian authorities to properly investigate the death of his father, who was a critic of Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, Deyda Jr. and one of his brothers, who now live in London, have taken the case to the regional court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). President Jammeh has continued to dismiss calls for a full investigation, recently telling the BBC that he could not understand the interest in this particular death.
On the anniversary of the killing, Deyda Junior spoke to the BBC’s Network Africa program about his father and the ECOWAS case (this interview has been edited for style):
You share a name with him your father, because you were named after your grandfather. How have you been coping?
Well, OK. But I recall telling my sisters and everyone else that when I hear that someone else has died, that’s nothing to me anymore. Because when my father died, it just took all the emotion from me. It was just the biggest amount of grief and the biggest amount of pain that just came to me. And everything else in life I don’t really feel as much anymore. It might sound heartless, but it’s just how I feel, because I was so close to him.
And to see him that morning and to speak to him, maybe an hour before he was shot, and as he called again, and said, “Are you still at home, are you not coming?” and I said, “Yes, I’m just leaving now,” and he said, “Actually, we’ll just put something for you on a plate and I’ll bring it, and no there’s no need to come anymore,” which is probably something that saved my life. And then to wake up at 1am with the phone ringing, and then hearing someone else asking for my sister…you just knew that something was wrong.
What do you hope to get from the ECOWAS court?
We want to be heard for once, because each time we’ve tried, we’ve been pushed back, so we haven’t had a proper response from the authorities Gambia. So hopefully the ECOWAS court can get them to answer some of the questions we have.
And you hope this will bring you a sense of closure?
Hopefully, hopefully, we can get that. The main thing is that we find out what happened and we can get these people off the streets of Gambia because Gambia is a very safe place.
You’ve heard President Jammeh and his take on the matter. How does it make you feel?
We’ve heard President Jammeh before on my dad and its always critical; My father didn’t die of natural causes. But around the time he died there was a crucial media bill being passed in Gambia, so it all seems a bit….The media bill was being passed in parliament in Gambia, which my father was very against; this is when he mysteriously got gunned down.
Someone dies of natural causes in the Gambia all the time. But someone getting shot three times, once in the temple, two in the chest, doesn’t happen every day. That’s why everyone is asking the question.
[My father] was critical of some of the stuff the government did. But he wasn’t a politician, he was just a journalist. And he was just trying to point out some of the stuff that wasn’t so right.