The Austin-based developer of 3 Houston apartment communities was arrested Saturday in Virginia for his role in a failed coup of the West African nation of Gambia. According to an affidavit prepared by an FBI special agent, Cherno M. Njie provided funds for the ill-fated venture, and was to have been installed as Gambia’s president if it had been successful. Prior to the surprise military venture in his native country, the University of Texas graduate served as the tax credit manager of the Texas department of housing and community affairs, which during his tenure awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax credits to developers of affordable housing. Njie resigned from the agency in 2001 following the bribery conviction of a board member and founded Songhai Development, whose later contributions to the Houston landscape include the Chelsea Senior Community (pictured at the bottom of this story) and the Little York Villas apartments near Acres Homes and the Langwick Senior Residences (pictured at top) near Greenspoint. He also served as president of Songhai’s sister company, CMB Construction.
In 2011, 3.2 acres of land Njie donated next to the Langwick project at Langwick Dr. and W. Hardy Rd. were turned into a park designed for senior citizens — named Ida Gaye Gardens, after Njie’s mother. (The photo at right above, posted on Songhai’s website, shows Njie at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the park with Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition’s Regina Lindsey.)
The target of Njie’s plot, Gambian president Yahya Jammeh, was a former junior military officer who took power in a 1994 coup himself, overthrowing the country’s democratically elected government. Under Jammeh’s rule, arrests and harsh punishment of perceived political opponents have become common. Last year he approved a law allowing life imprisonment for persons convicted of performing certain homosexual acts; Amnesty International later reported that Gambian security forces had begun pressuring people arrested in raids to confess to homosexual acts, as well as torturing them and threatening them with rape. In 2007, President Jammeh announced that he could cure AIDS, obesity, and impotence — using herbs and bananas.
Only 10 to a dozen persons participated in the coup attempt financed by the Texas real estate developer, according to the affidavit. Members of the group expected they would be joined by up to 160 members of the Gambian military. But their plans to ambush Jammeh in the final days of 2014 were thwarted when the president left the country the day after Christmas. The small group instead divided into 2 teams and attacked the country’s state house in Banjul on December 30, believing the soldiers guarding the building would flee after shots were fired. A participant told U.S. investigators that all members of the first team and one member of the second team were killed during the coup attempt by government soldiers.
Njie and co-conspirator Papa Faal, a U.S. Army and Air Force veteran who appears to have no prior real-estate experience, have been charged with violations of the Neutrality Act by conspiring against a designated “friendly nation” of the United States, as well as conspiracy to possess firearms for a crime of violence.
- Austin developer Cherno Njie accused of leading failed coup in Gambia [Austin-American Statesman]
- Greenspoint opens Ida Gaye Park for seniors [Northeast News]
- Two men in US charged with conspiring to overthrow Gambian government [The Guardian]
- Gambia coup plotters: model citizens at home in US, but ‘everybody has a breaking point‘ [The Guardian]
- The Shadowy U.S. Veteran Who Tried to Overthrow a Country [Daily Beast]