By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
A three-day “Peace Talks for Peace Building” initiative concluded over the weekend of 28th August 2022 saw representatives of Gambians “deported” from Kerr Mott Ali Gambia in 2009 engage the Government, Chiefs, Local and Religious Leaders as well as the local community of Njau and Panchang about returning to their home town.
Currently seeking refuge in Kerr Mott Ali Senegal which is just across the border, the Gambia Government has upheld the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission’s (TRRC) recommendation that “the members of the Ndiggal Sect still living in exile in Senegal should be returned to live in Kerr Mot Ali (Gambia) and their properties returned to them. The government should enforce the judgement obtained by members of the Sect in the High Court of The Gambia”.
However, “the Government notes that prior reconciliation and social cohesion activities are essential as a precursor to the comprehensive implementation of the Judgment”. In addition to this, the White Paper calls for the establishment of “a Peace Committee for Kerr Mot Ali comprising of all relevant stakeholders including the National Human Rights Commission [NHRC] whose mandate would be to negotiate the resettlement of the exiled residents and restoration of peace and religious co-existence in Kerr Mot Ali with all the relevant stakeholders”.
In response to the TRRC Report and Government White Paper, a civil society organisation working with victims of the TRRC, the Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment (WAVE) embarked on the aforementioned three-day initiative to establish the enabling peaceful environment to progress resettlement negotiations.
During the first meeting held on 26th August 2022 at Jangjangbureh, representatives of “deported” Kerr Mott Ali Gambians together with Government Authorities, the Deputy Governor and representatives from the Security including Police, Army and Immigration, NHRC, Local Chiefs and Religious Leaders were all present. According to WAVE Co-Founder Ms Priscilla Yagu, this was the first time that the people of Kerr Mott Ali had an audience to raise some of their concerns to the Government since 2009.
An Ostracised Community
One of the concerns raised by numerous representatives of the Kerr Mott Ali community was that their people, particularly children have been denied access to education and health care services as they used to in the past. Speaking to Yunusa O.S. Ceesay a Kerr Mott Ali Representative who testified before the TRRC he explained that before they were “deported” from the Gambia their children used to go to school and seek health services in the neighbouring community of Njau until 2009. Since the unfortunate incident which forced them to flee from their hometown their children have been left with the difficult choices of travelling to the Kombos for education or not going to school at all.
In Theme 8 of the White Paper focusing on “Attack on Religious Freedoms” the TRRC’s findings have established that former “President Jammeh issued Executive directives authorising the infringement of the rights of religious groups and communities including the Ahmadiyya Jamaat and the Ndigal Sect of Kerr Mot Ali”.
The TRRC Report notes that “the removal of members of the Ndiggal Sect from Kerr Mot Ali, who were forced to resettle in Senegal amounts to “deportation”. This is contrary to international human rights law and criminalised in the Rome Statute which is applicable in The Gambia”.
Right to Education Impeded Since 2009
Since then, the people of Kerr Mott Ali Gambia have been living under difficult circumstances. Kebba Secka, one of the representatives spoke at the first meeting in Jangjangbureh where he told authorities about their children being denied education.
Mr Secka called for peace to provide the enabling environment for the government and other supporters to contribute towards the construction of schools in their community after their return. He warned that the establishment of institutions will be difficult to achieve in the absence of peace. Mr Secka noted that “Njau and Kerr Ali are so close but our children cannot go to school and learn there at the moment. These are some of the things we hope will change so that we can all benefit from a peaceful environment for generations to come”.
Kumba Secka, the daughter of the former Chief of Kerr Mott Ali Gambia narrated her traumatic ordeal after she lost her father back in 2009. Security officers raided their property under Executive Directives from former President Jammeh. Kumba’s father was brutally gun-butted on his face and lost his front teeth leading to this untimely death within a month after the incident. She then fled to Kerr Mott Ali Senegal and her children have not been able to go to school since then.
Speaking to Gainako on the second day of the “Peace Talks for Peace Building” at Njau Kumba noted that her children’s education worried her to the extent that she decided to engage the Chief. According to Kumba, she told the Chief that “if a child is not educated, he/she will not know anything and that really pains me because the only thing I want for my children is for them to have access to education”.
Unfortunately, given the ongoing conflict, the Chief instructed her to be patient until the conflict was resolved then her children could go to school. However, this meant that her children were denied the right to education since 2009 (over 12 years). She explained that when their children travel to school in Njau they are turned down.
The children of Kerr Mott Ali and all the residents and followers of the sect usually wear an insignia of their leader in an amulet hung around their neck. This makes them easily identifiable. They are often stopped from entry by security officers and people from neighbouring communities.
Education Official Response
Speaking in response to the access to education concerns at Janjanburreh one Fatou A Jallow from the Ministry of Basic and Secondary education noted that “child education is a civil right and children should be taken to school to learn. If there are all these challenges then I am just hearing about it and we will work on it”.
The MoBSE Official also noted that some of the concerns need good roads to be addressed because “that has a great impact on the children” being able to go to school.
Ms Jallow noted that a child being a Senegalese or a Gambian is not a legitimate reason for them to be denied education. In her quest to allay their concerns, she reiterated that her Institution is committed to ensuring that “everyone has access to education and that is the reason for their existence”. The MoBSE Official reassured delegates present that her institution will work towards ensuring that children from Kerr Mott Ali go to school because they are lagging behind.
This story is supported by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).