By Patience Loum
During a three-day “Peace Talk for Peace Building” engagement between members of the Ndiggal Sect and Authorities, an official from the Ministry of Health responded to concerns that some Gambians were denied access to health care services since 2009.
The dialogue organised by the Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment (WAVE) took place at the Governor’s Office in Jangjangbureh on Friday 26th August 2022 in the presence of representatives from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, Police, Immigration, Army, Governor’s Office, Local Chiefs and Religious Leaders, the National Human Rights Commission and others.
The three-day talks aim to establish a conducive and peaceful environment to implement the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission’s (TRRC) recommendations for members of the Ndiggal Sect deported from the Gambia in 2009 to return home.
TRRC Recommendations to Return Deported Gambians
According to Volume 5 of the TRRC Report which focuses on “Attack on Religious Freedoms” the former President Yahya Jammeh should be prosecuted for the persecution of the Ndiggal Sect in the Gambia and that “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 judgment obtained by members of the Sect in the High Court of The Gambia”.
However, to achieve this the Government’s White Paper notes that a “Peace Committee should be established for “Kerr Mot Ali comprising of all relevant stakeholders including the National Human Rights Commission 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 and National Human Rights Commission”.
During the meetings which started at Jangjangbureh, the various stakeholders mentioned above were in attendance including the Technical Advisory Group (TAC), the NHRC, and Authorities from the Security, and Religious and Local Chiefs to name a few. Two other Peace Talks took place at Njau and Panchang. Njau is where most residents from Kerr Mott Ali used to attend school and go for medical treatment. While Panchang is a well-established business hub.
Challenges to Access Health Care Services
One of the challenges currently impacting the lives of ostracised members of Kerr Mott Ali Gambians is access to health care services in Njau. Kumba Secka, the daughter of the late Chief of Kerr Mot Ali explained how women in her community are left with no access to maternal health care.
Speaking in front of authorities in Jangjangbureh, Kumba Secka explained how she was turned away from accessing health care services after she was illegally deported to Senegal. According to Kumba people “used the conflict to stop us from going to the Hospital. I went with three of my female friends and we were asked to leave because according to them, we don’t have any right to do a checkup here”.
Followers of the Ndiggal Sect usually wear an insignia of their leader around their neck or pinned on their chest, this makes them easily identifiable and targets of discrimination by Security Officers, members of the local communities and others.
Narrating her ordeal Kumba explained her surprise when a three-month pregnant woman was asked to leave after going to the hospital to seek antenatal care. Speaking in Wollof she challenged the decision to turn women away when she argued that all citizens have the right to access health care services.
She urged Government Officials, Local and Religious Leaders present to ensure that women, children and all Gambians have access to health care services without hindrance.
At hand to respond to her concerns was Alpha Sowe from the Ministry of Health. According to Alpha “as a result of the current Kerr Mot Ali situation, women travel to the other side of the border (called Sirimang) which is in Senegal for health checkups and treatment but because the health workers have no right to travel to the other side of the country to help them, the government will create a health care service for them in their residential area”.
Mr Sowe highlighted that it’s a fundamental right for every Gambian citizen to have a birth certificate which can be used to access health care services unhindered. However, the fact remains that as long as members of the Ndiggal Sect continue to live in exile in Kerr Mott Ali Senegal and the current conflict is not addressed they will face difficulties to access health care services.
Progressing Peace Talks
The three-day talks held at Jangjangbureh, Njau and Panchang are the beginning of the first phase to establish a peaceful environment to hold peace talks between members of the Ndiggal Sect currently seeking refuge in Senegal and people who currently reside in their properties located in Kerr Mott Ali Gambia.
Given that the deported Gambians have already been identified by the TRRC they have been engaged during the first phase. Next, the occupants of Kerr Mott Ali Gambia will be engaged and if those talks are successful then peace talks will eventually take place between those looking to return home and those currently occupying Kerr Mott Ali Gambia.
This article is supported by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).