By Matthew K. Jallow
A Freedom Radio interview of a young Gambian females about her experiences, tell the story of Kanilai village. For in Kanilai, the times, they are a changing. In fact, in Kanilai, they began to change more than a decade and half ago. Situated in the southern forests of the Gambia, the changes in Kanilai are not of the good kind. This unlikely southern Gambia village, where collapsed straw fences and mangled mud-walls once complemented windowless mud huts and grass houses, the times bluster with the endless celebration of life, but also of a nightmare that plays out much like a horror-filled dream.
And, among the tree-tops in and outside of Kanilai village, parades of colorful birds, in far fewer numbers, still continue to chirp away as purposefully as the classical concerto conductors of yester-year. Around the village, the ever diminishing forest cover, which served as a buffer zone between Kanilai and its neighborhood villages, the once untouched virgin land, now represents the tragedy of the disappearing natural sanctuary of our flora and fauna. At a different time, and in a different circumstance, Kanilai village could have indulged in joyous celebration of a different kind; promoting Gambian culture and other national interests; instead, debauchery, immorality and secret executions have turned a once unassuming village of reverence into an intemperate place of crime and fornication.
And now, like Bonto village, made infamous by the touch of South American drug cartels, Kanilai village has been branded as an unholy place, where many marriages have been wrecked, relationships broken, women gang raped, school going-age girls impregnated and babies born to fathers they may never know. The transformation of Kanilai village from its serene innocence to a place of abomination, did not take much effort to accomplish. Yet today, the sad village qualifies as the Las Vegas of West Africa and Gambia’s Sodom and Gomorrah of Old Testament notoriety. But, unlike Kanilai, Las Vagas offers opportunities to the millions of dream-chasers who swell its crowded streets to patronize the cozy, glitzy night-life that encapsulates the vibe of Nevada. The untold and still unreported murders and executions, which have taken place in Kanilai, have easily qualified the village as the Gambia’s village of death. And for a historical perspective, Kanilai only now turned down and dirty, because its native son, Yahya Jammeh, notoriously drunken with power and ignorance, consciously decided to transform his home town into an open brothel in the service of the pleasures of those who come there to worship at the alter Yahya Jammeh built to his own honor. But, Yahya Jammeh’s motivations in turning Kanilai into a den of prostitution are purely political.
In his role as Kanilai’s benefactor, Yahya Jammeh plays pimp to hundreds of females who go there each year to answer to his coercive invitations. By providing the outlet for his bloated military, security officers, civilian officials and ordinary Gambians an avenue for free exercise of carnal pleasure at the expense of our sisters, daughters, mothers, neighbors, aunts and other females, Yahya Jammeh seeks to cultivate loyalty and support from beneficiaries of his immoral largesse. To perpetuate the notoriety Yahya Jammeh often organizes long sojourns in Kanilai village and the migration of the entire “so-called” senior civil service and tens of thousands of people to his village. Yahya Jammeh’s entire civil service often goes to Kanilai under the guise of his much touted “government retreats” which is a misnomer characterization considering what really goes on there. The public infatuation with Kanilai is not without ulterior motives, and for a place where the skeletons of countless known and unknown Gambian victims lie buried in unmarked graves, Kanilai ought to be the one place where only sadomasochists would want to go to. Beyond that, Yahya Jammeh is increasingly feeling insecure being in Banjul, where escape from an eventual overthrow is far less likely than in Kanilai. To the many upright and decent natives of Kanilai village, Yahya Jammeh is the bad dream they wake up to each morning; a native son they would rather forget.
There is no denying the fact Yahya Jammeh has turned into the curse of the Fonis and Kanilai village, and that image, and the reality of Kanilai’s debauchery and immorality, will remain to malign the character of Kanilai village for generations to come. In time, more salacious and damning revelations about the murders, gruesome tortures and fornication that occurs there, will someday come to light. In meantime, the midnight tortures continue in Kanilai, the unmarked graves remain untouched and hidden from public view, fatherless babies continue to be made there, gullible wives are coerced into joining Yahya Jammeh’s party train, spouses abandon their husbands for a little pleasure, once secure marriages cast between a rock and a hard place, promising relationships collapse under the weight of the unbearable scandals of unfaithfulness and the tormented Kanilai villagers shudder in pain and disgust for their once quiet community. It is apparent that Kanilai village has turned into a place of abomination and where murders, tortures, fornication, debauchery and immorality have become the only way of life. For Yahya Jammeh, the idol worshiping devil of a human being decided long ago to turn his “place of birth” into an open brothel; the village where Gambians go, not only for carnal pleasure, but for many citizens of Fonis, Kanilai village also represents the place where many lost relatives and family members still go to die.