By Mai Kanyi @KanyiMai and Yusef Taylor @FlexDan_YT
Breaking the Chains of Fear
April has always been an important month in The Gambia and this year has proven to be another month of defiance, a month when Gambians break free from the heavy chains of fear and brutally from Jammeh and his security apparatus. Approximately 16 years ago on April 10 – 11, 2000, students lead by the Gambia Students Union took to the streets to protest against the murder of a boy and the rape of a girl by the security services. The conclusion of that protests saw 14 brave souls executed by members of the security forces who were absolved by Jammeh contrary to an independent enquiry.
The acute culture of impunity in The Gambia was confirmed by the events of April 2000 for the entire world to witness. Today The Gambia is left with victims of the April 2000 massacre. These victims and survivors serve as a reminder of what has become known as “Gambia’s darkest day” when young protesters were crushed by those sworn to protect them. Today Gambians are breaking free from the chains of fear and are daring to stand up to demand for their rights; to peaceful assembly, for Electoral Reforms and for the bodies of their loved ones which the government has mockingly kept from already oppressed victims.
14th – 16th April – Gambian Protest
On Thursday 14th April approximately 50 members of The Gambia’s Opposition took to the streets to protest for Electoral Reforms. The group of protesters were mainly members of the United Democratic Party (UDP) lead by their Youth Mobiliser Solo Sandeng. Soon after protesters approached Westfield a joint security task force descended on peaceful protesters and used excessive force to arrest some 25 protesters for unlawful assembly. Since their arrest Solo Sandeng has been reported dead by the UDP Leader Ousainou Darboe who also revealed that Nokoi Njie and Fatoumata Jawara are in a critical condition. This was in stark contrast to protest held on the same day in Zimbabwe as opposition leaders to Robert Mugabe’s regime took to the streets after the high court ordered the security forces to respect the rights of peaceful protesters.
On Saturday 16th April Ousainou Darboe called a press conference at his compound. His first words were “Gambia is in crisis. Democracy and rule of law is in crisis. Yankuba Badjie, the director general of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), got his hooligans drunk and unleashed them [on detained protesters].” Describing the NIA’s inhumane torture techniques Mr Darboe stated that “in the process of being tortured, video recordings were taken so that their screams and cries can be heard. The way they were trying to defend themselves from the slaps and whips on their bodies and kicks so that that sadist Yahya Jammeh can see it, to satisfy him.”
The shrill howls and screams of the crowd at Mr Darboe’s residence encapsulated the public’s reaction to the news of the demise of Solo Sandeng and the Westfield Protesters. It was time to take action for the release of innocent protesters still in custody of alleged torturers and murderers. He declared that “we are going to ask for Solo’s body to be given to us dead or alive. We are going to ask for Fatoumata Jawara and the rest of them to be released. This is why I called you people to let you know.” Soon after taking to the streets Mr Darboe and other peaceful protesters were arrested and thrown into jail. Some of the images and videos being circulated on social media and the news show the security personnel’s blatant disregard for civilian rights.
Link to Ousainou Darboe’s protest speech on SoundCloud.
Link to video of brutal crackdown on innocent civilians by Gambian Raptivist Killa Ace.
18th – 30th April – Worldwide Outrage
The reaction to the wave of arrest facing resident Gambians has sparked a worldwide outrage in cities across the globe. On April 18th protesters in France confronted the Gambian Ambassador demanding for the immediate release of all political. Two days later protests were held in Scotland, London, Washington DC and Atlanta. On Friday 22nd April protest were held in Dakar where Activists demanded that “Enough is Enough” (Dafa Doy). The number of protests continue to show no sign of abating as more demonstrations were held on Wednesday this week (27th April) in Sweden and Norway. During all these demonstrations the one chant which all protesters continually echoed was “Jammeh Must Go” and for the “Release of All Political Prisoners”.
The symbolic nature of the protest held in Washington DC is worth noting as they intentionally refused to request for a protest permit to demonstrate that lack of a permit is not an excuse for the Government to crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. This could be seen as a direct counter-argument to the Gambian Information Minister “Sheriff Bojang” who argued on an interview with the BBC that peaceful protesters were arrested because they were not in possession of a permit. The stark contrast was clear to see between protests in Washington DC, Zimbabwe and those held in The Gambia where peaceful protesters were arrested and tortured to death.
Darboe and Co Denied Justice
Ousainou Darboe and Co’s ongoing case highlights the Gambian Governments penchant to ignore both the calls of the general public and its insistent habit of kidnapping citizens beyond its 72 hrs constitutional limit. Instead of releasing innocent unarmed protesters and holding those accountable for reported torture and deaths the Government has chosen to prosecute defenceless protesters for “unlawful assembly” and six other counts. In 2010 the Gambian Government sentenced Femi Peters to a year of hard labour for “unlawful assembly”, Mr Peters was also among those arrested on the 16th. To date the bodies of Solo Sandeng, Nokoi Njie, Fatou Camara and Fatoumata Jawara are still nowhere to be found. According to Foroyaa Newspaper, bail has been applied for the arrestees but not all of them have been brought to court to stand trial.
The court cases have also been met with protests as concerned family members and sympathisers demand for their release. The protesting crowd gathering outside the court house are becoming more emboldened as they consistently cheer Ousainou Darboe and co as The Gambia’s “Nelson Mandela” and National “Heroes”. To resist the popular voice of Gambians, the Government has employed a number of shoddy tactics to disperse people from peaceful assembly. These tactics include; increased number of checkpoints, changing the venue of the court hearing to Banjul from the more easily accessible Kanifing Municipal Council and deploying emergency military presence at Denton Bridge.
In a last ditch effort the State has resulted to stopping people from accessing the court house by deploying additional military personnel at the gate of the High Court. Nonetheless this has not discouraged Gambians from continually attending court hearings and demanding for the release of all detainees. One protester demonstrated his resolution by openly declaring “No to Dictatorship” in front of Police Intervention Unit standing outside the Court House. This raises an important question if 2016 will be the year Gambians break free of the chains of tyranny? Meanwhile the world continues to watch idly by while the APRC Militia continues to flex its muscle against innocent defenceless protesters. The International Community needs to bear in mind that Gambians are beginning to consider removing Jammeh by any means necessary if they are forced to do so. One hopes it doesn’t get to that.