Kerr Fatou revisits Faraba Bantang one year, six months after the deadly shootings by paramilitary officers that left 3 dead and over a dozen injured.
By Mustapha K Darboe
It is New Gambia, a term that suggests a new start for the small country, away from the brutalities of the 22-year dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh. New ways of doing things have been envisaged with it optimism for safer society for everyone. For Bubacarr Darboe, a native of Faraba Bantang and a father of 12, that dream remains distant.
On October 11, Darboe sat in a worn-out chair in a cement house under construction with crutches on his right side. He had to learn to use one since June 18 last year when he was shot by security forces.
“I am still not well… I need further treatment and doctors have requested D20, 000 but I can’t afford that,” he said.
Faraba, a small community in Western Region, had witnessed a deadly shooting on June 18, 2018. The incident cost 3 people their lives and over a dozen injured. The community was protesting against the mining activities of Julakay Enterprise, a company owned by Ansumana Marenah. The standoff between the community and the mining company neared one year.
On the day of the protest, Darboe went out looking for his brother after hearing that police are shooting at the villagers. The violence started about 3 kilometers from his house, somewhere near the quarry.
The security officers chased the villagers into the community. Feeling threatened, Darboe decided to return home. On his way, paramilitary officers hit him with a bullet from behind in his knee.
The incident was to change his life forever. He spent 28 days at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, before he was taken to Dakar. Though his situation improved, he still struggles with pain and uses crutches.
“No one cares about us,” he said. “The Gambia Government does not care about us.”
“They kill my best friend”
Ebrima Bojang is a youth activist in Faraba. He was among those young people who protested against the mining of Julakay. He lost his best friend in the process. Bojang said he left home with Kujabi for the quarry.
To date, he could not forget that spot where Bakary Kujabi was shot dead. He took Kerr Fatou there a year and six months on. “Here was where Bakary was shot,” he said. Him and his colleagues put a rock on the spot to remember him.
Bojang said their protest was a show of frustration. It came after a year of dialogue with various state institutions including governor’s office, police, National Environment Agency and Geology Department.
After the Government’s neglect, the villagers decided to use force to stop the mining themselves. Their resistance was met with brute force of the paramilitary officers.
Amadou Nyang-Jawo, a final year student at The Gambia College and a teacher at Faraba Lower Basic School, 27-year old Bakary Kujabi and 17-year old Ismaila Bah were killed.
Ebou Kujabi is the father of Bakary. The last time they saw was the morning on June 18. His son was fasting, he told Kerr Fatou. At the time of his death, Bakary had finished grade 12 and was helping his father at home.
“We all went out to show our displeasure at the mining that was happening here… It was during that I heard my son was shot at his back and the bullet went out the other side,” said Kujabi.
“No one was carrying a weapon…” Bojang said the community never agreed to the mining license issued to Julakay Enterprise. However, a self-appointed 5-member Council of Elders in the community gave him the greenlight. Nevertheless, the community said the so-called Council of Elders does not have the authority to give consent on their behalf.
Also mourning similar irreparable loss is Saidou Bah, father of Ismaila.
No justice for murder
Faraba shooting was a test for Gambia’s budding democracy. In its immediate aftermath, the Amnesty International researcher for West Africa, Sabrina Mahtani, said the “excessive use of lethal force by the security forces has conjured up painful memories from Gambia’s recent past”.
President Adama Barrow referred to June 18 as the “saddest day” of his life and ordered immediate inquiry. And the police chief Landing Kinteh resigned as a result of the shootings.
A Commission chaired by a human rights lawyer Emmanuel Joof was established to investigate the incident.
It had found that the majority of people who were shot during the incident were actually running. These findings corroborated the testimony of community members who said the police chased people into the community.
On November 28, 2018, the Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou recommended charges of manslaughter against Musa Fatty, Musa Badgie, Nuha Colley, Momodou Jallow and Babucarr Cham, all of them members of the paramilitary officers sent to quell the protest.
On the same day, the Government said they have also suspended the directors of National Environment Agency and Geology Department, Momodou J. Suwareh and Abdoulie Cham respectively.
They also recommended the dissolving of the Village Development Committee of Faraba and removing the Alkalo Nuha Badgie. This shows hope for justice but that was to change.
On January 8, 2019 the Gambian leader announced he was discontinuing the prosecution of the police officers and civilians implicated in the Faraba Banta incident. Rights activists criticized that move as being unlawful. It shows executive interference with judicial proceedings, activists said. Justice Minister quickly issued a press release to say the statement from the Presidency was a mistake.
However, the five police officers are yet to be charged formerly. On September 17, the police spokesperson Lamin Njie told Kerr Fatou that the files of the police to be prosecuted are transferred to the Justice Ministry.
A source from the Justice Ministry has informed this medium that the police had withdrawn the initial charge of manslaughter against the five police after the announcement from the presidency. However, our source said the Ministry is preparing to charge the officers. Kerr Fatou had reached out to Minister Tambadou but he is out of the country.
However, the suspensions of the directors of Geology Department Abdoulie Cham and National Environmental Agency Momodou Suwareh were lifted after the announcement from the presidency. This isolates the police officers as the only party to pay for the crime if they are charged.
The Presidency claimed its decision was necessary for the community to reconcile. However, the parents who lost their children during the incident said they have never told Government that they have forgiven.
“We have heard there was an investigation… But the only thing we have heard afterwards was that there was a Government White Paper. Nothing else,” said Ebrima Bojang.
“We did not tell them to release the police… The President told us they have investigated the incident and they will apply the law to the letter. And we are waiting for that,” said Saidou Bah, the father of Ismaila Bah.
“Until today, we have not heard of anything that is consoling…”
Victims left in the dark
When asked if he had forgiven the paramilitary officers who killed his son, Ebou Kujabi went silent for a minute. “But will we have justice even if we wanted it?” Not only did the victims feel abandoned, the Government never felt the need to communicate to them.
On July 1, 2019, the spokesperson of the President Amie Bojang announced the Government will pay one million dalasis to families of each of the three individuals who lost their lives in the Faraba Banta shootings.
“The Committee is also reviewing the cases of those whose properties were damaged and the injured to determine appropriate compensation,” she added.
Amie Bojang said these were a recommendation of a commission established by Government for the implementation of the Faraba Commission report. However, this intent was never communicated to the families in question.
“We have not heard of anything from the Government. Even the compensation they say they will pay to families who lost their relatives in the incident, we only heard it on radio,” said Saidou Bah.
Madi Jobarteh is a Gambian rights activist who has written several articles on the Faraba incident. He said the Government should implement the recommendations of the Commission it established.
“So far our Government has demonstrated that it is not interested in ensuring accountability by applying the rule of law. The evidence of that is the lack of necessary system change in both the civil service and the security sector hence the same malpractices continue to perpetuate,” said Jobarteh.
“So, what I recommend the Government to do is to enforce the law and the decisions of the Commissions it established itself to ensure that there is accountability. That’s all.”
Jobarteh said the Faraba incident occurred because of the shortfalls in the security sector reforms. “Therefore, it is evident that a culture of impunity continues to prevail in this country despite the ousting of a tyrannical regime,” said Jobarteh.
“By maintaining this culture of impunity it means the current government is indeed undermining the transition from dictatorship to democracy hence also undermining national security and threatening human rights.”