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Madi Jobarteh: Government must Take Responsibility for the Violence in Sanyang

Madi Jobateh
Human rights Activist

The Gambia Police Force must be advised that the issue in Sanyang cannot be addressed by mere arrests, detentions and prosecutions. This is because the issue in Sanyang, just like in similar communities, is first and foremost a political issue that needs political attention, and not necessarily a security response upfront. The Police did well to restrain themselves in the Sanyang Riots such that they did not cause the death of anybody as they did in Faraba in 2018. While that is commendable, the Police must therefore continue to restrain themselves lest they shoot themselves in the foot.

When the Faraba Riots took place, a commission of inquiry was instituted led by lawyer Emmanuel Joof, now the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission. After two months of fact finding in July and August 2018, their findings and recommendations squarely predicted the Sanyang Riots two years and nine months later. Hence the fact that these riots did erupt in Sanyang today can be said to be the result of the blatant disregard of the Faraba Commission Report hence the direct fault of the Gambia Government.

In its recommendations especially in preventing the recurrence of a similar riot, the Commission unequivocally stated that,

“The recent incidents in Gunjur and Sanyang Fishmeal factories operated by Chinese owned companies almost erupted into violent confrontation because of issues surrounding environmental pollution which if not properly addressed, will lead to public unrest and possible violent confrontation. The authorities cannot continue to sweep issues of environmental concerns under the carpet and hope that they will go away. There must be political will on part of the Government to implement these changes.”

When this report was done, there were already several incidents taking place in these coastal towns against the unethical behaviour of these poisonous factories leading to some arrests and court cases. Thus, the issue of the Senegalese man was only an unfortunate trigger, but it already found on the ground a well-established smouldering situation waiting to erupt. The question therefore is, why did the Gambia Government refuse to address the findings and recommendations of the Faraba Commission? That is the problem. Squarely.

Not only did the Commission raise the need for communities to benefit from the proceeds of these mining activities and factories in their localities, but it went further to say that these factories must also not pollute the environment and must as well invest in the welfare of these communities. It is obvious that these fishmeal communities are best only at polluting the environment as well as denying benefits to the wider communities around them. Yet the Gambia Government continues to ignore public outcries about these concerns.

In fact, the Faraba Commission highlighted the lack of an EIA being carried out before these factories were set up as required by law, while the necessary monitoring by public institutions were not done. Furthermore, the necessary consultations with communities before the issuance of licences were also not done hence the reason for the unending tension in these communities. Indeed, the Faraba Commission was very thorough in its findings and recommendations.

The Report even went further to bring in expert opinion on conflict analysis and mitigation to say that land ownership and land use was a source of conflict in several communities. While noting that there were many unsolved conflicts surrounding the private sale and transfer of landed properties, these conflicts also have the tendency to take the dimension of tribal and religious lines in Kombo South, particularly in Gunjur, Sanyang Taneneh and Tujereng. To prevent or solve these conflicts, the Report expressed an expert opinion that there is a need to create an independent land commission to adjudicate, advise, monitor, demarcate and mediate land issues.

Therefore, after almost three years since this Report was issued, why and how come there should be another riot over the same issues, especially in Sanyang today? The purpose of Government is to protect the rights and fulfil the needs of its citizens. The access, control, ownership and use of land and natural resources are fundamental human rights issues. If, because of the abuse of the land rights, citizens were compelled to riot and cause the destruction of life such that the Government had to set up an inquiry in order to understand and bring solution to the issue, why then should that Government ignore that Report?

As the Faraba Commission Report indicated, the Government cannot push these issues under the carpet. The Sanyang Riots are therefore caused by none other than the Government of Pres. Adama Barrow and he must be held accountable. The National Assembly as well as the National Human Rights Commission including the civil society and the communities in particular must confront Pres. Barrow to explain why he ignored the Report of the Faraba Commission that he himself established on his own.

Therefore, the Police must stop the arbitrary arrest of the youth and let the political leadership take ownership to address this situation. It is utter negligence of duty by the Government which caused this unnecessary and painful destruction of life and property in the first place for which the President must be made to pay for it. If the President had paid enough attention to the Faraba Commission Report and ensured the thorough implementation of its recommendations indeed we would not have gotten here today.

We must not allow the Government to let factories to wilfully exploit the country’s natural resources and then pollute the environment in total contravention of the law but then clampdown on citizens who respond to these acts of blatant destruction of their environment and livelihoods. If the Government is indeed interested in law and order, then why is it letting factories to break the law without consequences, but then subject citizens to severe punishment for responding, even violently, against these factories who first violated the law? After all, before citizens rioted, they had first cried out for help from the Government without any success. May we ask therefore, whose interest is the Gambia Government really protecting?

For The Gambia Our Homeland

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