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Gambians frustrated with pace of change a year after ousting dictator

Since ousting a longtime dictator, Gambians had their first normal summer in a long time. (Lama Jallow / YJI)

SERREKUNDA, The Gambia – For the first time in years, life is returning to normal for Gambians now that former dictator Yahya Jammeh is gone.
Many Gambians celebrated Dec. 2, the date that marked a year since President Adama Barrow and his cabinet took over the country from Jammeh in an election marred with controversy. But in the end, Barrow’s victory was clear to see and the people accepted him and his coalition team over Jammeh’s party.

Gambian Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang. (Lama Jallow / YJI)

After the new government confirmed Jammeh’s horrendous acts during his presidency and victims stepped forward to tell their stories, donors from around the world came to help. The government received donations and support from all around the world, notably the European Union.
Now, Jammeh’s victims are pushing every day for the government to find ways to prosecute the former dictator for his crimes against the Gambian people.
Landing Sanneh, who served in the military from 1984 to 2000, explained the horrible treatment he and the people with him went through.
“The government should look for ways to help compensate the victims,” Sanneh said, and to bring justice, including by changing the name and location of the notorious Mile 2 prison.
Sanneh spoke last month at a meeting organized by the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations. Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang and Minister of Agriculture Omar Jallow also attended.
Parents of the victims who were tortured and murdered also expressed their concerns that justice remained elusive while all anyone did was talk.
Jallow, the agriculture minister, was also a victim, witnessing killings carried out by soldiers at the National Intelligence Agency. He later urged his fellow victims “to take it easy and God willing justice will be served.”
Tambajang said Barrow’s government is doing all it can to bring justice and help victims in need.
“When Adama Barrow first came into office, he asked first how he can help the victims of Jammeh get the justice they deserve,” she said, urging people to “develop a project and detail everything about what is needed to not only prosecute Jammeh but also to help the victims” get the medical care they need.
“All Gambians are victims of Jammeh, emotionally, psychologically or physically,” Tambajang said. “Gambians are all victims and we will fight to bring justice to all.”

Summer again, at last

Summertime – a favorite season for Gambians – had a distinctly different feel this year.
The summers bring together thousands of different people of many nationalities to share and enjoy time at the beach. Palma Rima Beach, located on the western part of the country, Kotu, is a popular spot where the celebrations take place with famous artists performing live on stage.
Gambians seemed happy that summer is back to the way it used to be.

The beach is a popular spot for Gambians and tourists. ( Lama Jallow / YJI)

But scratch the surface and problems remain. Things are changing, but for many, the pace of progress is too slow. People are free to say what they like, even if it means criticizing the new government.
Youth lack employment opportunities, something that comes out in the songs of Jabulani, a well-known young Gambian musician. He’s always represented youth in his songs, but now his message is about how more government effort is needed to create more opportunities.
Jabulani’s music shows how hard life still is for young Gambians but constantly keep on instilling hope in them as well.
Can the continuous hardship fuel the rise of young Gambians taking the ‘backway’ – leaving their country in hopes of a better life in Europe? It is clearly possible. A collaborative event in September between a Gambian FM radio station and a German television station about the “Migration Dilemma” discussed the rise in Gambians going the ‘backway’ and the bad effects it can cause.
The event’s large turnout was encouraging, but whether it will remedy the main purpose is yet to be known as the new government struggles with the shadows of the previous regime. (story continues below video)

Celebration and struggle

To mark their one-year anniversary over Jammeh’s party, Barrow and the coalition team organized a celebration in the city of Talinding.
Reaction was mixed among citizens. Though hundreds came out to join the president, hundreds more stayed home accusing the government of spending money but achieving little since taking power.
The new government made promises about where the money would be spent. To the surprise of many Gambians, especially the youth, nothing has been done yet but recently the government said it has solved many issues, especially regarding freedom of speech and equality.
They wonder when the prices of commodities will go down. Another concern is the continuous power outages and the lack of water – when will all these stop?
Gambians also want to know when youth will get employment opportunities.
‘’We want to see that change that convinced us to vote to start showing some signs. It does not matter how it comes; to instill hope in our minds matters,” said Tijan Jallow, a young man working at the Serrekunda Market.
Ousainou Darboe, a lawyer who is currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs and a close adviser to the president, is widely believed to be putting his personal interests above those of the nation. Some Gambians have even suggested that Barrow remove Darboe from the government, but the president is yet to comment on the matter.
‘’The country is in chaos and you and I know that,” said Stevea Jatta, a citizen of Sanchaba Touba on the western part of the country. “Mr. Barrow is doing little to calm the situations going on.”
Barrow is new to politics but Gambians do not see that as an excuse for what the country is experiencing since he took over.
‘’We are suffering! Food, water, electricity and many things here are worsening by day and the government with all its promises is doing nothing to solve that,” said Lamin Jawara, who lives in Sanchaba Sulay Jobe, western Gambia.
Barrow’s coalition party is no more.
‘’Togetherness is what they stood for and today you can find that nowhere. It is horrible but we all hope for the good to prevail,’’ said Fatoumata Jawneh, a Nusrat High School graduate.
Tribalism is evident and people in the country can sense it.
At his swearing ceremony last year, Barrow strongly condemned any form of tribalism.
“All the tribes are equal and it’s one Gambia, one nation,” Barrow said at the ceremony.
But many Gambians fear serious issues can occur regarding tribalism, with clashes already happening between different ethnic groups.

The long road to democracy

Since the public learned the election results a year ago, many things occurred. Especially memorable was when the ex-president annulled the elections results live on state television. Following failed negotiations, people feared war and many Gambians fled to neighboring Senegal seeking refuge.
Senegal is also where Barrow, the new president, took the oath of office, since Jammeh still held power in The Gambia. After the deadline for Jammeh to step down passed, signs of war increased as foreign troops from around the region set foot in the country.
Then, to everyone’s amazement, Jammeh – under pressure from other African leaders – eventually left the country for Equatorial Guinea for life in exile, without any blood being shed.
Jammeh’s 22 years in government were full of human rights abuses carried out by his secret soldiers and the National Intelligence Agency. Jammeh emptied the state coffers and left the new government with the huge task of solving the problems Gambia is facing.
Despite the nation’s financial troubles, Gambians are still looking to their new government for a swift recovery after years of an oppressive regime.

Lama Jallow is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International. Beth Criado-Band, Senior Videographer for YJI, edited the video.