The aim of this delegation was two fold. Firstly, to show the solidarity of the Africans Rising movement with the people of Gambia. Secondly, to learn about the will of the Gambian people and to bring that message to the opposition coalition and the incumbent president.
The four-person delegation included Rokhayatou Dieye, the Chairperson of LEAD Senegal, Ifeoma Charles-Monwuba, the Country Director of ActionAid Senegal, Kyle Naidu, a young human rights activist and, the Head of Delegation, Kumi Naidoo, launch director of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity.
The mission was premised on the Africans Rising consensus agreement to undertake solidarity actions as a means of movement building:
Alliance building was highlighted as a means to build the movement from below and beyond borders, establishing a solidarity framework from grassroots to the continental levels. These alliances should push back against repressive laws through the institutions and the mass movement itself.
On Saturday January 14th the delegation met with Gambian exiles in Dakar to hear their views on the situation in Gambia. In attendance were, journalists, youth activists, organisers, activist musicians and heads of other key civil society organisations.
Upon arriving in Banjul, we met with the country directors from ActionAid The Gambia and Activista, leaders from the National Youth Council, and youth organisers. We were briefed on the intricate details that led up to this situation from sources that would be hard to draw on from outside the country. We were also informed of the current situation on the ground.
Stories of people fleeing the country in droves. The numbers are speculative at this current time but reports are describing people exiting the country in the thousands. This does not include the thousands of internally displaced people who are fleeing the city of Banjul for fear of demonstrations being met with violence. This we saw as the early negative impacts of this political impasse. The city of Banjul was quiet, some shops were closed and streets were emptier than usual, even in the Tourist District. There is a deep concern for the virtual collapse of schooling. Many teachers have left, parents have taken their children out of schools and moved them to rural areas as well as out of the country. A similar situation prevails in the universities. The largest municipality that usually gets 1500 job applicants for new businesses by the 10 of January has received less than 50 as of 15 January. The health system is also straining as doctors, nurses and other health professionals are part of the exodus. The media environment is completely controlled by the current president. On our flight back ten journalists were denied entry to the country. There is a complete management of media at a time when people are desperate to know what is happening.
Soon after arrival, we also met with the National Youth Council of The Gambia for a briefing of the current situation. We learned about the large numbers of people leaving the capital city, and saw first hand some of the effects that has had on local business. At that briefing we had the chance to meet with four young activists who have been on the streets demonstrating and organizing, one of whom was imprisoned for his actions.
The following day the delegation held a meeting with the representatives of over 30 civil society organisations. Journalists, union representatives, religious leaders, aid organisations and NGO’s were all present. The goal was primarily to let them know that their brothers and sisters across Africa are hearing their voices and that the whole continent is in solidarity with them and monitoring the situation. In addition to showing our solidarity we also wanted to draw a unified message from them to bring to the coalition and the mediator general. Our meeting served to unite their collective purpose and from this meeting a task force was immediately set up to coordinate the CSO actions and engagements with all the members of parliament, the military and coalition leaders.
That afternoon the delegation had the opportunity of meeting the spokesperson for the opposition coalition, Halifa Sallah. We presented our findings and conveyed to him the importance this transition has for the rest of the continent. As we have seen, the people of The Gambia are ready for this change, and they are now looking to the coalition for leadership. We asked the spokesperson to make sure that a clear and concise message surrounding the inauguration is disseminated so as to avoid any unnecessary violence. We also shared the views of Gambian civil society that the victorious coalition must act with magnanimity and ensure they reach out and bring into the fold those Gambians that still support the incumbent President. Furthermore, we recognized that several human rights violations took place over the last 22 years and that the new government has a responsibility to work for closure not with a spirit of vengeance but should be driven by a commitment to seek truth and reconciliation.
Throughout all of our meetings we have heard one sentiment being repeated over and over again: The people have voted. T-shirts bearing the hashtag #GambiaHasDecided can be seen at every meeting, and plastered all over twitter feeds. Their message is one of frustration but of undying hope that change will happen. The people are confident that come 19th of January they will be under the leadership of a new president.
The goal of our preliminary meeting in Dakar was to seek guidance for our mission in Banjul. At the meeting people urged us to gain an audience with the mediator general and the coalition spokesperson, and convey a clear and concise message to them. A tremendous amount of respect was given from the exiles to the activists and organisers still in The Gambia. “The people who have sacrificed their lives are the people that need to be met. These are the voices that need to be heard. They are the reason this change is happening” one young rap activist told us.
Many of our contacts on the ground have told us that their families have spent almost every penny they have to search for safety in rural regions of the country and it will be a very long time before they can afford to return back home. We are constantly being informed about the situation on the ground.
In our meeting with the CSO’s, the goal was to create a unified message to bring to the coalition. Key points that were made:
- The incoming government must be prepared for any eventuality that may arise after the 19th of January regarding the safety of the Gambian people. And they must be prepared to minimize any risks.
- The National Gambian Army must be told to remain a neutral actor, if not they will be the cause of many unnecessary deaths. The Gambian people have decided and they must respect their will. It should be made abundantly clear to the Gambia national army, that this is the country of the people and they have spoken. The military’s primary duty is to defend the territory and the citizens of this country and that is what they must do.
- The new Government must address the atrocities of the outgoing president and his government. In order for the country to move forward, there must be closure. The idea of a Truth and Reconciliation style committee was brought up by members of the CSO community and not driven by a sense of vengeance.
- A clear message must be conveyed from the incoming government to the people, regarding the status of the inauguration. As it stands, conflicting information from the website and rumors are clouding the actual plans for the inauguration. People need to know if it will be happening at the stadium or if they should stay home on the 19th.
- There must be support centers set up for those fleeing the country or Banjul in fear of violence, seeing as how the number is growing by the hour.
The people of Gambia are resilient. Throughout this divisive period in their country’s history they have shown restraint and maturity, yet their will is strong and their voice is loud. The outcome of the next few days will have a ripple effect in neighbouring countries, the region and throughout the continent. We are hopeful that the new government of The Gambia will make every possible effort to ensure a peaceful transition of power. We appeal to the outgoing President to respect the constitution and the will of the people.