Opinion – Gambia: Cultural and Minority Rights Must be Respected and Protected

Mamos Media


by Madi Jobarteh 

In Solidarity with Taneneh! FREE TANENEH YOUTHS!!

I have no doubts that if it were a Manjago or Aku or Bainunka Christian person who went to a Mandinka or Fula or Wolof Muslim majority community to buy a piece of land on which the latter had their cemetery the Government would have stopped that Manjago Christian man from refusing the burial of a dead Mandinka or Fula or Wolof person. But this is precisely what has happened in Taneneh yet the Government did not only fail to ask the buyer to withdraw but rather the police went on to arrest Taneneh youths for standing up for their cultural rights. What this scenario exposes is the dynamics of power and wealth as it relates to cultural and minority rights within the overall protection for human rights.

Cultural rights are human rights that ensure that individuals and communities enjoy their culture and way of life and all of their components such as marriage or burial ceremonies in conditions of equality, human dignity and non-discrimination. Hence what has happened in Taneneh is a direct affront to their culture as they are refused to enjoy certain components of their culture which in this case is to have access to their cemetery and to bury their dead. Consequently they face discrimination and indignity simply because they are a minority both as an ethnic and a religious community.

The stories that are coming out of Taneneh are abhorrent and a threat to all Gambians sooner or later. For that matter, more than anyone else, the Gambia Government at both central and local levels has the primary duty by law to protect the cultural and minority rights of citizens. A cemetery that has been used by a community for such a long time cannot be possibly sold out to a private individual today to the detriment of that community. That is a direct affront to the dignity of that community and a perpetration of injustice of the highest order.

The incidence of violations of economic, social and cultural rights as well as minority rights in the Gambia is fast becoming a threat to national security. Since this new Government came in there has been many instances where communities had their lands taken away from them in favour businesses. Forests, beaches and other community properties including livelihoods have been threatened yet the Government has no better way to address these other than the use of law enforcement and courts.

From Gunjur to Faraba to Bakoteh to Kololi and beyond, we consistently witness how citizens are being suppressed, arrested and charged with bogus offenses when they stand up to defend their social, economic, cultural and minority rights. This is a threat to national security and a severe setback to the transition to democracy of this country.

After one year, this Government is yet to openly engage in necessary consultations and dialogues as well as legal and policy reforms with the purpose of correcting the major social, cultural and economic injustices and imbalances in this society. Failure to engage in such an exercise means we can only reinforce the already unequal and unjust relationships, practices and ideas that are deeply prevalent in our society.

There are scores of our people as tribes, religious groups, communities, persons with disability, women and children as well as workers who face injustice, exclusion and abuse daily because of the exploitative and oppressive sociocultural, economic and political beliefs and practices in this country. These need to be corrected so that all Gambians enjoy their full rights as individuals and communities to actively and equally partake in national affairs and enjoy the full benefits of their resources and citizenship.

The situation in Taneneh brings to memory the incident in a Talinding cemetery where some folks refused the burial of an Ahmaddiyya person. We recall also the refusal of burial of a man in Kerewan on account of his caste. We can also recall when the Supreme Islamic Council came out to deny the Ahmaddiyya from obtaining a television license. At the same time we have seen the proliferation of hate speech and bigotry directed at people on account of their tribe, political party affiliation, gender, caste and other statuses.

All of these incidents expose the fact that after all the Gambia is only a country but not yet a Nation of people who share a common ideology, goal and sense of sovereignty. The incidence of discrimination, injustice and inequality is so deep in our society at all levels that it is obvious that this country needs a soul searching to define who and what constitutes the values and standards of the Gambia and the Gambian. We are not as united and patriotic as we openly proclaim, otherwise how could there be so much hatred, discrimination and injustice against each other on account of sociocultural and political features.

The Gambia Government is unfortunately failing to take the right steps to right these wrongs, some of which are historical and cultural while others are political and economic. We need a Government that understands the imbalances and inequalities in our society and therefore takes a deliberate attempt to correct these through dialogue backed by the necessary constitutional, legal and institutional reforms in order to create a just, equal and open society.

The community of Taneneh must be given back their cemetery forthwith. The purported buyer of the land must be told to withdraw and repair any damage he has caused to the cemetery. It is not only a violation of cultural and minority rights to exhume dead bodies of a community but it is also a threat to the right to health of Taneneh community to expose them to such situation. Therefore the Gambia Government must come to the side of the Taneneh community to ensure that their full cultural and minority rights are respected and protected.

Free the Taneneh Youths and Drop all Bogus Charges!

For the Gambia Our Homeland.

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