By Bubacarr Komma
The Gambia literally shook to the extent of collapsing at the disturbing news of clashes between police and natives of Faraba Banta in the West Coast Region (WCR) on 18 June 2018. The clashes resulted in the death of three young men, namely Bakary Kujabi, Ismaila Bah and Amadou Nyang Jawo. It was alleged that they were short by police officers of the Police Intervention Unit(PIU).
Ansumana Marenah, CEO of Julakay Group, is a Gambian businessman who followed government laid-down procedures for sand mining and the necessary documents were acquired and a place in Faraba Banta was identified and approved as a mining site. “The community head, alkaloand some members were consulted and an agreement was made and he commenced mining on 12 June 2018,” a source close to Julakay Group said.
“As a community we were not informed. This agreement was made between the government, Julakay Group and a few people in our village. These people neglected the interest of the whole community. The impact of mining on our environment is catastrophic. Our women are crying daily because of the impact it causes to their gardens, which is their source of living.
“After we realized that mining was taking place in our community, we expressed our dissatisfaction to the authorities. However, the mining continued; thus government deployed police officers to the site” a native of Faraba Banta, who preferred not to be named, posited .
On the morning of 18 June 2018, police officers on guard post at the sand mining site heard a voice on the village mosque public address system urging the villagers to come out and protest against the mining in the village. Prior to this announcement, there was word that a member of the National Assembly had told natives of Faraba that a National Assembly Select Committee had recommended that the mining in Faraba should cease forthwith.
This unguarded utterance sparked anger, prompting the villagers to call for a forced cessation of the mining activities to ensure that the unofficial recommendation of the National Assembly was respected. An uninformed 7-member police guard post was confronted not by an unarmed and peaceful crowd, but by a group of villagers armed with clubs, stones, slings and gas grenades.
There were people who were angry over the exploitation of their environment and were bent on protecting what they believed to be their own. For them, if their government is not able to protect their environment, then they will do so by all means even by taking the law into their own hands. .
The PIU officers and miners were pelted with stones and overpowered by an unruly and angry crowd. They called for reinforcement but by the time that came, trucks, caterpillars, and the guard post had been vandalized or set ablaze by an armed, angry and violent crowd. The officers, after giving several warning shots and later having exhausted their rubber bullets, were left with no alternative but to use live bullets, said a police source.
“I will not sacrifice my life anymore and I am looking for a way to leave the police force. Look police officers were beaten and injured at this violent incident but the president cared less about them. From now on I will be a spectator whenever I am deployed to a crime scene. I won’t be a law enforcement officer and I am sure that is the position of many officers as well,” a frustrated officer posited.
Police PRO David Kujabi and Alagie Bambo Sanyang, a member of the Village Development Committee(VDC) were contacted but they declined to speak, saying the matter was under investigation. They can only speak after the Emmanuel Joof Commission of Inquiry on the Faraba Banta incident, set up by the government.
This sad incident came on the heels of 22 years of former president Yahya Jammeh´s brutal dictatorship which ended on 19 January 2017, when security forces used to oppress and supress the citizens that included torture, rape, killing and disappearances.
This unfortunate incident received the usual amount of public outrage and condemnation or even more. Activists organized a protest at Westfield on 24 June 2018 with the banner#DAFADOY, which means “Enough is enough!” They virulently condemmed the killing of what they described as unarmed protesters. Some Gambians went on social media to express their anger and frustrations. Unlike other protests, this protest was well organized and a high level of discipline and maturity was exhibited.
But the question is: Were conclusions made without any proper findings? How sure were they that it was a peaceful protest? If the people of Faraba Banta were peaceful, as some people argued, why was the former Foreign Affairs Minister now newly appointed Vice President ANM Ousainou Darboe attacked upon his visit after the incident.
Personnel of the Gambia Police Force were called names. Thus, Gambians completely ignored what might have truly happened, how and where it all started. There were so many questions to ask but the focus was only on who gave them the order to use firearms, which I consider quite irrelevant. Should a police officer on duty be commanded by his superior in office on when and how to use firearms?
Why should police be asked to put a guard post there in order for Julakay Group to carry out their lawfully registered sand mining business?
This clearly manifests the Barrow administration’s inability to govern. The government is relatively disconnected to the populace. The only time they communicate is when problems occur. They do not seem to have any vision for the country. A proper vision and communication strategy would have averted this sad and unforgettable incident.
Section 69 of Chapter IX of the Criminal Code of Laws of The Gambia, defines unlawful assemblythus: “When three or more persons assemble with intent to commit an offence, or being assembled with intent to carry out some common purpose, conduct themselves in a manner that causes persons in the neighbourhood reasonably to fear that the persons so assembled will commit a breach of peace, or will by the assembly needlessly and without any reasonable occasion provoke other person to breach of the peace, they are unlawful assembly.”
Section 72 talks about making proclamation for rioters to disperse. This can be carried out by a magistrate, a commissioned police or military officer of the Gambia commanding the rioters to disperse peacefully.
FACT: It has been confirmed that a commissioned police officer made this proclamation using a public-address system.
Section 73 states that if on the expiration of a reasonable time after the proclamation is made, or after the making of the proclamation has been prevented by force, twelve or more persons continue to riotously assemble together, a person authorized to make the proclamation, or a police officer or any other person acting in aid of the person or police officer, may do all things necessary for dispersing the persons so continuing assembled, or for apprehending them or any of them, and, if a person makes resistance, may use all such force as is reasonably necessary for overcoming the resistance, and shall not be liable in any criminal or civil proceeding for having, by the use of force, caused harm or death to any person.
Section 76 talks about rioters demolishing buildings or any form of vandalism. It states that any persons who, being riotously assembled together, unlawfully pull down or destroy, or begin to pull down or destroy any buildings, machinery or structures commit a felony, and each of them is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.
FACT:It has been confirmed that five trucks, caterpillars at the mining site and compounds were vandalized and/ or set ablaze.
Is the Gambia Police Force (GPF)adequately trained and equipped to efficiently carry out its functions?
It is no hidden fact that personnel of the GPF undergo not more than 10 months of basic recruitment training in an institution that lacks proper training facilities. Furthermore, due to resource constrains, not many professional capacity building programmes are conducted. Additionally, the GPF operates with almost no proper security equipment gadgets. Its Anti-Riot Unit lacks the necessary riot gear (armoured vehicles, water cannons, rubber bullets, pepper spray etc.)
Gambians’ concept of democracy
The new wave of democracy in the Gambia has ushered in an unprecedented level of civil disobedience which the country seems to be ill-equipped to handle. People break the laws under the pretext of democracy. We have a problem that the police alone cannot take responsibility for fixing and it would be unfair to use police officers as scapegoats for the problems we all share.
To reference a post, I once came across on Facebook, a young man said he was stopped by a police officer and asked for his national identity card. He declined by asking the officer whether he could not recognize a Gambian by face. The officer couldn’t do anything; he sheepishly allowed him to go without showing him his ID. I wonder whether Gambian citizens have the image of their national flag on their faces!
How can government develop the nation?
The Gambia saddled with an ailing health care system, poor road condition, a stinking and wholly unsatisfactory education system, about 30% unemployment rate and unequipped national security forces.
This is a country in a debt that consumes 47 per cent of its domestic revenue. How can there be any development if the government is blocked by members of the various communities to generate income? We have seen the issue of Gunjur vs the Golden Lead Company and there are rumours of a rumpus brewing in coming Sanyang, both of them in the WCR.
President Barrow´s address to the nation leaves a lot to be desired
President Adama Barrow must be commended for coming out to condemn the deaths and order an independent investigation on the Faraba Banta incident to be conducted. However, he fell short of condemning acts of violence and ordinary citizens taking the law into their own hands.
This could encourage more civil unrest. Gambians are misconstruing the idea of democracy. To reference Gunjur environmental activist’s vs Golden Lead, activists, including a former information minister in the Jammeh regime, took the law into their own hands by removing the waste pipes and throwing them into the sea. As much as I agree with them on environmental hazards an individual or group of people taking the law into their own hands is un-called for.
In democratic societies citizens have a fundamental right to protest and demand but this does not necessarily mean that government would accept all their demands. Citizens have no right to enforce their demands in case the government fails to accept these demands.
Tests and failure of government in national security
A violent incident which occurred on 2 June 2017 involving some residents of Kanilai, the home village of former President Yahya, in the WCR, and the ECOWAS intervention force in the Gambia dubbed ECOMIG. The incident apparently resulted in one fatality. Five people were wounded. This was a test the government failed.
In January 2018, about three supporters of the former ruling party, the APRC, reportedly sustained injuries as their convoy coming from Basse in the Upper River Region heading to Jarra Soma in the Lower River Region was attacked at Mankamang Kunda, the home village of President Adama Barrow. Also, there were ugly incidents at Sibanor and Busumbala, both of them in the WCR. Despite the fact that the police have made their investigations on the incidents and reports have been given, the state does not seem to show any commitment to national security and none of the culprits has been prosecuted.
Former Police Inspector General´s Interview
Former Inspector General of Police Landing Kinteh did not do well in claiming that he didn´t give orders to the PIU officers for the use of firearms. This has unfortunately demonized police personnel and now one w wonders how prepared our men in uniform are in protecting life and property in the Gambia’s fragile democracy. Also, where and how should they take command? Kinteh could have said it in a better way.
In January 2017 the new Gambia hoped to usher in true democracy and the rule of law. One and a half years on, the desired objectives of voting for change seem to be an elusive dream.
Criminality is on the increase, corruption has become more engrained, public dissatisfaction and disappointment is on the rise, civil unrest has become a norm, and land disputes are frighteningly frequent.
Thus the Gambia is becoming an ungovernable state. Our own security is not trusted despite the presence of ECOMIG, impunity is becoming normal and common. Several military officers were arrested for months without being charged for any criminal offence. Silence over the Kanilai, Sibanor, Mankamang Kunda, Busumbala and other incidents is deafening.