By Njundu Drammeh
April is The Gambia’s Dark Month, the month of horror, brutality, man’s inhumanity to fellow beings, State betrayal, wanton and mindless destruction of innocent lives, indescribable apathy of men and women with conscience, unconscionable connivance of people who had the responsibility to protect.
We should declare April as month of reflection and repentance, Martyrs Month and Freedom Fighters Month. April 10 and 11, our version of the Soweto uprising, was the first to set in motion a resistance against State impunity.
A march which began as one for justice and truth was met with the worst State brutality. April 14 was a peaceful protest for fair play, for equal treatment, for recognition of the important role of the Opposition in good governance, for respect. It too was met with lethal force.
April 10 and 11 since 2000 bring chilling reminders to a people who proudly called themselves “The Smiling Coast of Africa”. Innocent souls emboldened with nothing but quest for truth and justice were brutalized, manhandled, tortured and gunned downed by men armed to the tooth, who listened not to their conscience and plea for mercy but rather to order to shoot at sight from above.
It is 18 years to the day since the students protest. A victim aged 10 years at that time is now 28 years. A victim 18 years old at that time is now 36 years. Both adults now. Both still waiting for justice, truth and support.
Justice delayed for 18 years is justice disregarded, mocked and humiliated, not just denied. The Barrow Government has the opportunity to redeem itself as the champion of justice it touts itself to be. The violator of the rights of the students in 2000 was the State, the primary duty bearer. The Government of Yaya Jammeh which perpetrated these acts of inhumanity is gone but the State of the Gambia remains. The State, in whose name the Barrow Government is running our affairs, has the primary obligation then to ensure the victims of April 10 and 11 therefore get their due share of justice and compensation. It cannot fail them; it must not. It would be tragic if it does. And justice cannot be delayed any longer. It must be done, not just seen to be done.
To the living, we owe respect; to the dead we owe nothing but the truth. The victims have been waiting for 18 years for the truth to be know. And it is not far. Those who bear the greatest responsibility are walking free, may be without even a pricked conscience. The soldiers and paramilitary you tortured and killed are still serving. The Police officers who investigated and compiled the reports are still active. The Barrow Government may not have the luxury of excuses to delay the dispensation of justice.
As we mourn and reflect, we should learn few lessons from the April tragedies. Life, they say, is lived forward but understood backwards.
There once was a time when most of us anesthetized ourselves from the ills of society and tried to live “solitary lives”. We were untouched by the sufferings of orhers; we remained aloof because ourselves or our closed kith and kin or friends weren’t affected by the thuggery and brutality that was the Jammeh machinery.
April 10 and 11 2000, just like April 14 2016, were someone’s fight, “trouble makers” and anti-government elements bent on wreaking the stability of the country. We accused, vilified, cast aspersions, mocked the fight against tyranny as shadow boxing, belittled, prayed for their doom.
Whether it was out of fear or act of self preservation, we didn’t see the fight as our too. Imagine what result we would have achieved if the whole country or a greater section of the populace were as well actuated by the desire for justice and galvanised to join the march for justice. Imagine what outcome the .students and Solo Sandeng and his group of martyrs would have achieved if we had all seen their fights as fights for human rights, human dignity and freedom for all…. Fast forward to 2018, we still mock people who take on the State and demand from it fulfilment of rights they think are being denied or unfulfilled.
We may disagree with their approach or think the rights for which they are fighting for are non-issues, but to pooh pooh their stance, deride their actions, mock their motives or cast aspersions on their characters and good name are anathema to democracy and human rights.
April 10 and 11, and April 14, were denial of the rights to peaceful assembly and protest. If the State had guaranteed these rights; if the State had given police escorts to the marchers; if the State had listened to the petitions; if the State had agreed to meet with the marchers and sat down to find lasting solutions to the demands, may be the unnecessary and wanton loss of lives would have been averted. The State instead killed in cold blood those it should have protected. The highest betrayal of its mandate. The State can kill the bodies of men and women but it can never kill their s
Certainly, “disregard and contempt for human rights” was what resulted in the barbarous acts of April 10 and 11, abominable misdeeds against innocent children which have come to “outraged the conscience” of all people with hearts that palpitate and consciences which prick. We must make respect for human rights the cornerstone of our development.
“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.” UDHR
Each of us should be concerned when the rights of a person or a group are being violated or at risk of being abused, even if we think they and their cause are remotely connected to our lives and businesses. Rights holders are supposed to have each other’s back. The bell tolls for each of us. Martin Luther king Jr was aware that change required the engagement of every facet of society, government and political will….
“All life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace. To the living victims, we share in your pain and suffering. You will overcome.