Opinion, TorchLight

Gambia: April 10 & 11 – A Tragedy That Could Have Been Avoided

 Demo(JollofNews) – On 10th April 2000, Gambian students took to the street to protest against the alleged murder of Ebrima Barry, a student at Brikama Vocational Training Centre (FORSTER) and the rape of a school girl from Brikama-Ba.

Both Barry’s killing and the rape of the school girl, who was ten at the time, were allegedly committed by fire officers and State Guard officers.

As part of the demonstrations, the students agreed  to converge at the main gate of the Gambia Technical Training institute, Kanifing before marching peacefully towards the Westfield junction. However, early that morning, Lamin Kaba Bajo, minister of Local Government and Religious Affairs organised a meeting between some executive members of the Gambia Student’s Union (Gamsu) and Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy and other ministers to help address the grievances of the students.

Gamsu agreed that although it was late to send word round schools that the demonstrations were postponed, the students who are already out of school would wait outside the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) where the meeting was taking place between their colleagues and government officials.

But while waiting for the outcome of the meeting, officers of the police intervention unit in riot gears arrived  and asked them to disperse. Surprised at the development, the students refused to dispersed but remained calm and kept off the road.

The police officers jumped into action and started hitting and kicking the students.  Many students including some senior executive members of Gamsu including the president, Omar Joof, were arrested and detained at the Mobile Traffic Unit, Kanifing, where they were tortured.

The detainees were visited by the minister of the Interior, Ousman Badjie, who told them that the authorities believed they were being used by some elements. This was rejected by Omar Joof, who made it clear to the minister that the students were only seeking  justice for their colleagues.

The minister later ordered for the release of the students  and advised the leadership of tGamsu to go with him to GTTI, where the meeting with Vice President Njie-Saidy was taking place. But before they got to the venue of the meeting, the police officers began shooting at the students who inturned threw stones at them.

The student leaders tried to restore order by advising their colleagues to stop throwing stones at the officers. They also urged the Interior minister to ask the officers to stop the shooting but they were told by the minister that an order was already issued for the officers to shoot at the students and he didn’t have the power to reverse it.

Over a dozen students were killed and millions of Dalasis worth of public and private properties were destroyed in the demonstration.
And as part of events marking the 16th anniversary, we hereby reproduce the reactions of Vice President Njie-Saidy and President Yahya Jammeh to the demonstration:

Isatou Njie-Saidy
VP Isatou Njie-Saidy

Isatou Njie-Saidy:
Fellow Gambians,following the unfortunate incident of last Monday in which our school children led by Gamsu and other unscrupulous people in the society decided to wreak havoc on the whole country, on behalf of His Excellency, The President, Government and people of the Gambia, I wish to express our deepest and heartfelt sympathy and condolence to the parents and families of the dead and wounded.

It is indeed very sad and regrettable that within a period of three years, students have decided to go on the rampage for the fourth time causing untold damage and loss of property, and in this instance loss of lives. Contrary to the erroneous belief that the shooting started from the security forces on the ground, it is confirmed that in fact the shooting started from within the demonstrators, since the security forces only had blank am munitions, tear gas, batons and shields at the time.I also wish to assure you of Government’s concern and primary duty to maintain the peace and stability of the country in the interest and welfare of the entire population, and for the development of The Gambia as nation.

It must be understood that a fundamental condition for development in any country is that an atmosphere of security and stability is maintained by the state. It is only when potential instability is checked and brought under firm control, and the security environment has become stable, that development programmes can be carried out and the general welfare of the people ensured.

You are all aware that within the last five years, this government has invested substantially in education, health, agriculture and other sectors of the economy. We are all living witnesses to the massive expansion of educational infrastructure and services at all levels throughout the country, including the establishment of a university for the first time, where most of the students enjoy full scholarship. This has been made possible through the support of both public and private institutions and individuals, including the establishment of an Educational Trust Fund under the Office of The President.

The parastatal institutions, in particular the Gambia Telecommunications Company Ltd (Gamtel), have contributed immense resources towards the education of a significant number of students at all strata of the society. In fact the board of directors of Gamtel has recently approved an increase of 40% on their education fund.Despite all this sacrifice from Government and the parastatals, it is indeed very disheartening that the students led by Gamsu and other unscrupulous people have wilfully carried out such massive destruction of useful facilities, thus depriving everyone of their essential services.

Fellow Gambians,I wish to appeal to all, particularly community and religious leaders during this period of grief and sorrow, to offer prayers for the deceased and the speedy recovery of the injured. Let us also pray for peace and reconciliation, and embark on a healing process to enhance our cherished virtues of tolerance and peaceful co-existence that the Gambia has always been renowned for. In the same vein, we wish to urge the media to engage in objective reporting during this difficult and trying period.

Finally, as mentioned in our previous press release of Tuesday, 11 April 2000, the unfortunate death of Ebrima Barry has been given all the attention and urgency it deserves, by the department of state for Justice. Let me reiterate that investigations have been completed, the suspects interrogated are presently remanded in custody. The case has been registered in court and the due process of the law will be observed. Once again, I wish to appeal to the general public and Gambians in particular, to re-orientate our thinking and behaviour towards patriotism and sense of belonging.

President Yahya Jammeh:
JAMMEHFellow citizens, my task today is indeed a very difficult one, as it is with the deepest feeling ever of immense distress and utmost grief that I address the nation on the unfortunate and tragic students’ demonstrations that occurred last Monday and Tuesday. On these two dark days in our country’s history, this nation suffered irreparable loss of lives and incalculable damage to properties. Most regrettable is the untimely death of 12 young people and the large number of wounded.

I therefore wish to take this sad occasion to join each and every one of you, on behalf of the Government and people of the Gambia and that of my family, to extend deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathy to bereaved parents, families, relatives, friends, classmates and loved ones of our departed children. Let us all pray that the Almighty Allah receives their souls and grant them eternal rest. Les us also pray for the sick and wounded, to receive Allah’s speedy healing and recovery.

We must offer prayers also for the bereaved and the nation, to be comforted, to have faith and courage to sustain their loss. As we remember and commit those we love deeply in Allah’s care, I am hereby declaring one week of mourning, during which all flags in the country will be flown at half mast in loving memory and respect for the dead.

Fellow Gambians, I want us all to put this sad and unprecedented incident into its proper perspective, to reflect and investigate into the causes and to draw useful lessons from the experience. While I was in Cuba attending the G 77- South Summit, I have been constantly working with the government on the evolution of the situation on the ground.

Everyone will agree that the primary duty of any government is to ensure that peace and stability prevails in a country, safeguard the rights of everyone to life and property, and guarantee freedom and justice without fear or favour. My Government will therefore conduct a full investigation into the events of the 10th and 11th April 2000. In the investigations, no stone will be left unturned in our search for the truth. Concurrently, a coroner inquest will be held on the cause of the 12 young people who lost their lives in this unfortunate incident.
Fellow Gambians

In the days that lie ahead, I will be counting on all Gambians, religious leaders, leaders of conscience to held bring back the peace and stability that has enabled us to help neighbouring countries to avert the dangers of internal conflict and strife. We want to build a society whose youth will be proud of the educational infrastructure and facilities that have been made available to them. This will enable us to build on these foundations which will continue to make the Gambia a haven of peace and stability in the sub-region and Africa at large. These are certainly some of the essential pre-conditions for attaining our Vision 2020.

I thank you all for you attention and pray that the Almighty Allah continue to shower His peace and blessing on the bereaved, the wounded and the country as a whole.

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