The Solo Sandeng Foundation (SSF), based in The Gambia, is a non-profit organisation that promotes and protects human rights, democracy, and good governance in the West African country.
Founded in 2017 in memory of Solo Sandeng, a prominent political activist arrested, tortured, and killed by government agents in 2016, the foundation is dedicated to continuing his legacy of fighting for justice and freedom. It aims to help The Gambia to realise a democratic and tolerant society through respect for human rights and democratic values.
The SSF’s work is particularly important in light of the ongoing human rights crisis in the country.
Despite its small size, The Gambia has a long history of human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings. The abuses were particularly severe under the regime of former President Yahya Jammeh, who ruled the country with an iron fist for more than two decades.
Since Jammeh’s ousting in 2017, The Gambia has made significant progress in addressing human rights abuses and building a more democratic society. However, much work remains to be done. The Solo Sandeng Foundation is playing a critical role in this process by promoting human rights, democratic governance, and the rule of law. All this is made possible through positive citizen engagement, human rights education, and support for democratic processes.
“One of the key focus areas for the Solo Sandeng Foundation is advocating political and electoral reform in The Gambia. Over the years, we have taken an active part in the transitional justice process in the areas of stakeholder engagement for security sector reforms and victim inclusion,” said Muhammed Sandeng, SSF’s activist and Solo Sandeng’s son, during an interview with Journalists For Justice.
Over the years, SSF has raised awareness about issues such as voter suppression, political intimidation, and lack of transparency in the electoral process. This is a part of its larger agenda of advocating security sector reforms and supporting political activists and civil society groups working to promote democracy and human rights in The Gambia.
The foundation is also involved in several grassroots initiatives to empower marginalised communities and promote social justice. For example, it runs programmes that engage with communities across The Gambia to educate them about their rights and the importance of democratic governance. This includes organising workshops and training sessions, and working with community leaders to build local capacity for promoting human rights and good governance.
SSF provides education and training to young people, particularly girls, from disadvantaged backgrounds through its outreach programme. Additionally, it promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment through initiatives such as encouraging girls’ education and raising awareness about gender-based violence.
Another critical area that the organisation is focused on is raising awareness about human rights abuses and other issues affecting Gambians. It lobbies the government and other key actors to take action to address these problems. SSF works with other human rights organisations to engage with government officials and representatives of international organisations.
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Where necessary, the Solo Sandeng Foundation provides legal support to individuals and groups affected by human rights abuses and other forms of injustice. Here, it provides legal representation in court and offers advice and assistance to those at risk of arrest or other forms of legal action.
Its data research and documentation on human rights abuses and other issues affecting Gambians have become quite fundamental in its push for better transitional reforms. By collecting testimony from victims and witnesses and analysing government policies and practices, the foundation can enhance its advocacy and lobbying efforts, and hold accountable the people responsible for the abuses.
Despite its commitment to ensuring a better Gambia, SSF has had its fair share of challenges.
“Because we are an organisation that derives its mandate from the works of a strong political activist who was a victim of torture in state custody, we sometimes face resistance in getting an audience from government officials in the security sector. This is probably because of the perception some of them hold about our mission. As a young and striving institution, we also face technical challenges in other areas,” said Muhammed Sandeng.
He notes that, being non-profit, it welcomes financial and technical support, which also allow people to get involved in SSF’s work and help advance its activities. The foundation hopes, in the near future, to create a permanent exhibition of victims of arbitrary arrest and torture during the 22 years of Jammeh’s dictatorship. This will specifically highlight the ordeals of journalists, civil rights activists, government officials, and ordinary citizens in state-sanctioned brutality.
The foundation is proud to be referred as a prime example of a grassroots organisation making a real difference in the lives of Gambians. By empowering citizens and promoting democracy, human rights, and good governance, SSF is helping to build a more just and equitable society and is an inspiration to other organisations and individuals fighting for the same cause.