Abdoulie H. Bojang, Omar Bojang, Sainey Ba Bojang, and Sarjo Bojang are all residents of Jambour village in western Gambia and have something else in common: they are all victims of the regime of former President Yahya Jammeh. Like other villagers, some of them are survivors of the infamous witch hunt while others are victims of other forms of violations the former regime stands accused of.
After the conclusion of the truth-telling sessions and investigations conducted by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), many questions remain. What happened to the victims and survivors? What about the TRRC’s half-completed reparation programme and its beneficiaries? What about the victims who were left out?
In the first of our four-part series, these residents of Jambour have some of the questions and some of the answers as they speak about their encounter with the TRRC reparation programme during interviews conducted by Journalists For Justice researcher BABA GALLEH JALLOW.
My named is Abdoulie H. Bojang. I am the father of a victim of the April 10, 2000, student massacre.
The TRRC’s reparations programme was half-baked and it didn’t go as expected. I know the reparation packages were based on the testimonies of the victims and their families, but I have observed that they vary so widely that there is no logic to them. Some families were paid more than others, yet the incident, the violation, was the same. I cannot talk about this without going back to the April 10 issue – the victims who suffered in the massacre of the students in 2000. That is my reference point. The victims and their families were paid very little. Even the ones who suffered in the witch hunt received a larger package than the students who received gunshot wounds. That wasn’t right.
I acknowledge that it was not an easy task and the TRRC team did its best dealing with the reparations. However, too many victims were left out. I attended several meetings in the neighbouring Bafuloto village, where I know there are more than 180 victims, but only 80 were registered. Even in town here, the relatives of many people who passed away submitted their statements, yet they did not receive any reparation. I notified the TRRC because I had their names. I sent the information to certain officials of the commission to no avail. Many of these people were excluded from the reparation programme and we do not know why. No one has given us an explanation.
It has demoralised many victims and their families, seeing some people who suffered the same fate they did getting compensated while they were left out. You feel isolated and ignored. You feel you are not considered on the same level as other victims and yet you suffered the same violation.
I believe reparation should go beyond just cash payments. Victims and their families need support with their livelihoods. These women and men have gone through mental trauma. They are not well. A good reparation package would include ongoing medical treatment and psychosocial support. This would have been better than giving them a one-off package of cash payment. I know one victim who passed away and her children had to move to Brikama because of the stigma of being labelled the relatives of a witch.
And all this because sensitisation was lacking. It is now clear that Jammeh came up with excuses such as the witch hunt and detentions to target those perceived to be opposed to his rule and political party. But not everyone knows that, and the truth-telling process did not do enough to sensitise the people about this. Therefore, the people who were falsely accused have been left to live with the stigma.
As I have mentioned several times before, there should be a programme in the media featuring victims’ stories, a sort of “victims’ hour” where all the media houses can connect. Victims can phone in and talk about what they have gone through and their experiences. This is one way of demystifying some of the Jammeh-era claims.
Future efforts at reparation should have a strong component of psychosocial support. They should also consider memorialisation – perhaps a facility for the victims – and support for them. My wife suffered more than I did when our son, then aged just 18, was fatally shot during the students’ protests in 2000. At that time, she was four months pregnant and our daughter was born prematurely. Everything, including the naming ceremony, was done at the clinic. It was traumatic for her.
I am Omar Bojang, a victim of the witch hunt
I was not happy with the fact that I was given only 19 per cent of the total amount I was allocated. Before the reparation money was disbursed, I told them in my statement the problems I was facing. I expected them to provide me with assistance to deal with those problems. Though money is important, right now my health matters more than anything else. I am the Imam of the village, but I cannot lead the Friday prayers at the mosque anymore because I have lost sight in one eye. I explained all that to the TRRC, but I have not received any help to treat the eye. My opinion is, instead of giving out cash, they should have provided medical treatment to victims who suffered ill health due to the witch hunt.
I spent the money I received from the TRRC on my children, who are still young. I am just a poor farmer and my children need food and their education needs financing. The money was not even enough to address these needs.
Instead of giving me money, I would have preferred help to invest in a business venture. Also, they can assist by paying my son’s tuition fees at the university.
I urge the government not to falter in the quest to establish the truth about what happened and give justice to the victims. This, I believe, would make forgiveness easier on the part of the victims and reconciliation more attainable. We feel this administration does not care about our plight because the people who violated our rights under Yahya Jammeh are still working in the government. The greatest reparation for us is to ensure that the people who violated our rights face justice. That would mean a great deal to us.
If I was to rate the performance of the TRRC with regard to the reparation programme, I would not give it a very good score – perhaps two out of 10?
My name is Sainey Ba Bojang and I was victimised during the witch hunt
I do not think the reparation programme was implemented in the right way. They should have taken care of us for the rest of our lives. I told the TRRC that the money it gave us was not enough to address our medical and other needs. I was a driver, but right now I dare not go near a car. I can barely see. They promised me a pair of glasses, but I am still waiting. Since my victimisation, I can no longer have children. And I am not alone. None of these victims sitting here have had children since the incident. I should have had many children by now, but my wives are just sitting at home. I would have preferred medical treatment for my numerous health issues instead of the cash payment, which I spent on rice for my family and medical treatment for myself. Still, it was not enough to treat my poor vision.
I was paid only a portion of what I was promised. They should disburse the remaining sum as soon as possible so that we can use the money to seek medical treatment and take care of our families.
The TRRC did not consult us on the implementation of the reparation programme. They should have talked to us and sought our opinion. The few meetings I attended concerning reparation were convened by victim-led organisations.
We faced a lot of discrimination and were ostracised because Jammeh’s regime had, without any evidence, accused us of practising witchcraft. We commanded little respect. During those first days of the transitional process soon after Jammeh was swept out of power, I went on radio to talk about my experiences. I told the world there was no truth in what we had been accused of. People would gossip about me behind my back. I would hear people talking as I walked past. I explained the reason behind our victimisation, that we were targeted because we opposed the Alikalo’s (village head) leadership.
I do not blame the TRRC for the failures of the reparation programme. The commission did its work. Instead, I blame the government because it has the task and mandate to implement the TRRC’s recommendations but has chosen not to.
My name is Sarjo Bojang, a witch hunt victim.
I do not think the reparation programme was implemented well. Although I did not receive any reparation, the money the other victims were given was not even enough to take care of their health needs. If I had received any money, I would have spent it on medical treatment for myself because my health was destroyed during the witch hunt.
We were forced to drink substances that harmed us. I started losing weight immediately afterwards. Before this, we were working on our farms and rice fields, feeding ourselves and financing our children’s education. We were strong and healthy. However, after the incident, I could no longer do the things I used to do. My health was gravely affected. My children assisted me to seek medical treatment.
A graduate of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Korir Isaac is a journalist who writes and reports on various issues, including human rights, politics, technology, law, and global affairs.
The Victims’ Bantaba is a virtual platform that will serve as a memorial site of record to events and experiences from The Gambia’s difficult years during the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh.
It seeks to document the impact of the violations of human rights and atrocity crimes over the 22 years of that regime, particularly on the victims, and explore their continuing significance on the society.