First, there was fear and despair as the victims of Yahya Jammeh’s brutal dictatorship nursed their physical and psychological scars. Then came relief as the full extent of the violations and abuses they had suffered during the 22 years of the tyranny was revealed during the public sittings of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission.
Hope flowed freely as the TRRC unveiled its much-awaited report, which promised justice and reparation for the victims. The government affirmed this hope in its White Paper in May 2022 when it accepted almost all the recommendations put forward in the TRRC report.
However, less than a year later, the mood of some of the victims has drastically shifted. Their long wait for the promised reparation and justice is now coloured by impatience as they face the possibility that they may have to adjust their expectations as the government drags its feet on implementing some of its promises.
That was the mood in the room as victims voiced their frustrations during a discussion with media editors in Banjul, The Gambia, last week.
“The reparation promised by the government is not forthcoming,” complained Fatou Jatta, a victim of the infamous Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme, the herbal “treatment” that Jammeh in 2007 announced could cure HIV/Aids, infertility, asthma, and a host of other ailments. Some 47 people died after undergoing this uncertified treatment, according to the TRRC, which recommended that those responsible, including the former president and Dr Tamsir Mbowe, a former Health Minister, be prosecuted.
Jatta was also angry that the government’s actions have retraumatised her. “The stigma intensified after my appearance at the TRRC’s hearings as a witness. I couldn’t walk tall in my community. The government, through the TRRC, re-exposed me to the whole world, yet they are dragging their feet to take the needed actions,” she complained during the open dialogue session organised by Journalists For Justice.
According to her, the testimony she gave at the TRRC hearings, which were broadcast live on TV, made her relive her harrowing experience at the hands of Jammeh. She remembered how she and other patients were filmed half-naked as they were forced to drink the herbal concoctions.
She is far from pleased with the government’s promised reparation package. According to the TRRC, Jatta is entitled to GMD200,000 (about $4,000) as compensation for her suffering but she has so far received only 19 per cent of the funds. “But this money, can it even help me recoup my lost dignity?” she wondered aloud.
Now Jatta is wishing there were other ways to get justice, but how?
Falang Sonko’s experience mirrors that of Jatta. In his case, he survived years of torture in state custody before being released without any charges being filed against him. He still suffers from the health complications he developed as a result of the torture. He is dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the TRRC recommendations, accusing it of being indifferent to the plight of the victims and instead rewarding their tormentors with jobs.
“I was allocated GMD200, 000 but have so far received only GMD37,000. I had seven kids when I got arrested. Most of them could not continue their education due to my absence,” he said.
Kaddy Cham, a daughter of former Army Chief Ndure Cham, tells a similar tale. She recalls the trauma her family suffered after General Cham was accused of a coup attempt in 2006 and had to flee the country. He was arrested around the Gambia-Senegal border a few years later and was killed. His family was harassed and threatened by soldiers and some of his relatives were detained.
“For an average Gambian family, a monetary compensation package of GMD200,000 is not enough to rebuild lives spent without parental care, without education, or all that we missed due to the absence of our father,” she said.
“My kids suffered, dropped out of school and my wife miscarried a pregnancy while I was in detention. When I was called to receive GMD30,000 at the TRRC, I did not know that it was part of my reparation package. How will that money help compensate for my lost business, rebuild the lives of my family, and give my kids a proper future?” asked Samba Sarjo, a businessman from Foni Kansala.
He was arrested in Sangajorr and detained at the National Intelligence Agency for about three months, accused of buying goods stolen from the president’s farm in Kanilai.
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For many journalists attending the session, the government’s inaction was not because of the media’s lack of reporting on the plight of the victims and taking the government to task.
“I have written to the Ministry of Justice almost a dozen times. Each time I do not get a response I follow up with another letter. The minister usually tells me he has referred my letter to the Solicitor General, although I know that the officer cannot provide the answers I need,” said Yankuba Jallow, the president of the Young Journalists Association of The Gambia and also a court reporter at Foroyaa newspaper.
Journalists spoke about what they perceived to be the government’s reneging on its promises such as paying reparation and prosecuting perpetrators, as well as dragging its feet over the passing of the reparation bill. The bill is expected to lay the foundation for paying reparation and pave the way to reconciliation in post-TRRC Gambia.
“Some of the victims did not fully understand the work of the TRRC. It was assigned to investigate and submit a report to the government. Whatever compensation the TRRC gave was preliminary and does not represent the full package. This was made clear by the chairperson of the TRRC Reparations Committee to the victims. The government was to take responsibility for the rest of the reparation packages, as indicated in the report submitted,” explained Momodou Dem, the News Editor at Foroyaa who used to work in the TRRC’s Communications Unit.
Modou L. Joof, the editor of Leral online TV, said there is a need for collaboration between the media and the victims to continue amplifying their voices. “Radio stations should allocate airtime to victims each week and allow them to recount their stories and keep these stories alive. This will help to hold the government to account about the TRRC report, which they accepted. It would remind them of the tales of human rights violations and killings under Jammeh,” he said.
There was a proposal to encourage the production of digital content for social media and to engage community radios in rural areas to further discuss the issues surrounding reparation for the victims, prosecution for crimes, and the full implementation of the TRRC recommendations.