Bojel Bah, Fatou Jawo, Meta Bah, and Samba Sarjo are from Sintet and Sangajorr. In the second instalment of our four-part series, they talk to JFJ researcher BABA GALLEH JALLOW about their victimisations and their views on the reparation programme.
My name is Bojel Bah, a native of Sintet village. I am a victim of the witch hunt
We received a small benefit of GMD50,000 ($1,000) from the TRRC’s reparation programme. At the time, we were all struggling financially and the little money I was given was immediately spent on our basic needs, including medical treatment for both my husband and I, our children’s education expenses, and feeding the family. We were going through hardship at the time.
The money was insufficient to address our needs. We have to fend for our children and ourselves, yet my husband and I are not well. Since our victimisation, our health has deteriorated to the point we can no longer work to earn a living. My husband can no longer do anything for himself and has to be assisted to do the most basic of things.
We were accused of practising witchcraft and forcefully taken to Kanilai. We were made to drink some herbal concoctions that affected our health. The whole community turned against us and has continued to ostracise us. This has caused us a lot of pain and suffering.
I cannot comment on the process of deciding who should get reparations and whether it was conducted fairly, but I am glad that I received some money to help my family.
I expect the government to help me further, especially to complete a house that I am constructing.
I also urge President Adama Barrow’s government to seriously address victims’ welfare. Our victimisation has caused us a lot of pain and hardship, especially women. Our enemies are laughing at us behind our backs. They accuse us of lying about our victimisation, saying: “Look at them. They are going but they will not return with anything because they are lying. Nothing happened to them.”
We dare not even disclose to the non-victims among us who got reparations and who did not because we want to avoid being ridiculed.
My name is Fatou Jawo of Sintet village and a victim of the witch hunt.
I gave my statement to the TRRC the first time they visited the village. However, I have never received any reparation. This has been a big mystery to me because I attended all the meetings organised for the victims between here and Sibanor (a neighbouring village). I always participated actively, sharing the story of my victimisation because this was a good source of healing for me. It helped to reduce the anger I felt. I am always happy to receive visitors and share the pain I feel. I believe it lessens the burden in my heart.
It breaks my heart when people talk behind my back, saying that my efforts are an exercise in futility and that I shall not get any benefits. Ironically, they seem to have been vindicated because my name did not appear on the list of those to be awarded reparation.
Since my victimisation, I have not been able to work. My children and I depend on my only brother.
I still do not understand why I was not compensated. I know people in my village who have never been victimised, have never set foot in Kanilai, but they were given reparations. I even asked one of the TRRC staff members who came to distribute the reparation funds why my name was not on the list. He promised to look into it but I never heard from him again. Three days after the group left, I visited the TRRC offices to enquire about my case and I was promised that someone would look into it. I am still waiting.
I think it was not fair the way the whole issue of the reparations was handled. We all suffered, both the people who were taken to Kanilai and made to drink Jammeh’s concoctions and those who had to flee their homes and hide in the bush to escape being captured by the witch hunters. For the latter, the victimisation was different.
We were taken away and forced to drink the concoction from a very dirty container, from where people took showers. I was made to drink three one-litre cups of the liquid and bathe in it. Some of it was sprayed into my eyes and I had to chew and swallow the herbs that were used to make it. I fell unconscious and when I came to, I found that I had lost all my senses. People said I had gone crazy. For three days, I wandered around, unaware of my surroundings until I was rescued by another villager.
I was made to undress, standing stark naked in front of strange men. This caused me unimaginable humiliation and degradation because I have never allowed anyone, not even my husband, to see me naked, let alone strangers, some of whom were young enough to be my children. I should have been given reparation due to the horrible treatment I was subjected to.
I have a question for the TRRC and the government: Why was I not granted reparation, yet I gave a statement about my victimisation? Perhaps the fault lies with the statement-takers and those who were responsible for paying the reparation. Perhaps they made a mistake. I do not know.
Instead of cash payment, I would prefer a plot of land where I can build a home or get support to start a small business since I can no longer do physical labour. I can use the income from the business to look after my family.
My name is Meta Bah from Sintet. My mother was a victim of the witch hunt.
There are victims who were allocated part of their reparations of, for example, GMD15,000 ($245), and promised that there is a larger amount remaining which would be paid at a later date. I was given GMD50,000 ($1,000) and told that was the whole sum due to me. But even if I was allocated GMD1 million ($16,000), it would not be sufficient to make up for the loss of my mother, who was killed by the witch hunters. I am not satisfied with the amount I received.
I spent some of the money on medical treatment for my daughter, who suffered psychological trauma due to the witch hunt. I spent the rest of the money on food for my family and also constructing a simple house for me and my children after I was divorced and chased out of my marital home. However, the house is incomplete.
I think there should be other forms of reparation as well. We have a health centre with no doctors and hardly any medicines. Even the nurses who work there have difficulty finding accommodation. Sometimes there is nobody on duty at the hospital at night. Posting health personnel to the health centre and supplying it with medicines would benefit the whole village regardless of whether one is a victim or not. Some have suggested accommodation others a vegetable garden, but I would prefer investment in our health centre.
Sometimes there is trouble when an individual is paid. I know a case where the relationship of two brothers was damaged because one refused to share the money with his sibling. The man was so offended that he moved from home.
Although the amount I was paid was inadequate to take care of my family’s needs, I would give the TRRC’s reparations programme five points out of 10 in terms of performance simply because I was included on the reparation list.
I urge the government to pay the balance of the money they owe the victims. There are also victims in the village who have not given their statements to the TRRC. Their issues need to be addressed.
My name is Samba Sarjo, a native of Sangajorr and a victim of unlawful arrest and detention.
I was paid reparation, although I term the benefits minimal. The GMD30,000 ($490) I received cannot make up for the half-a-million dalasi I lost during my victimisation. If I had known that was the only compensation I would get, I would have returned the money; it was not even enough for my family’s basic needs. I have three children whose educational expenses I am struggling to pay. I used some of the money to pay school fees. The money I had invested in my cashew nut business was all lost during my detention. The amount the TRRC gave me is not sufficient at all. I would have preferred to have my children’s educational expenses taken care of instead of just being given a cash payment. The money was not even nearly enough to pay for their education.
I do not think the reparation was fairly distributed because although I suffered worse violations than some victims, they were awarded more. I was not only victimised but lost a lot of money as well.
What really hurts is that these people (National Intelligence Agency – NIA – personnel) who victimised me are still working in the system; I see them every day. One of them is posted in the neighbouring village of Kalaji.
I have very few hopes and expectations about the future of the reparation programme because of the insignificant amount I was awarded. I was hoping that they would at least take care of my children’s educational expenses and maybe give me other benefits but none of that happened.
How do I rate the performance of the TRRS’s reparation programme? I will award them two out of 10 because they have done very little to help the victims.
I have a few questions for the government. I was detained by the NIA for more than two months without any evidence against me. During that period, they destroyed my livelihood. I want to know why some of the people who tortured me are still working at the agency. I am very disappointed with the government for its inaction on this issue. These people are still working and getting paid by the government, yet everybody in our district knows that they violated my rights and destroyed my livelihood for no reason.
I would prefer that they face justice for what they did to me rather than any amount of reparation.
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.