October 23, 2021

The Sanyang Incident – Unjustified Violence

By D. A. Jawo

While the anger and frustration of the young people of Sanyang that eventually led to the burning down of the village police station, the Chinese fishmeal plant and the arson attack on a number of fishing boats and other fishing gear, assumed to belong to some Senegalese fisher folk, on Monday, was quite comprehensible, but it was certainly unjustifiable.

We have recently been hearing a lot of complaints about a lot of things from the young people in Kombo South, among which are the environmental degradation of their areas by the Chinese fishmeal plants, as well as the persistent problems of land ownership, and yet very little has been seen to be done by the authorities to address those grievances.

Therefore, what we saw in Sanyang on Monday was just something the young people of the area had been waiting for to vent their anger and frustration. The unfortunate incident was therefore a culmination of that frustration. However, while the man accused of stabbing Gibril Ceesay, whose death triggered the violence, was said to be a Senegalese national, but that was certainly not enough justification to target the properties of the Senegalese fisher folk in that community, let alone the Chinese fishmeal plant, which did not seem to have anything to do with that particular incident.

Obviously, this senseless and wanton destruction of property is a clear indication that the young people were reacting to some frustrations that had been simmering for some time. However, it was to a large extent quite misplaced. While it is possible that the Chinese plant may have some environmental issues, but certainly, burning it down was not in the interest of the villagers themselves and the community at large as, however minimal it may be, it had brought some development to the community. Therefore, more discussions with the authorities would have helped to resolve any outstanding issues rather than taking the law into their own hands and destroying the plant.

It is also obvious that the destruction of the plant has quite far reaching implications for the community, as future potential investors would be very hesitant to bring their investments into that area, as there would be no guarantee that their properties are safe. If the people can just get up one day and burn down such an expensive investment just because of a few grievances, then it is had to see how any investors would again risk their money to invest in the area.

As regards the anger against the Senegalese, again, there was no justification in destroying their properties just because one of them had been accused of stabbing a villager to death. Regrettable as it is, there is no justification in punishing a whole community for the sins of one person. Possibly, there may have been some complaints against some Senegalese living in the community, but that is certainly not enough justification to destroy the properties and livelihoods of the Senegalese community in Sanyang.

There is no need to re-iterate the fact that the Gambia and Senegal are so inter-dependent that it is in no one’s interest to antagonize each other. While there are so many Senegalese in this country, engaged in all sorts of occupations, but let us not also forget that there are many Gambians living in Senegal as well. Let us also not forget that when we were being intimidated and harassed in this country by our own government during the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship, Senegal was virtually our only escape route from the tyrant. As a result, many Gambians either ran to Senegal or through Senegal to other countries, and the Senegalese not only received us with open arms, but they also gave us both moral and material assistance.

Most of us who were in Senegal at that time could recall the tremendous support and solidarity that Gambian dissidents received there, with their civil society groups using their resources to frequently organize solidarity events in support of the struggle against the dictatorship in the Gambia. We therefore owe quite a huge debt of gratitude to the Senegalese and rather than antagonize them, we should try and reciprocate that kindness they showed us.

While the reason why the young people of Sanyang also burnt down the village police station may not be quite obvious, but we all agree that police lack the most basic tools to carry out their work in the communities they serve. For instance, they do not have adequate resources to address their daily challenges such as transportation to answer to urgent calls. It is quite a well-known fact that most of the police stations in this country do not have even a single vehicle to carry out their work outside the station. It is therefore possible that the villagers felt not quite adequately served by the police station, hence their decision to burn it down, not realizing that they were destroying their own property.

It had been expected that the much-hyped security sector reform would have by now addressed some of those critical challenges of the police, but it appears that the authorities are not quite concerned about that. We have seen President Adama Barrow, for instance, providing hundreds of brand new pick-up trucks to his National People’s Party militants and supporters while the police stations are still left without mobility to adequately do their work. This is apparently a clear indication that he is more concerned about his re-election than addressing the most basic needs of the people.

The Author is a former Information Minister of The Gambia.

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