On December 1st, 2016, the Gambian people voted out their autocratic President Yahya Jammeh, after 22 years in power, and elected Adama Barrow as their new president. Jammeh conceded defeat but a week later announced that he was annulling the election results and would not step down.A grassroots movement #GambiaHasDecided emerged in reaction.
Activists initially set up billboards with the slogan #GambiaHasDecided. The billboards were torn down by Jammeh loyalists. Not to be intimidated, the activists around the country turned to spray painting the slogan.
On January 26th, 2017, the new president of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, returned home to mass celebrations. For his own safety, Barrow had exiled himself to Senegal, where, on January 19th, he took oath at the country’s embassy in Dakar.
‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’: Abdoulie Jamanti Darboe, a former clerk at the training school of the Gambia Armed Forces was arrested and tortured for his supposed involvement in the November 11th, 1994 alleged coup plot. Sent to Mile 2 Prison, he went to court three times. Each time the court stated ‘no case to answer’, and that he should be released. He was finally released, 18 months later, without trial.
“Every Friday at the mosque, I see the man who tortured me in prison. The perpetrators are still enjoying life while we suffer. Reconciliation is the only thing that will bring peace, but not if the perpetrators do not own up to their wrongs.”
On April 10th, 2000, Sainabou Camara Lowe, then a young student, was caught up in student protests erupting in Serrekunda, Gambia’s business hub. She was captured and detained by four paramilitary officers. She was taken to one of the officer’s quarters, where they stripped off her school dress and tied a rope around her neck to restrain her. Sainabou said that the officers then stamped on all over her body, including her groin area until she passed out. Believing she was dead, the officers took her to the mortuary at the hospital. A nurse saw her, and while trying to remove the rope from the young girl’s neck – as she did not want Sainabou’s family to see her body in such a condition – Sainabou took a gasp of breath. “She’s alive! She’s alive!” the nurse shouted and rushed her to the Emergency Ward. Sainabou remained in the hospital for over three months – during which time she was treated for multiple injuries, including internal damage to her vagina.
“When the shooting started we (the students) all ran from the paramilitary. I’m trying to jump over the fence but I cannot. I already threw one leg over but with the other one they dragged me down and threw me to the ground, they were beating me. Then they took me to their quarters and tied me up. With their boots they were dancing all over my body. Then I became unconscious. For seven days afterwards my family didn’t know where I was, they thought I was dead”
In 2005, 56 West African migrants, including 44 Ghanaians were murdered in The Gambia en route to Europe. The unarmed migrants were killed by the “Junglers”, a death squad reporting directly to President, Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s dictator at the time. Evidence has since emerged that Yahya Jammeh, gave the orders to kill them. The families of the victims are still seeking justice.
His personal hit squad and intelligence agency carried out tortures, and assassinations with impunity – journalists were gunned down and disappeared, ministers were jailed, students shot in cold blood, and even his own brother and sister were murdered on his orders.
With Jammeh’s 2016 election defeat, he went into exile after a standoff with regional forces, and the victims of his regime started to come forward.
This multi-media series is a work in progress – which began at the end of 2016, just before Jammeh was ousted (when we met Gambian dissidents who were hiding out in neighbouring Senegal). Helen and I, have many more portraits to make, and testimonies to film. We are forever indebted to all those who have shared their stories with us so far. View more from the series on my website floriophoto.com