Press: El Pais –Gambia, The Hidden Horrors of Africa’s Silent Dictatorship
– Three years after the fall of the Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh, pressured by the street after losing at the polls, a commission (Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations – TRRC) brings to light the terrible crimes committed for two decades, supported by its apparatus of repression, the collusion of justice and the outside inaction – Read the full feature El Pais / words by José Naranjo Noble
The images are from the on-going multimedia series
The tiny West African republic, The Gambia, is a popular winter-sun holiday destination for Europeans. However, most tourists have little idea of the dark and shattered underbelly of ‘The Smiling Coast of Africa’, as the Gambia is fondly called. From 1994 -2017 President Yahya Jammeh ruled the Gambia as his fiefdom, crushing dissent, and opposition with brutality. His personal hit squad and National Intelligence Agency carried out tortures, assassinations, and acts of sexual violence with impunity – journalists were gunned down and disappeared, students shot in cold blood, and even his cousins were murdered on his order.
In October 2018 the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) launched in The Gambia – a televised commission investigating the human rights violations under the 22-year dictatorial rule of President Yahya Jammeh. The TRRC, suspended over the past couple of months due to COVID19, resumed on Monday 8th June 2020, hearing testimonies from the victims and survivors of Jammeh’s rule, along with those of the alleged perpetrators. It is a long, and extremely painful process for many, to finally have their voices heard, but also to see and hear the voices of those who are implicated in meting out shocking tortures, killings, and human rights abuses, and about what happened to their loved ones.
For over three years, we have been collaborating closely with the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations, and the TRRC; and have created permanent and mobile exhibitions of the portraits and testimonies. The exhibitions have now become part of Victims Centre and TRRC outreach work around the country, to bring the stories of victims to the people, to create dialogue and discussion around human rights and justice in this fledgling democracy – in hopes of opening eyes and winning hearts and minds. And, we will continue making the portraits and filming testimonies once flights to Gambia resume after the lockdown.
In isolation between a ‘Rock and a Hot Place‘ – we arrived in the UK just over a month ago, for a short break from our assignments in The Gambia, West Africa. We had intended to head to the small island of Malta, which we have called our other home for the past five years. After this, we planned to return to The Gambia to continue our projects.
However, the days following our return to the UK Malta closed its airport, soon followed by The Gambia. So, we find ourselves grounded, literally, here in the UK at my mother’s house – waiting for the skies to open again. In the meantime, I watch her English country garden slowly break bud and bloom, and Helen as the light finds her in our roost above the barn – whilst, all the time wildly conscious of the struggle around us, the fight for life… Jason Florio
New work from our long form multi-media project –‘The Gambia – Victims, and Resisters’: The family of Lt Ebou Lowe. Ebou was disappeared and executed by members former Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh’s hit squad, the ‘Junglers’, after he was accused of being part of a coup attempt in 2006 to overthrow the dictatorial Jammeh regime.
Ebou Lowe’s daughter, Amie Lowe, photographed in her father’s room, left unchanged since he was disappeared in 2006 – “I grew up not knowing the love of a father. I was only three years old when he disappeared, so I don’t remember him. I only know him through what people have told me, that he was a good man, and some say he was a hero.”
Ebou Lowe’s sister, Zainab Lowe-Baldeh – “The road to justice is a long one for us but we hang tight. Ebou Lowe was a pillar to the family and a father of four, and was taken without a trace…knowing what has happened from the Truth Commission (TRRC) feels like a needle in a haystack.” Zainab is the co-founder of the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human-Rights Violations – a victim support group, now with over one thousand registered members.
The exhibition runs through March 24th, 2020, at the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC museum gardens), Banjul. It is free and open to all. Please visit the museum website for opening hours. A selection of portraits, from the ‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’series are being exhibited, in a collaboration with ANEKED (African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances) NGO.
See more of Jason Florio’s documentary film work on his website
March 2020 – Currently in The Gambia, West Africa
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