Monday, June 17, 2013

Gambia - an open prison

Ten of thousands of winter tourists flock to Gambia, mainland Africa's smallest country, each year. Tourism has become an economic lifeline under the regime of a president who urges "every Gambian to be a policeman". The Gambia has one of the continent's worst human rights records.

"Gambia is not a military dictatorship but nobody likes to mention the president's name," said a tour guide.

Since taking power in a bloodless coup in 1994, President Yahya Jammeh has swapped army fatigues for a white gown and sceptre, and rules through a potent mix of state brutality and mysticism, claiming to cure a long list of maladies from Aids to erectile dysfunction. His secret police, disguised as everything from gigolos to street hawkers, have arrested people for reacting "indifferently" when his presidential convoy passes.

Activist and former minister Amadou Scattred Janneh was sentenced to life imprisonment for distributing T-shirts at a rally. He shares a cell with a 24-year-old jailed for creating an online social media profile using the president's name. Janneh said that in August last year he saw nine prisoners apparently randomly dragged out of their cells and executed by firing squad. "It was very traumatic. No-one knew what criteria they used," he said. "One person had already served their term, another had been in jail for eight months, another for 27 years."

Gambia has some historical repute on account of the Kunta Kinte story from the novel Roots--which highlights the period of West African history characterised by the inhumane ravages of the Atlantic slave trade. The Gambia river is the silent container of James Island and Georgetown Island both river isolates on which the unfortunate African captives were kept shackled until some ship with dank holds arrived to convey them over the vast Atlantic for the purposes of captive labour in the service of a burgeoning capitalism. Multitudes died in this ultimate sacrifice for capitalism. Recently there was a repeat of history when along the Senegambian coast droves of young men risked their lives--many died in the process-- in rickety boats to sail over to Europe as willing slaves of industrial capitalism.


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