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D. A. Jawo

It is 16 years today (April 10) when our own security forces brutally put down a peaceful procession organized by the Gambia Students Union (GAMSU), resulting in the deaths of at least 14 innocent children and the maiming of several more.

We can quite vividly recall those fateful two days when such brutality was unleashed on innocent Gambian school children while their only crime was to insist on staging a peaceful demonstration in order to protest against certain grievances, including the alleged killing of one of their colleagues by the fire brigade personnel in Brikama.

Even though it is 16 years since one of the most dreadful events in the history of the Gambia happened, yet still, the aggrieved relations and friends of those innocent young souls are still waiting for justice for their loved ones, while those who are still nursing the wounds of their offspring had been abandoned to their fate.

Certainly, the memories of those little souls who were brutally shot and killed in cold blood for merely coming out to exercise their most fundamental rights to peacefully march and show their grievances, will never fade away from the hearts and minds of those people of conscience who care about humanity and the crave for justice.

The only way that such naked injustice against the innocent children and indeed all people of conscience can be mitigated is for those who perpetrated the crime to be brought to justice and punished for their crime, which, unfortunately, this regime does not appear to ever intend to do.

Many Gambians still recall the events that led to the mayhem which resulted in the indiscriminate shooting to death of those innocent children. It started on the morning of 10 April 2000 when students in the Greater Banjul Area, under the leadership of GAMSU decided to stage a peaceful demonstration against a host of grievances, including the alleged killing of their colleague, Ebrima Barry by personnel of the Brikama Fire Brigade as well as the alleged raping of a girl student by a member of the security forces. Despite giving enough notice to the authorities about their intention to hold a peaceful procession to vent out their grievances, the police and those in authority, no doubt out of their arrogance and intoxication with power, apparently ordered the security forces to prevent the march at whatever cost, including the use of live bullets, which eventually led to the deaths of the 14 young people and maiming for life of several of their colleagues.

However, despite the widespread condemnation of the unprovoked shooting to death of the innocent children in the Greater Banjul Area on the 10th April, the security forces still went ahead to repeat that same brutality the following day in Brikamaba and other parts of the country, shooting to death several more children. It is even alleged that some of those who escaped death were subjected to untold brutality in the hands of the security forces while under detention, resulting in some of them being maimed for the rest of their lives.

Even though there was unanimity in the national and international condemnation of the brutality unleashed on the defenseless children by the security forces, the Gambian authorities have since been trying to wipe out that memory from the minds of the people of this country. Not only is any commemoration of the event totally forbidden, but the government has also done virtually nothing to assist the families who lost their loved ones or those children who were maimed. They are instead abandoned to their fate and the families of those who were maimed are left to continue to take care of them with the meagre resources at their disposal, and with no input from those who gave orders to the security forces to open fire with live bullets, and then went on the public media to tell big lies about it.

Therefore, instead of ensuring that justice was done in order to at least help ameliorate the psychological trauma of the affected families, the government decided to instead indemnify all those who were found culpable of unleashing such violence on innocent Gambian children. There is in fact enough indication that the authorities not only did not have any remorse about what happened, but that they have also given clear indication that they would not hesitate to do it all over again against anyone who challenges their hegemony.

The regime did not only stop at indemnifying the perpetrators of the unprecedented violence against the children, but they also went ahead to launch a systematic programme to annihilate GAMSU by creating their own surrogate student body; the National Patriotic Students Association (NAPSA), using public money and other incentives, and even coercion to entice students to become members of that puppet body, eventually making it the only legal student body in the country, enjoying unlimited financial and moral support from the authorities.

Therefore, through various overt and covert tactics, the authorities succeeded in transforming NAPSA into a formidable student union whose members were given all kinds of privileges and using them as proxies to control the activities of their fellow students and ensuring that they (the students) not only will never again challenge the authority of the government, but they were also instead left with no alternative but to submit to the dictates of the NAPSA leadership who had been imposed on them by the authorities.

What have we seen since then is that most of the original leadership of NAPSA have been absorbed into privileged positions in the government, including some of them being nominated as Members of Parliament and several other prominent positions in the public services. This is apparently as compensation for their role in helping to pacify the students and make them not only forget the brutalities that were meted out to their colleagues a few years earlier, but NAPSA was also effectively used to neutralize GAMSU and all other student bodies that had existed prior to the April demonstrations.

It is indeed hard for anyone to imagine that a government which makes so much noise about its concern for the welfare of its people would allow those who have committed such heinous crimes against the children of this country to not only continue to roam the streets with impunity, but for some of them to still continue to occupy important public offices and being paid from the public coffers.

There is however no doubt that most Gambians are anxiously looking forward to the day when the names of all those innocent young children whose lives were cut short by bullets of our own security forces, will be engraved in gold in a fitting memorial to be erected in a prominent place in the Greater Banjul Area. Also, those who were maimed and their lives left in miserable conditions would be given the maximum care by the state, while those found culpable for unleashing such brutality on them would be brought to book and justice will be finally seen to be done.

By D. A. Jawo