(By D. A. Jawo)
As Gambians and people of conscience all over the world mark the 13th anniversary of the April 10 and 11 student demo which was brutally suppressed by the security forces, resulting in the deaths of more than 14 innocent Gambian children and the maiming of several more, the aggrieved relations and friends of those innocent young souls are still waiting for justice for their loved ones.
We can all recall those fateful two days in April 2000 when such brutality was unleashed on innocent Gambian 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 13 years since that most dreadful event in the history of The Gambia, yet still, it seems as if it happened yesterday as it is still fresh in the minds of most Gambians, especially those who lost their loved ones and those who are still nursing the wounds of their offspring who 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 match 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.
Therefore, the only way that such naked injustice against the innocent children and indeed the people of this country at large 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.
We can all vividly recall the morning of 10 April 2000 when students in the Greater Banjul Area, under the leadership of the Gambia Students Union (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 security forces about their intention to hold a peaceful procession to vent out their grievances, the responsible authorities, 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.
Apart from the widespread condemnation of the unprovoked shooting to death of the innocent students 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.
However, despite the unanimity of the national and international condemnation of the brutality unleashed on the defenseless Gambian children by the security forces, resulting in the deaths of many and the maiming of some, 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 their families are left with no choice but 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 suffering 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 indeed enough indication that the authorities not only did not have any remorse about what happened, but 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 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 used them as proxies to control the activities of the students and ensure that they (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 ago, 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 concerned 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, and those found culpable for unleashing such brutality on them would finally be brought to book.