By Mustapha Jallow and Kebba Mamburay
Tension has eased in Busumbala after 24 hours of violence and mayhem which ended on Thursday evening during which residents mainly youths took charge of the highway.
On Thursday, after the lowering of tension, a delegation from the government mostly security heads arrived in Busumbala led by the security adviser. Addressing the elders and young people of Busumbala, the National Security Adviser Momodou Badjie said the new Gambia needs no political disorder or any such political fracas.
He said that he does not envisage “the reoccurrence of such in Busumbala and the entire Gambia at large, this will be the last and all culprits shall be dealt with by law. There will be no stone left unturned; I will make sure all matters are solved peacefully and amicably.”
The Deputy Chief of Defense Staff (DCDS), Major General Yankuba Drammeh, gave a few words on the incident, adding that it is in their utmost interest to ensure that stability and peace prevails in The Gambia. He further said, once a conflict occurs, everybody could fall a victim, directly or indirectly as every Gambian is inter-related.
Colonel Maguet Ndiaye, the commander of ECOMIG, noted that “what happened in Busumbala is outside the boundary of democracy. He added that they are here to maintain peace in the Gambia.”
As of Friday 12 January 2018, most business activities have been going on as usual; local markets, mini markets and shops have reopened, both commercial and private vehicles are plying freely on Westfield-Brikama highway.
Some residents could be seen in groups in the streets chatting and brewing green tea (‘ataya’) while others were busy or relaxing at home.
There was a little presence of military officers in the street around the main market of Busumbala with barriers erected serving as checkpoints.
The commanding officer at the checkpoint told reporters that they have taken control and everything is calm.
GAF spokesman, Major Lamin K. Sanyang shed light on the deployment of the military in the streets. ‘‘The presence of the military was just to calm the situation in Busumbala as we have reports that they may attack again. But that’s a temporal measure. If the situation remains calm we will ask our troops to return to Barracks. “Even in Sibanor we deployed some troops to patrol the area,’’ he said.
RESIDENTS AND BUSINESS PERSONS NARRATE THEIR ORDEAL
Ousman Bah and Alieu Bah, shopkeepers, explained that they had to close their shops and leave for home very early as anything can happen to their lives.
The Shopkeepers said: “We have to run for our lives because this was a dangerous moment as you can get killed by these angry boys,’’ they remarked. ‘‘Thank God things finally returned to normalcy. We think right now everyone should forgive and just focus on the country’s development and economic growth.’’
Van-driver Lamin Saidykhan said,‘‘It was a nightmare. At first, I thought a rebel group took control of Busumbala streets because seeing young men with red bands on their heads brandishing cutlasses is indeed very scary.’’
He said he was lucky that his van was not damaged and those travelling on board were not beaten.
“On my way to Serekunda I saw a vehicle’s back screen being broken. Some of the passengers going to Brikama were stranded. But I’m thankful that things returned to normal. Let us remain as one Gambia and continue to maintain peace for the progress of our children,’’ he said.
He also urged the people of Busumbala to remain as a peaceful community and stop insults, ethnic profiling and politics of division, among others, which can cause division in this small country.
He concluded: ‘‘Parking our vehicles for days would not help one to survive, neither the country.’’
Aji Awa NJie, a local market vendor said as the tension built up and young people started brandishing cutlasses and throwing stones, she quickly packed the vegetables she was selling and fled.
She said on Thursday morning there was a lot of stone throwing and the youths were yelling at the police.
“It was a hard time for us (vendors) and I plead with the boys not to repeat this again because it would be of no use at all as we rely on our petty businesses in order to feed our families,’’ said Mrs. Njie.
GENESIS OF THE EVENTS
On 10 January 2018, Foroyaa was alerted to the evolving tension brewing in Busumbala as the APRC convoy moved along the highway towards Serrekunda. Different stories were given. These reporters witnessed the occupation of a long strip of the highway and the burning of tyres, the breaking of glasses and throwing of stones to restrict any movement of persons or vehicles without authorization by a large congregation of young people wearing red head bands.
On the 11 January, these reporters had to continue to monitor the tense situation which made many residents of Busumbala sleepless. On the night of the 10th the youth were in full control and mounted check points, stop and search vehicles, pull out any passenger wearing an APRC T-shirt or apparel and punishing drivers who allow them on board their transports by breaking their wind screens. However on the 11th the security forces with riot gears and fire arms were in full force and determined to quell the force put up by the youths. A group of personnel of the Police Intervention Unit was redeployed to control the agitated youth who were throwing rocks, burning tyres in the streets and breaking screens of vehicles.
Officers could be seen firing bullets in the air to disperse angry occupiers of the road and chasing them.
The crowd of mostly young men and women threw rocks at the security officers. After a long stand-off without the youth dispersing the armed PIU personnel used tear gas canisters and AK47 bullets to disperse the crowd. No vehicle was allowed to use the highway to go to Brikama or Serekunda; they were diverted.
As the tension heightened, one of the heads of PIU could be heard with megaphone saying, “Leave now, as we are going to use force against you.” Other junior officers were heard saying “Let us use our AK47 to kill all of them.” Immediately after the senior officer issued the warning, these reporters witnessed the chasing, beating, injuring and arresting of some youth.
Some angry men staying at the imam’s home were seen insulting officers which led officers to attack, beat and throw tear gas canisters in the compound. Some had emerged from their homes to throw rocks at the security forces.
18-year-old and native of Busumbala, Ousman Ceesay, sustained gunshot injury on the right shoulder. He was rescued and rushed to the Brikama Health Centre by his peers. Visiting the hospital Ceesay and a young lady-Haddy Ceesay were seen admitted and nurses were busy administering drips on them. Both were in comma and were later referred to Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital at about 4pm.
Three men injured on their head were also seen on board a PIU pick up heading towards Serekunda while three others were briefly held in a PIU truck and later released leading to jubilation by their colleagues. Another senior PIU officer was heard at the height the tension, commanding all those with AK47 Rifles to alight from the truck and start shooting anyone who insists on not vacating the place if they did not value their lives. They severely beat a young man and then arrested two boys.
OPINIONS ON THE CAUSES OF THE VIOLENCE
As to how this all happened depends on who you speak to.
On what caused the tension, police spokesperson Suprinanaent David Kujabi said they have not yet come to conclusion as investigation is still on and that he couldn’t make further comment.
One of the rioters, Ousman Saidy said the APRC supporters attacked the parliamentarian of Busumbala Constituency on Wednesday night in their meeting Hall and started beating, stoning and harassing them and setting the shop of one Sirakata Fatty on fire. ‘‘This is a threat to us,’’ he said.
According to Bua Fofana, a victim, the incident came as a surprise to him on Wednesday around 6:45PM. He said the supporters of APRC were passing in their long convoy and all of a sudden they entered in the compound of the Imam Ratib of Busumbala, where a naming ceremony was being held; then they started stoning, breaking doors and window glasses and beating them with canes severely. Some he said had to jump over fences to escape.
According to him, “Many got injured, including the cooks of the ceremony.’’.
On the other hand, Sainabou Jarju and Bakary Cham, both APRC supporters said that they were provoked by a group of men in Busumbala who insulted their parents and not only that but threw stones at them. They lamented: “They first attacked us and then our people could not hold their tempers any more. They injured 5 of our supporters and some are still hospitalized.” They indicated that the country belongs to all.
The claims and counter claims are many. For example some have talked about an Imam’s compound being raided by members of the APRC while others talk about tear gas canisters being thrown by the PIU in the compound. In another incident one victim, Barrow spoke about the arrival of the APRC convoy and the assault on him by a man with a red band on his head to pull him from the chair he was seated on and taking the chair away together with two others.
Corroboration is necessary to establish facts. The police should therefore be left alone to carry out their investigation and tell the nation what actually happened in Busumbala and environ. We hope the lessons will bar any recurrence.