From Faraba to Tanene; Diya to Jambur; and from Gunjur/Berending to now Sukuta/Salaji; Kombo is full of flashpoints and the land issue is headed in one direction only, unless the government acts with prudence.
As alarming as the prospects may seem, we need to face reality and admit that unrest came about in many places for far less. Land disputes are the surest way to foment strife in any given community and as we have seen, lives have already been lost in skirmishes over land issues. The land issue between Madina and Taibatou in Wuli has been marred by sporadic violence leading to local communities pleading with the government to intervene in order to avoid bloodshed.
But sadly, the corruption within the Barrow administration knows no bounds and the glaring ineptitude and lack of concern from the Barrow administration is nudging us further down the path to civil strife. Throw claims of “tribalism” into the mix of an already charged situation each time land disputes are had and you have a perfect brew conducive for sustained civil strife.
As I pen this article, the Chinese are given a free hand to ruin pristine beaches, destroy wildlife habitats and pollute surrounding water resources along the Gunjur coastline in the name of operating a fish meal factory that is ruining the economic life of artisanal fishermen while depleting the main source of nutrition for locals.
Disregarding the traditional land tenure system in the country and doling out land without regard to existing rights over such lands will be doing a grave injustice to the traditional owners of such lands leaving embittered communities in its wake.
There was no structured centralized planning for land ownership and any people who originally settled a specific geographic region lay claim to much of the land around that area which they use for farming and other purposes. Those who join them later get granted similar rights with lands to settle and farm, the only reward that the original settlers seek is expansion of the community and prosperity, no financial cost to the newcomers or gain to the original settlers. This has been the norm for centuries and still obtains in many places across the country.
We can argue the merits or unfairness of such land tenure systems and seek more prudent ways of land tenure, but disregarding the current tenure for want of modernization poses a grave danger to communities. A people dispossessed of their lands, especially lands used for feeding their families and for income generation have nothing more to lose, and that is a dangerous prospect. One country invading another country may be easy to deal with; but citizens rising up against each other in civil strife are near impossible for any state to manage before too much damage is done.
This is where we are as a country with flashpoints across the entire length of a country unfortunately saddled with a government completely unbothered by events unfolding before its eyes. In fact, we can be so bold as to claim that they purposely trigger such events with their corrupt disregard for fairness, justice and prudent management of land resources and the attendant conflicts of interest.
The much touted land reform commission that was supposed to be high on the agenda of the new administration is completely useless with no footprints in the direction of reform. The same corrupt practices that prevailed under the tyrant are still the norm. Officials of the lands ministry who are supposed to be in charge of the task of reform engage in a sort of insider trading, selling prime land to their cronies and those willing to bribe them while dispossessing communities of lands that have been with the family/clan for hundreds of years with zero compensation.
Land demarcation to cater to farming, housing, industry, recreation etc. is still non-existent leading to conflict, poor planning, inaccessible communities and rapid loss of fertile lands to unsuitable purposes. But even if we have a Lands Commission competently manned and coming up with very intelligent recommendations, who is to say that the current administration will implement such recommendations?
All of the reform items laid out to be executed during this transition period have completely failed; the latest victim being the Constitutional Review Commission’s recommendations. After expending millions of borrowed funds for effective nationwide consultations, the final draft is already under threat of not being adopted because the current cabinet is concerned only for the continuation of their tenure overseen by a president they can play like a ball while he sleeps at the wheel to the collective detriment of current and generations unborn.
There is not much to expect from a Land’s commission because before the Constitutional Review Commission’s draft was submitted, there was the Economic Commission’s report that was an entirely wasted effort as none of the recommendations of consequence were adopted and the same corrupt individuals and corporations recommended for reprimand are instead rewarded with exactly the same positions they used to fleece our poor folks of billions.
The incident in Faraba that saw three young lives lost as a result of corporate abuse of their lands led to the setting up of a commission of inquiry, going on three years now, nothing has come of the commission’s report and still the Land’s Commission is lost in the woods. The same is true of the commission set up to look into the human rights violations of the past regime. Although their work is still ongoing, all indications are that none of its recommendations will be implemented as people adversely mentioned for gross rights violations including torture and killings are still serving on the high council of the new wannabe king. The evidences are too numerous to mention.
So it is no surprise that instead of addressing the concerns of the aggrieved land owners, the government uses the state machinery to arrest and throw them in jail as we saw in the latest case that erupted in Sukuta. The same intimidation and oppressive tactics of the deposed tyrant are being used to perpetuate the same corrupt regime that the citizens mustered the courage to oust. But what do we expect if the same rotten souls are the ones advising the president who was supposed to change the status quo? A president too consumed with his own self succession plans to care about the failings of his administration.
Unfortunately for him, Gambians gave too much to let their efforts go to waste, never will we allow a despotic regime to preside over our affairs ever again, at least not so soon after repelling the vilest of tyrants to have ever graced our region.
So President Barrow better wake up and feel the pulse of the nation. Seeing people in live videos swearing they will lay down their lives if that is what it takes to defend their rights to the land is evidence of a population at breaking point after enduring over two decades of oppression. The time to act has been long overdue and further delay only ensures that the powder keg sparks and blows in all of our faces.