One year ago, today – 22/01/2017 – on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa

Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt - image © Helen Jones-Florio
Kairaba Avenue  (‘Pipeline’), The Gambia- – image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

This time last year, we had already been in the Gambia since the beginning of January. We had traveled back down to the small West African country, to document the transition of a 22-year long dictatorship to a democracy. However, because the incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, had rescinded his acceptance of the winning vote, in December 2016 – a week after Gambians had decided enough was enough and voted for Adama Barrow’s coalition government – he was refusing to step down.

Ex-president, Yahya Jammeh, with his ever-present security force ©Jason Florio
Then-president, Yahya Jammeh, with his ever-present security force ©Jason Florio

 

Therefore, the last month of 2016 and into those first few weeks of 2017, Gambia was in a state of flux – the unpredictability of what Jammeh would do next was almost tangible.

“We are so stressed by his (Jammeh’s) refusal to step down,

an old Gambian friend told us, “we are ready for change. He must go”, she went on. Even in the safety of our compound, she still spoke in hushed tones – the ingrained fear of 22-years of autocracy, that someone would over-hear and report her, was still very prevalent.

After much intervention from the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), on January 21st, 2017, Jammeh eventually agreed to leave the country, exiled to Equatorial Guinea (a West African country which is not part of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – therefore, he could not be extradited).

E-Presiden, Yahya Jammeh, leaves the Gambia - 21/1/207 ©Jason Florio
Ex-President, Yahya Jammeh, leaves the Gambia – 21/1/207 ©Jason Florio

 

#GambiaHasDecided!

Meeting people on the streets of Banjul, on the 22nd January 2017, couldn’t have been more different from the quietly uttered words, previously spoken by my friend -‘GAMBIA HAS DECIDED!‘, shouted, triumphantly, at us everywhere we went. And, #GambiaHasDecided t-shirt’s worn proudly and without fear – just one day before most people would not dare to wear them so openly. But, now Gambians knew for certain, the dictator had been flown out of the country.

A chance meeting with an inspiring bunch of people, on the streets of Banjul, Gambia
A chance meeting with an inspiring bunch of people, on the streets of Banjul, Gambia

 

The above group were on the streets of the capital, welcoming back and directing the thousands of Gambians to free transportation, back to their hometowns and villages – those who had fled the country, across the river into neighbouring Senegal and beyond in fear, when Jammeh had refused to step down and ECOWAS troops massed on the border, ready to intervene.

#GambiaHasDecided - Gambian boys wearing their t-shirts for President Barrow Senegal inauguration celebrations, at Westfields junction, in The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
#GambiaHasDecided – President Barrow Senegal inauguration celebrations in The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Thousands of Gambians returning back to the Gambia, the day after ex-president Jammeh is exiled to Equatorial-Guinea ©Jason Florio
Thousands of Gambians returning back to the Gambia, the day after ex-president Jammeh is exiled to Equatorial-Guinea ©Jason Florio

 

In October of 2017, at the invitation of Amnesty International, we spent a month making a documentary of the stories of human rights defenders, activists, and victims of the Jammeh regime – this is the trailer:  ‘We Never Gave up – Stories of Courage in Gambia’.

So much has happened in one short year, and so much more still to be done. Jason Florio and I will no doubt be back down there in the coming months, to carry on where we left off, documenting change in the Gambia. We’ll keep you posted!

 

Helen Jones-Florio

 

Follow us on Instagram @floriotravels / @jasonflorio
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Stories Behind Doors -Mr. Chune’s 14-year-old son was shot dead by Gambian security forces, April 2000

Stories Behind Doors, The Gambia, West Africa - the doorway to Mr. Chune's home. His 14 year old son was shot dead by Gambia security forces April 10th, 2000 © Helen Jones-Florio
#StoriesBehindDoors, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

11 APRIL 2000 – Modou Lamin Chune, 14 years old, was one of 16 young people shot dead by Gambian paramilitary forces (over two days, 10th and 11th April) when they opened fire on a peaceful demonstration by students. At first, they used rubber bullets and tear gas. When the students refused to disperse, live bullets were used.

#StoriesBehindDoors

“My son was amongst the children massacred by Yahya Jammeh’s security forces… he was trying to escape, running with the other students to save their lives, and he was shot dead as he reached the school gates” Mbye Babou Chune

Gambian, Mbye Babou Chune gives his testimony, on camera, about the murder of his 14-year-old-son © Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa.
Mbye Babou Chune talks about the murder of his 14-year-old-son © Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa

“Modou was a brilliant student – the saddest day of my families life…innocent children killed by state guard/paramilitary officers…using live bullets and AK47’s. There was no mistake, it was their intention to kill” Mbye Babou Chune


The protest took place after a 19-year-old secondary school student, Ebrima Barry, who after insulting one of his teachers, was tortured and murdered by firefighters (they, and not the police, who were called to remove the student from the classroom). Along with beating him, the firefighters poured cement in Ebrima’s mouth and forced him to swallow it. They later allowed him to go home but, tragically, Ebrima died the next day as a result of his injuries.

Around the same time, a 13-year-old girl – ‘Binta’ – who was attending a school sports day at the Independence Stadium, was allegedly raped by a uniformed paramilitary officer. A medical examination later confirmed that Binta had been raped. After the two incidents, the Gambia Students Union (GAMSU) requested a permit to hold a public protest, as was their constitutional right. Their request was denied and GAMSU called on its members to take part in a peaceful march from the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI), towards the capital city of Banjul, and Jammeh’s seat of power in the State House. Before the march even began, the police opened fire on the crowd, outside the GTTI.

#Portraits4positivechange

In April 2000, Yusupha was shot in the back by Yahya Jammeh regime forces while attending a protest. He was left paralyzed. Image © Jason Florio
In April 2000, Yusupha was shot in the back by Yahya Jammeh regime forces while attending a protest. Image © Jason Florio

I was not a coward, but Jammeh does not sympathise…if I put pressure on the case (to get justice for his son, and the others who were murdered and injured), I feared I would be ‘eliminated’. My phone was already being tapped by the NIA. This was not fair to the rest of my family…” Mbye Babou Chune


Despite the number of people killed, and many more severely injured – some left paralyzed, for life – then president, Yahya Jammeh’s government suppressed any investigation. Many of the victims’ families were allegedly threatened by the feared National Intelligence Agency (NIA), preventing them from coming forward to make a case. Jammeh’s brutal dictatorship latest 22 years – 1994-2017 (although he was voted out in December 2016, he refused to step down, until he was sent into exile in January 2017).

#GambiaHasDecided

Follow the blog for further updates on our on-going work in the Gambia, and other photography assignments

Helen Jones-Florio

PhotosTellStories

See portraits by Jason Florio, from our on-going series:

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters of a regime



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Jan 26, 2017 – President Adama Barrow returns home to The Gambia, West Africa

Welcome home, Mr. President!

A new era for The Gambia, West Africa

President Adama Barrow, the Republic of The Gambia © Jason Florio
President Adama Barrow smiles at the camera during the four-hour cavalcade from Banjul International Airpor to his home, the Republic of The Gambia © Jason Florio

On this day Jan 26th, 2017

A triumphant and momentous day for The Gambia, West Africa. Ten’s of thousands of euphoric Gambians lined the streets for miles – and miles! (an estimated over 100,000 Gambians flocked the main road) – to welcome home their new president, Adama Barrow. Due to potential security risks, Barrow had briefly exiled himself to neighbouring Senegal, where he was inaugurated at the Gambian Embassy, Dakar.

Gambia's new president, Adama Barrow, at Banjul Airport, The Gambia ©Jason Florio
Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, disembarks at Banjul Airport,The Gambia, after being sworn in in Dakar, Senegal, for security reasons ©Jason Florio
A new era for the Gambia - President Adama Barrow arrives at Banjul Airport, from Dakar, to a monumental reception! ©Helen Jones-Florio
A new era for the Gambia – President Adama Barrow arrives at Banjul Airport, from Dakar, to a monumental reception! ©Helen Jones-Florio

Gambians ware ready for change. Finally, a democracy, after 22-years of the dictatorial rule of Yayha Jammeh.

President Adama Barrow returns to The Gambia, after exile in Senegal - an estimated 100,000 people lined the main roads, to welcome him home © Jason Florio
President Adama Barrow returns to The Gambia, after exile in Senegal – an estimated 100,000 people lined the main roads, to welcome him home © Jason Florio

See more on floriophoto.com‘ #GambiaHasDecided’

#GambiaHasDecided - supporters of the new President Adama Barrow, The Gambia © Jason Florio
#GambiaHasDecided – supporters of the new President Adama Barrow, The Gambia © Jason Florio
A young Gambian man raises the Victory sign, in celebration of the new president, Adama Barrow, Westfields, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
A young Gambian man, wearing a #GambiaHasDecided t-shirt, raises the Victory sign, in celebration of the new president, Adama Barrow, Westfields, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

Watch our new documentary, in full,

made for Amnesty International

We Never Gave Up – Stories of Courage in Gambia‘ on Vimeo

Instagram @floriotravels / @jasonflorio

Gambian celebrate the return home of their new president, Adama Barrow ©Helen Jones-Florio
Instagram – Gambian woman celebrate the return home of their new president, Adama Barrow ©Helen Jones-Florio

Gambian celebrate the return home of their new president, Adama Barrow ©Helen Jones-Florio

Instagram – Gambians celebrate the return home of their new president, Adama Barrow ©Helen Jones-Florio

_________

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2019 – Currently working on ‘Gambia – Victims and Resisters of a Regime#Portraits4PositiveChange

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Photo of the Day – ‘The Hunting’ traditional masquerades, The Gambia © Jason Florio

'The Hunting' traditional masquerades, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio photography
‘The Hunting’ traditional masquerades, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio.

 

Aside from the more serious element to our work – particularly, what we are working on at the moment, ‘Gambia – Victims and Resisters of a Regime#Portraits4PositiveChange – we have also been working on another long-term series of the traditional masquerades of The Gambia.

Although the Gambia is a predominantly Muslim country, the animist-fuelled masquerade ceremonies pre-date the arrival of Islam and are still tolerated and practiced around the country. Animism is an intriguing subject – the belief that animals and inanimate objects, such as trees, possess a soul, or a spiritual essence.

Also, the juxtaposition between the urban environment and these ancient traditions is fascinating – just like ‘The Hunting’, pictured, in the concrete and corrugated iron enclave of a compound in the capital city of Banjul.

Jason Florio photographs 'The Hunting', traditional masquerades, Banjul, Gambia - Image © Helen Jones-Florio
Jason Florio photographs ‘The Hunting’, traditional masquerades, Banjul, Gambia – Image © Helen Jones-Florio @floriotravels/Instagram.

 

Whether it be a circumcision ceremony, celebrating a successful harvest, chasing away evil spirits, enforcing village rules, or simply for entertainment, each particular masquerade plays a central and significant role in many parts of West African society.

'Fairies' traditional masquerades, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio photography
‘Fairies’ traditional masquerades, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

 

Most of the masquerades we’ve seen so far are based on animals. However, the traditions are being hauled into the 21st century, modernised by the use of synthetic fabrics and ornaments, such as Christmas tree baubles, adorning ‘new-style’ masquerades. However, more on those particular masquerades as we move on with the long-term project (sneak preview, below).

Helen Jones- Florio & Jason Florio.

Photographers, Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa selfie
Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia

 

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