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 However, because the incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, had rescinded his acceptance of the winning vote, in December 2016 – a week after Gambians had decided enough was enough and voted for Adama Barrow’s coalition government –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

 

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Back in The Gambia, West Africa – images ©Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

A recap, from The Gambia, West Africa – April 2018

Street Life, Serrekunda, The Gambia- young girls playing ©Helen Jones-Florio
Street life, Serrekunda, The Gambia ©Helen Jones-Florio
Here we are, back in our second home…

As ever, there are lots to see and do – and, a little time out from work to reconnect and celebrate with old friends

Black and white, Samba and Fatou's wedding celebrations, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio
Samba and Fatou’s wedding celebrations, The Gambia © Jason Florio

 

And, of course, there is always the #9 pack…

 

Wolf, one of a pack of stray Gambian dogs, from the beach ©Helen Jones-Florio
‘Wolf’, one of the many waifs and strays who come to the compound for food, shelter, and a little pampering from us – Gambian dogs ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Peaceful marches…

Connected to what we were up to last year, early on in the year and later in November, we headed over to Serrekunda and joined in on the Solo Sandeng Memorial March, April 14th, 2018, which took place to commemorate the prominent activist – of the opposition party, UDP, and youth leader –  and other victims. Sandeng was murdered whilst in custody on this day in 2016, under the old dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh. His death sparked a national outcry and the beginning of the end of Jammeh’s brutal rule – Gambians had decided that enough was enough. Saturday’s march would never have been possible under the former regime, without there blood being shed and/or lives lost

Solo Sandeng Memorial March, Gambia, West Africa ©Helen Jones-Florio
Solo Sandeng Memorial March, The Gambia, West Africa ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Images from the Memorial March for murdered UDP activist, Solo Sandeng, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio
Memorial March for murdered UDP activist, Solo Sandeng, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio
Memorial March for murdered UDP activist, Solo Sandeng, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Memorial March for murdered UDP activist, Solo Sandeng, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Photographer and documentary film maker, Jason Florio at work, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Photographer and documentary filmmaker, Jason Florio at work, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

 

On Monday, 16th April, we headed over to the capital of The Gambia, Banjul, to join a peaceful vigil by families of victims of Yahya Jammeh‘s regime, to demand that the Gambian government release the bodies of exhumed victims, and to open a dialogue with the families to help keep them informed of what they are doing to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Mr Njie during a vigil, in Banjul, for victims of the Jammeh regime holding a picture of his nephew Nyass who was killed during an attempted coup in 2014 to bring down the dictatorship, Gambia © Jason Florio
Mr. Njie during a vigil, in Banjul, for victims of the Jammeh regime holding a picture of his nephew Nyass who was killed during an attempted coup in 2014 to bring down the dictatorship © Jason Florio.

 

A peaceful vigil by families of victims of Yahya Jammeh's regime, holding placards of their missing family members, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
A peaceful vigil by families of victims of Yahya Jammeh’s regime, holding pictures of their ‘disappeared’ loved ones © Helen Jones-Florio
A peaceful vigil by families of victims of Yahya Jammeh's regime © Helen Jones-Florio
A peaceful vigil by families of victims of Yahya Jammeh’s regime, Banjul, Gambia, with a police escort © Helen Jones-Florio.

 

We are looking forward to the next few weeks, here in The Gambia, to see what else our journey presents to us… feel free to follow us

@floriotravels / @jasonflorio

on Instagram – for regular photo updates.

Helen Jones-Florio

Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa
Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa, Nov 2017

 

 

 

One year ago, today: 26th Jan, 2017 – The new president of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, returns home

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

 

Jan 26th, 2017: A triumphant and momentous day for The Gambia, West Africa. Hundreds of thousands of euphoric Gambians lined the streets for miles – and miles! – to welcome home their new president, Adama Barrow. (Due to potential security risks, Barrow had 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

See the trailer for our new documentary, made for Amnesty International

 ‘We Never Gave Up – Stories of Courage in Gambia

Documentary for Amnesty International - press release
‘We Never Gave Up – stories of courage in Gambia’ Documentary for Amnesty International – press release
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

#ThrowbackSaturday: 30th December, 2014 – attempted coup, The Gambia, West Africa

 

Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt - image © Helen Jones-Florio
Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt – image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

In 2014, Jason Florio and I were living in the small West African country of The Gambia, when we were woken by an early morning phone call, on 30th December, from a Gambian friend who advised us to ‘stay off the streets’ as the sound of gunfire had been reported, coming from the vicinity of the State House, in Banjul – the then President Yahya Jammeh’s seat of autocratic power – and talk of an attempted coup.

Not ones to miss out on the action, we got into our truck, cameras in hand, and drove around the unusually deserted streets. It was unnerving, to say the least, to see one of the main streets, Kairaba ‘Pipeline‘ Avenue – which is always teeming with people, traffic-laden, and noisy – virtually empty.

Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt - image © Helen Jones-Florio
Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt – image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

The conspirators were from different parts of the US and several may never have even met in person. A few had lived in the US for decades; a coup participant who was later killed in an attempted raid on the seat of government in the capital of Banjul on Dec. 30, 2014 had served in Iraq as a platoon leader with the Kentucky National Guard.‘ Read more: Business Insider

 

IRIN NEWS ‘2017: A year of humanitarian crises in photos’ – images ©Jason Florio

IRIN NEWS - a rubber dinghy, packed with over 120 migrants and refugees, in the Mediterranean Sea - image ©Jason Florio/MOAS
IRIN NEWS – a rubber dinghy, packed with over 120 migrants and refugees – image ©Jason Florio/MOAS

 

IRIN NEWS

‘2017: A year of humanitarian crises in photos’

IRIN NEWS - Ibrima Gaye, 17, from Gambia, on board the MOAS rescue ship 'Phoenix' as he waits to be disembarked at the port of Pozzallo in Sicily ©Jason Florio
IRIN NEWS – A young Gambian boy, on board the MOAS rescue ship ‘Phoenix’ as he waits to be disembarked at the port of Pozzallo in Sicily ©Jason Florio/MOAS

 

IRIN NEWS - The Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Banjul after his makeshift inauguration in neighbouring Senegal at the end of January. Image ©Jason Florio
IRIN NEWS – The Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Banjul after his makeshift inauguration in neighbouring Senegal at the end of January. Image ©Jason Florio    

 

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Gone too soon. R.I.P. Simon Fenton – husband, father, author, adventurer… .JustGiving

Simon (R.I.P.) with his wife, Khady and children, Gulliver and Alfie - JustGiving campaign
Simon (R.I.P.) with his wife, Khady, and their children, Gulliver and Alfie – JustGiving campaign   

Two months to the day, after sharing a couple of Julebrews, we said au revoir, at Banjul airport, “see you in a couple of months“, to Simon Fenton (he was there to meet his family, coming from the UK, off the flight we were about to depart The Gambia on), we received a call, on Friday 26th May, one of those calls…, tragically Simon had died as the result of a car crash, just a few short hours before, in Senegal.

Simon was a fellow Brit and West Africaphile, writer, adventurer, guide, lodge owner, husband, to Khady, and father to two beautiful young boys – Gulliver and Alfie.

He truly was one of those wonderful human beings, who really lived his dreams, with his huge infectious smile and boundless excitement about life. Anyone who was fortunate to know Simon will pay testament to this.

For those of you that did not have the pleasure of meeting him – then, thankfully, he left two great books behind about his life in Africa… ‘Squirting Milk at Chameleons‘ and ‘Chasing Hornbills: Up to My Neck in Africa‘.

If you are able to contribute to the JustGiving page (any amount will be gratefully appreciated): ‘All donations go directly to his brother and sister-in-law’s account and will be used to cover some of the hospital costs incurred during his all-too-brief treatment, transport costs and his funeral costs in Abene, Senegal. Anything left over will be to support his wife, Khady, and their two young boys.’ Mike Webster/JustGiving

Sending much love, condolences, and support to Khady, Gulliver, Alfie, and all of Simon’s family.

Rest in peace, mate, we miss you already.

Helen & Flo 

With Simon, Khady, Gulliver & Alfie, at the Little Baobab, Abene, Casamance, Senegal
With Simon, Khady, Gulliver & Alfie, at the Little Baobab, Abene, Casamance, Senegal

To see more of what Simon’s life in West Africa was all about, check out his wonderfully descriptive blog and travel images on his Instagram page.

Press: photographing repatriated Gambians for IRIN News – images © Jason Florio

Mohammed - repatriated Gambian from Libya, by IOM - image © Jason Florio
IRIN News – Mohammed – one of 140 Gambians who was repatriated from Libya by IOM- image © Jason Florio   

 

Repatriated Gambian, Mohammed, with his uncle, Alieu, The Gambia ©Jason Florio
Repatriated Gambian, Mohammed, with his uncle, Alieu, The Gambia ©Jason Florio

 

‘Just two weeks earlier, he was languishing in a prison near Tripoli; his third spell in detention during the nine months he spent in Libya trying to board a boat to cross the Mediterranean…’ read more at IRIN News – words by Louise Hunt + additional reporting from Banjul by Jason Florio
Jason Florio photographing repatriated Gambian, Mohammed, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Jason Florio photographing repatriated Gambian, Mohammed, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

YOUTUBE: River Gambia – source-sea 1044km African Odyssey ©Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

We can’t promote this beautiful tiny West African country enough – after all the turmoil The Gambia has experienced. In particular, recently. Following, is from our extensive archive of travels and adventures, in and around the country:

We did it! We completed the River Gambia Expedition23rd November 2012 – 21st January 2013 – after almost 400km overland in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea-Conakry into Senegal and then putting our two canoes into the water in Kedougou – we paddled (no engine!) over 700km of the River Gambia to its end, at the Atlantic Ocean in Banjul, The Gambia.

During our travels, we bounced and rattled down the mountains of the Fouta Djallon on the back of motorcycle taxis; hung out with gold miners in Senegal; drank attayah tea with village chiefs and elders; dodged very angry hippos on the River Gambia; and, as we paddled on the increasingly widening ocean-like river, we battled the wind and waves, as we neared the Atlantic Ocean and the end of our journey…’ see more on the River Gambia Expedition blog

#LoveGambia

Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio

Co-expedition leaders/Photographers

_____________

You may also be interested in ‘A Short Walk in the African Bush – 930km African odyssey‘. We walked around The Gambia, completely by foot – ‘bi tamala singo lah

'Silfando' Village chief, Herouna Tunkara and his horse ©Jason Florio
‘Silafando’ Village chief, Herouna Tunkara and his horse © Jason Florio

#GambiaHasDecided

 

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Image © Jason Florio – Ex-President Yahya Jammeh leaving The Gambia to fly into exile in Guinea

 

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Image ©Helen Jones-Florio – Ex-President Yahya Jammeh leaving The Gambia to fly into exile in Guinea

 

 

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Image ©Jason Florio – Waiting for Jammeh – Press Gang, Yundum/Banjul Airport, The Gambia

 

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Home: Donating the Gambian village chiefs exhibition to the National Centre for Arts & Culture

The handing over of the Gambian village chiefs - the Alkalo's - to Hassoum Ceesay, of the National Centre for Arts and Culture, The Gambia, West Africa
L-R: Jason Florio, Hassoum Ceesay (NCAC), Helen Jones-Florio (‘White Tip’ dog) – the handing over of the Gambian village chiefs – the Alkalo’s – to Hassoum Ceesay, of the National Centre for Arts and Culture, The Gambia, West Africa

 

What goes around: On our most recent trip down to The Gambia, West Africa, we were excited to be able to donate Jason Florio’s award-winning portraits of Gambian village chiefs and elders, ‘Silafando: a gift to you on behalf of my journey‘ to the National Centre for Arts & Culture, in The Gambia.

In April last year, we exhibited the portraits in The Gambia (with huge thanks to the organizers of the Athens Photo Festival, where Florio was invited to exhibit this series, in 2013, for shipping the prints all the way from Greece to West Africa!), which were taken during our 930km walk around one of Africa’s smallest mainland countries, in 2009.

 

Silafando exhibition, Gaya, The Gambia
Opening Night at Gaya Arts Café: Lamin, Abdou & Ebou (2nd & 3rd from left – who were our River Gambia Expedition team mates), Helen, Florio, Sarjo (Abdou’s daughter), and Samba Leigh (who was on the 930km walk) – Gaya Art Cafe exhibition opening

 

Packing the Prints
‘Lion’ dog oversees the packing of the prints, with Florio & Hassoum. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

'Lion' overseeIMG_3761
The packing is complete and approved (by ‘Lion’) . Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

 

Handshake and thanks, Florio & Hassoum
Florio and Hassoum shake hands. The village chief exhibition on route to the National Centre for Arts & Culture, in Banjul, The Gambia. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

In the coming months, once we hear back from Hassoum, Baba Ceesay, and all at the NCAC, we’ll be posting more news as to where the portraits will eventually be housed and exhibited, in their permenant collection, in The Gambia next.

Helen Jones-Florio