Looking back: A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush, 930km African Odyssey

Chief Jara Sowe and photographer, Jason Florio, The Gambia, West Africa ©Helen Jones-Florio 2009

A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush –

930km African Odyssey

Throughout November and December 2009 Expedition: The first-ever circumnavigation, completely by foot, of The Gambia, West Africa by award-winning photojournalist & filmmaker, Jason Florio, and photography producer, Helen Jones-Florio, three Gambians, two donkeys, and a cart!

Along the way, Jason shot what have become award-winning, internationally exhibited, portraits of the traditional village chiefs – the Alkalo – and elders

‘Silafando – a gift to you on behalf of my journey

The following exert is from the expedition blog, ‘930km African odyssey’ – words by Helen Jones-Florio:

Despite turning up unannounced, at the end of a long day of walking, each village that we approached kindly permitted our raggle-taggle, road-weary team to pitch our small camp. This generous acceptance was mainly due to the fact that we used the age-old tradition and protocol for approaching the Alkalo’s – by offering them ‘Silafando’

Gambian village chief and his brother - portraits ©Jason Florio
L-R Samba Sowe (Alkalo’s brother)- farmer Alkalo Jare Sowe, Felling Koto The Gambia, West Africa ©Jason Florio

The story behind the black backdrop

In The Gambia, as in other regions in West Africa, when approaching a village as a stranger and/or traveler and you are asking something from them – such as shelter for the night – it is customary for you to give a ‘silafando’ (roughly translating as ‘a present on behalf of my journey’) of kola nuts, to the chief, which he then shares with the elders.  Once accepted, you are warmly welcomed into the village and everyone knows that you are there as a guest of the Alkalo. This, in turn, guarantees that you are treated with respect as strangers in the village during your stay. And, if anyone were to disrespect that, then they would have the Alkalo to answer to and the shame that this disrespect brings on the family.

A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush –

930km African Odyssey

We met many Alkalo’s on our 6-week journey as we traversed first the length of South Bank, to the country’s furthest easterly point on the border of Senegal, then crossing the River Gambia (which was to form an integral part of a future expedition) we walked the length of the North Bank, before crossing back over the river on the Barra to Banjul ferry to make our way back to where we began the walk.

On the Barra to Banjul ferry, a very tired Short Walk expedition team: Helen, Momadou, Samba, and Jason (and the donkeys, ‘Neil and Phadley). Photo by expedition team member, Janneh.
Helen films the team leaving Makasutu Culture Forest, where the Short Walk in the Gambian Bush Expedition began. Image © Jason Florio

Read/see more images about the expedition on our dedicated blog: 930kmAfricanOdyssey.

Related: River Gambia – 1044km source-sea African odyssey Expedition

Young men on a float taking a generator to a banana plantation on the River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio
Image © Jason Florio – young men taking a generator on a raft to a nearby banana plantation, River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa

__________

Available for assignments & for image licensing – Contact here

 @jasonflorio / @floriotravels / @doors.helenjonesflorio / 

@jasonflorio.photographyprints – Instagram

Jason Florio – Vimeo / floriotravels – Vimeo

floriophotoNYC – Twitter

PhotoTellStories – FB

The Gambia – Portraits of Victims and the TRRC update, July 2019

Ya Mammie Ceesay & Alhajie Ceesay, The Gambia ©Jason Florio

First and foremost, in light of the shocking and distressing revelations coming out of the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in The Gambia over the past couple of days, we would like to extend our love and healing thoughts to all of the families who have listened to the testimonies of two men, Lieutenant Malik Jatta, and Omar Jallow (AKA Oya) – who were members of the ex-president, Yahya Jammeh’s assassination squad, ‘The Junglers’ – confess, often in explicit detail, their involvement in multiple killings on the command ex-president Yahya Jammeh; namely, the attendant families loved ones. And, particularly pertinent to our on-going series of portraits and filming testimonies:

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters of a regime’

Excerpt from our recording with Ya Mammie Ceesay & Alhajie Ceesay, mother and father of disappeared Gambian-American businessman, Alhaji Mamut Ceesay: Alhaji returned to The Gambia in 2013 with his friend Ebou Jobe to set up a business, but they were allegedly robbed of their money by National Intelligence Agency (NIA) heads, who later told President Jammeh the businessmen were in The Gambia to overthrow his regime. The two were then allegedly murdered on Jammeh’s command. Much to the family’s dismay, their bodies have never been found.

Gambia - victims and resisters: portrait of Ya Mammie Ceesay whose son was murdered by the former regime of Yahya Jammeh ©Jason Florio
Ya Mammie Ceesay, The Gambia ©Jason Florio

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: “We covered them up with plastic bags and strangled them until they die and because Yahya Jammeh has given orders that we cut them into pieces, Malick Manga and Fansu Nyabally cut off the heads of Ebou and Mamud. After completing the digging, we put them in the ditch and we returned to Kanilai,” he said.

These are just a few of the portraits which we have been working on over the last few years, from the on-going series ‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’. However, all of the people featured here (aside from Imam Baba Leigh) have spent years of anguish, hearing only rumours about what may have happened to their loved ones. Everyone who sat for a portrait graciously allowed us to film them sharing their stories with us – openly and candidly. All of which, without exception, were profoundly heart-rending to hear. The common thread throughout was their utmost need to know the truth of what had truly happened to those who had been disappeared or murdered. And, to find out the whereabouts of their loved ones remains so that they can finally lay them to rest. Only then can the healing process truly begin. Sadly, as events unfold, it is now known that many of the bodies were thrown into wells or buried in unmarked graves.

A man wears a t-shirt with a photo of murdered newspaper editor and journalist, Dedyra Hydara, who was assassinated in 2004 ©Jason Florio

Deyda Hydara, co-founder of The Point newspaper was an advocate of press freedom and a fierce critic of the government of President Yahya Jammeh, who was openly hostile to journalists and the media. On December 14, 2004, he was assassinated in his car by gunmen as he was driving home. Two of his colleagues who were also with him were injured in the shooting 

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019: It took 15 years to have a concrete answer to the question: “Who Killed Deyda Hydara?” displayed on The Point newspaper front page banner since 2004. Lt. Malick Jatta of The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) and ex-Jungler testifies: “I shot at him… my colleagues Alieu Jeng and Sana Manjang also fired,” he said at the TRRC, noting that they were all quiet throughout their journey back to Kanilai without a single stop. The witness added that he only came to know in the following day that the person shot was actually Deyda Hydara.

'Gambia - victims and resisters' : portrait of Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh - mother and son of murdered 'brother' of Yahya Jammeh, Haruna Jammeh ©Jason Florio
Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh ©Jason Florio

#Portraits4PositiveChange

Excerpt from our recording with Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh, wife and son of Haruna Jammeh: President Jammeh allegedly ordered the murder of his cousin (‘brother’), Haruna, after he criticized Jammeh for his abuse of power. Haruna’s sister, Massie, was murdered soon after by Jammeh’s henchmen after she spoke out about her brother’s disappearance. A former member of Jammeh’s hit squad, the ‘Junglers’ now in Germany spoke openly on a Gambian radio station about witnessing the murders.

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: ‘On Haruna Jammeh’s death, Jungler Jallow said Haruna was arrested and detained at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) where he (Jallow), Sana Manjang, Alieu Jeng and Solo Bojang picked him and took him to Kanilai. “On our way to Kanilai, we drove through the bush and Sana Manjang brought out a rope and asked me and Alieu Jeng to tie it on Haruna’s neck. We did and he asked us to pull the rope, which we did, and he (Sana) stamped him on his neck and he died.” He further confessed that Haruna was their friend and they used to eat with him in his house, adding the order was from Yahya Jammeh’ The Point newspaper.

Later, when asked what they did with Haruna’s body, Jallow replied: “We took the body to the same well where these Ghanaians were killed. We took him to that well and threw him there,”

Gambia - victims and resisters: portrait of Bintu Tunkara, daughter of murdered Gambian Lamin Tunkara, holding the only photo she has of him on her mothers cell phone ©Jason Florio
Bintu Tunkara ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Bintu’s mother, Adama Conteh: 13-year-old Bintu, holding her mother’s phone with a photo of her father of Lamin Tunkara – the father she never got the chance to meet. Gambian, Tunkara, was murdered in July 2005 when Adama was 7 months pregnant, with Bintu. They had been married for less than a year. When Lamin first went missing, Adama said “I  searched everywhere – Mile 2 prison, other prisons, police stations, NIA... they warned me to “go home if you do not want any trouble…stay, and you will have trouble”. I did not eat or wash for one week…he (Lamin) loved me, he took care of me.” She searched for over 1 year. ” Despite the many rumours, “I would not accept, nor would his father, that his son, my husband was dead“. 

It later transpired that Lamin was part of a group of almost 50 Ghanaians and other West African migrants bound for Europe who was arrested and slaughtered by the Gambian security forces. There was one sole survivor, Martin Kyere, who has now come forward to testify. “The West African migrants weren’t murdered by rogue elements, but by a paramilitary death squad taking orders from Gambia’s President Jammeh,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Jammeh’s subordinates then destroyed key evidence to prevent international investigators from learning the truth.”

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Corporal Omar A. Jallow testifies: “We were told they were mercenaries,” Jatta said, adding that he shot and killed one of the migrants. “I heard people shouting in the forest saying ‘save us, Jesus.’” Jallow told the TRRC that Lt Col Solo Bojang, the leader of the operation, told the men that “the order from Yahya Jammeh is that they are all to be executed.” It is believed that Lamin Tunkara was amongst the Ghanaians, Nigerians, Togolese, and Ivory Coast nationals were unlawfully killed. 

#Jammeh2Justice

Imam Baba Leigh, disappeared, held prisoner and tortured by Yahya Jammeh regime, The Gambia ©jason florio
Imam Baba Leigh ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Imam Baba Leigh: The imam spoke out against President Jammeh’s proposed execution of multiple prisoners. Leigh was then abducted and tortured, on Jammeh’s orders, and ‘disappeared’ for five months, before being released without charge. ‘Today is the day you die (he said that during his imprisonment he was threatened with death on multiple occasions)… they made me dig a big hole which I was then told to get into. “This is your grave,” they said…and then they buried me up to my neck’ IBL

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: “I participated in the torture of Imam Baba Leigh, Imam Bakawsu (Fofana) and another Imam, in the torture of the 30th December coup plotters” He went on to say “On the torture of Imam Baba Leigh after he (Leigh) was interrogated……, we were ordered by Nuah Badjie to torture him. We beat him using sticks, elastic pipes and I saw blood and bruises on him. The torture lasted for about half an hour.” Foroyaa Newspaper

Watch:

‘We Never Gave Up – stories of Courage in Gambia’

'Gambia - victims and resisters' : portrait of Fatou Suwaa widow of murdered army signal officer Mustafa Colley ©Jason Florio
Fatou Suwaa ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Fatou Suwaa, widow of former army signal officer Mustafa Colley: In 2012 Mustafa was found with a broken neck at the wheel of a taxi he had bought to earn extra money. Reports in the press said General Saul Badjie heard that Mustafa had been discussing the murder of Sergeant Ello Jallow, who had been killed for allegedly having an affair with President Jammeh’s wife. Baji was then instructed by Jammeh to have Mustafa murdered by his hit squad, the ‘Junglers’.

UPDATE: TRRC – July 2019 Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: Staff Sergeant Jallow also admitted participating in the killing of Baba Jobe, Ndour Cham, 9 death row inmates, Haruna Jammeh (a brother to Yahya Jammeh), Mustapha Colley, Saul Ndow and Mahawa Cham, among others. (At Mile2 Prison) “We lined-up our vehicles and Nuha Badjie and our leaders went in and took out 9 inmates from their cells,” he said. “When we got to the Range, we all came down and brought them down one by one. We put nylon plastic on their heads and cover them up. We suffocated them one by one until they all died. There was only one female who was Tabara Samba,” he said. “After killing them, we took them to the bush and throw them into a well,”

Visit Jason Florio’s website to see more from our on-going series

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’

Watch the testimonies from the TRRC – via QTV’s channel – on Youtube.

All images © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio. Text by Helen Jones-Florio.

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ at the TRRC – donated by the British High Commission, The Gambia ©Jason Florio/Helen Jones-Florio

With thanks for their support: The Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations; The Goethe Institut; The British High Commission in The Gambia; Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission


Available for assignments & for image licensing – Contact here

 @jasonflorio / @floriotravels / @doors.helenjonesflorio / 

@jasonflorio.photographyprints – Instagram

Jason Florio – Vimeo / floriotravels – Vimeo

floriophotoNYC – Twitter

PhotoTellStories – FB

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ the Gambia. The story so far…

It’s been an incredibly momentous, emotional – and active! – few months for us both, here in the Gambia. Since we arrived back on the West African coast in February we’ve held two photographic exhibitions of the portraits from our on-going body of work, ‘Gambia – victims, and resisters of a regime

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ Kafo Bayo – arrested on April 14th, 2016 during a peaceful demonstration for electoral reform © Jason Florio

For three days, I did not know who I was, or where I was…my clothes were like, you know, a butchers shirt…covered in blood… Kafo Bayo

Jason Florio, making #Portraits4PositiveChange – image ©Helen Jones-Florio


‘Portraits to Remember’
Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations – March 5th, 2019
With the kind support of the Goethe Institute

Kafo Bayo and some of the other victims in the exhibition at the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations, the Gambia ©Jason Florio

Photo Exhibit Documents Jammeh’s Reign of Terror – The Chronicle

“What I learnt from the interviews with victims is the range of abuses and atrocities that happened here during the 22 years of Jammeh. I have been coming to The Gambia for 20 years and I heard about things happening in the past but I had no idea about the range of abuses, including the use of forced medication, people forced to take HIV treatments. The tourists that came here had no idea about what was going on. Even I as a journalist who been here many times had no idea about what was really going on The Gambia,” Jason told The Chronicle.

Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations – ‘Portraits to Remember’ Exhibition, the Gambia ©Jason Florio


‘Portraits for Positive Change’
British High Commissioners Residence, Banjul – May 21st, 2019
With the kind support of the British High Commission

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ – British High Commissioners Residence, Banjul, the Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Jason Florio’s Photographic Stories of Gambia’s Human Rights Abuses – The Chronicle
‘Portraits for Positive Change’ – British High Commissioners Residence, Banjul, the Gambia © Jason Florio
Bintu Nyabally was detained for five days, beaten and raped by three masked security officers at the Gambia Police Intervention Unit HQ, after being arrested during a May 9th, 2016 rally, the Gambia  ©Jason Florio

#NeverAgainGambia

Today, 23rd May 2019, the ‘Portraits for Positive Change’ exhibition was donated, by the British High Commission, to the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), to be used as a tool for advocacy and awareness during their outreach programs around The Gambia. The aim of which is to create a dialogue within communities, to help sensitise people on the plight of the victims – emphasising the importance of victims to come forward and engage in the TRRC process.

British High Commissioner, Sharon Wardle, and the TRRC’s Vice Chairperson, Adelaide Sosseh Gaye, The Gambia © Jason Florio

“Coming to terms with the legacy of the recent past provides the Gambian people an opportunity to reconcile and regain the hope and optimism for the future they so deserve” Sharon Wardle – British High Commissioner to The Gambia

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ (#NeverAgain) – exhibition handover day at the TRRC, The Gambia © Jason Florio

The truth shall set you free…

The next step… which the portraits have already embarked on, is to take the exhibition further, into the international arena. First stop: the portraits were chosen by LensCulture Portrait Awards, in April.

And, on May 27th-29th they will be digitally exhibited – on 10ftx10ft screens – at the Oslo Freedom Forum festival.

The Oslo Freedom Forum is a transformative annual conference where the world’s most engaging human rights advocates, artists, tech entrepreneurs, and world leaders meet to share their stories and brainstorm ways to expand freedom and unleash human potential across the globe.

Now, where to next… watch this space.

Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ exhibition handover to the TRRC, in the Gambia. L-R: Helen Jones-Florio, Essa Jallow, Communications Specialist TRRC, Jason Florio

____________

Currently working in the Gambia – May 2019

Gambia – Victims, and Resisters of a Regime

#Portraits4PositiveChange

Available for assignments & for image licensing – Contact here

@doors_facades_florio / @jasonflorioio / @floriotravels – Instagram

Jason Florio – Vimeo / floriotravels – Vimeo

floriophotoNYC – Twitter

PhotoTellStories – FB

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



Available for assignments & for image licensing – Contact here

floriophoto.com

@doors_facades_florio / @jasonflorioio / @floriotravels – Instagram

Jason Florio – Vimeo

floriophotoNYC – Twitter

PhotoTellStories – FB