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 theyopened 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.
“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
“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.
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).
A young Gambian girl, Ami, decorates her hair with candy – ‘mintys’ – for International Commonwealth Day, March 11th, 2019. We met her and her friends, playing on the local rubbish dump at Kotu Quarry, the Gambia, West Africa. Taken whilst on an assignment about a new Dutch-funded plastic recycling plant, with Helen Jones-Florio.
Available for assignments & for image licensing – Contact here
Oumie Jagne was shot twice in the arm by former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s security forces after she was caught up in student protests in April 10/11 2000. She was at her small shop when the shooting of unarmed students began and attempted to help a young girl who had been shot in the foot. While pulling the girl to safety, Oumie was fired upon and suffered life-changing injuries, almost severing her left arm. She is one of hundreds of victims registered at the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations.
With Jammeh’s 2016 election defeat, he went into exile after a standoff with regional forces, and the victims of his regime started to come forward.
So far, almost 1000 victims and their families have registered with the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations to share their stories and help build international support to bring Jammeh to justice
For three days I did not know who I was…where I was. My clothes, they looked like, you know, like a butchers… (covered in blood) Kafo Bayo
Ya Mammie Ceesay, mother 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 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.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words – compelling images & personal accounts at the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations – “Portraits to Remember” exhibition. Sharon Wardle, British High Commissioner to The Gambia
Jason Florio’s work is towards under-reported stories about people living on the margins of society and human rights. His work has been recognised with a number of awards, including The Magnum Photography Award 2017 for his work on migration. He was the first recipient of the Aperture Foundation grant to produce Aperture’s first ever assigned story, ‘This is Libya’. His work is held in a number of public and private collections and has been presented in solo and joint exhibitions in USA, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Available for assignments & for image licensing – Contact here
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.
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.
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).