By Fabakary B. Ceesay
The sudden death of President Yahya Jammeh’s aunt in 2009 prompted the Gambia government to declare what it called “witchcraft cleansing.” The exercise, which occurred between mid-January and March 2009, was ordered by President Yahya Jammeh who blamed his aunt’s sudden death on witchcraft. The president, who believes and adores anything superstitious, soon ordered witchcraft hunters from Guinea Conakry to come and cleanse the Gambia’s evildoers.
President Jammeh’s civilian and military thugs – Green Boys and Girls and Kanilai-based tools of oppression – started rounding up several people, including civil servants and aging men and women. The armed thugs were led by the former Lieutenant [now Lieutenant Colonel] Solo Bojang who has also tasted Jammeh’s wrath.
During and after this brutal campaign, several people died instantly while others followed shortly after their release. Many others fell sick and later recovered but are still living with the stigma of being officially painted “witches or wizards”.
Sources close to the thugs accused President Jammeh of ordering the witchcraft cleansing to be video recorded and that particulars of accused witches and wizards be taken. This would enable him (Jammeh) to watch the reactions of the accused persons after they were hallucinated with the beverage of kubee jaroo, a toxic-like plant.
During the campaign, hundreds of villagers from Kanilai, Kanfenda, Sintet and satellite villages, Makumbayaa, Gunjur, Berending and others were forced at gunpoint and escorted to Kanilai and Kotu where they drank and shower with concoctions. They were soon hallucinated and started urinating, vomiting, babbling and collapsing on each other. And to top it all, most of the hallucinated victims were kept at President Jammeh’s so-called concentration camps for days before being released. Several die under and after detention as a result of drinking the concoction while others were physically tortured and raped by soldiers and Green Boys. While these atrocities were still going Jammeh’s thugs were busy taking video shots and interrogating the defenceless victim who were babbling and uttering unconscious statements.
Several elderly villagers within the Fonis abandoned their homes and hide in the bushes to avoid capture by the soldiers and witch hunters. With the assistance of Green Boys and armed soldiers, several villagers were rounded up in an ambush and loaded into waiting trucks to Kanilai. Others flee into Casamance, Southern Senegal, to avoid being caught. Some never return back.
Dozens of butchers at the Abuko Abattoir were also rounded up and taken to Kotu, where they were forced to drink concocted water. Shortly after the Abuko incident, Jammeh took over the abattoir and renamed it Kanilai abattoir.
Officers at Police Headquarters in Banjul also had their share of Jammeh’s witch wrath. They were forced to undress and remove their jujus. One senior police officer was accused of habouring bad jujus against President Yaya Jammeh. Kumba Camara alias Silobula or Kumba Saro was seriously humiliated in the presence of officers and forced to surrender his jujus to the witch hunters.
The witchcraft cleansing exercise moved to the Gambia Armed Forces Defence Headquarters in Banjul. Here senior military officers, including the former Defence Chief of Staff General Lang Tombong Tamba, were forced to drink concocted water to show their allegiance to President Jammeh.
Dozens of elderly men and women, including the former Niumi Chief Alhagie Tabora Manneh, a prominent ruling party political heavyweight, were kidnapped from Barra and Essau, North Bank Region, and ferried across to Kotu where they were kept for days and forced to drink the magical concoctions.
The thugs and the witch-hunters dressed in traditional clothes decorated with jujus, horns wrapped in red clothes, glasses and mirrors stormed Jambur village in Kombo South where they abducted at least 60 elderly men and women and held them at Kotu for two days. The witch-hunters escorted some senior elders to the graveyard where the son of Imam Bubacarr Bojang was forced to dig a pit and slaughter a red cock and a red he-goat in it. Bubacarr was then asked to recite “Surtatul Iklas” [Qul huwaa] 17 times before being ordered to beat a ritual drum decorated with jujus, charms, mirrors and glasses for another 17 times. The witch-hunters buried the red cock in the pit together with a red bottle believed to be containing ritual or spiritual water. They however went along with the slaughtered goat.
The invaders conducted a search at the Imam’s house. The imam, the only person who refused to drink the concoction, has had his tablet [walla] seized by the witch-hunters. Imam Bojang was at pain in recounting how he saw men and women of his village dressed half-naked, collapsing and falling on each other as they struggled to stand up after drinking and bathing with the concocted water.
These are the elders abducted from Jambur: Imam Arfang Karamo Bojang, Modou (Dodou Kah) Bojang, Dembo Mamo Bojang, Adama Tuti Bojang (APRC Chair Woman), Naame (Aminata) Bojang, Omar Jerreh Bojang alias “Kanyarr”, Saineyba (Bucenty or Manjago) Bojang, Sunkaru Fatty, Malang Darboe, Jarry Kunda Bojang, Nyarra Kassama, Amie Ceesay, Adama Bojang, Manginki Cham, Sarjo Bojang, Manyima Jatta, Hawa Camara, Fatou Sarr, Masabu Bojang, Kaddy Jatta, Banna Jatta, Aroky Bojang, Masireh Bojang, Jamba Bojang, Mbasey Bojang, Sainabou Sanneh, Jarra Kanyi Bojang, Joko Bojang, Kossa Darboe, Amie Camara, Amie Banor, Dembo Manneh, Yaya Bojang, Manlafi Manneh, Bui Koiteh, Lang Jammeh, Dembo Jariatou Bojang, Lamin Bojang, Tijan Saidy, Lamin Touray, Momodu Kumba Bah, Kebba Saidy, Mamadi Koumba Saidy, Saikou Camara, Adama Bah, Fangsainey Tuti Bojang and Omar Bojang. The youngest among them was 48 years old.
As the elders narrated their ordeals in the hands of their captors, tears roll down their cheeks. They nodded their heads in disbelief. One man stated, “We were captured and treated like how Kunta Kinteh was forced into slavery”. Jamburians believed they were forced to drink “kubee jaroo” or “tali-kunango”.
Here is a link you can listen the voices of the victims of Yaya Jammeh’s witch craft victims. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p009hq89/Assignment Happy Birthday Mr President/. You can also read a piece on the same topic written by BBC Producer Ed Butler, whom I assisted in making the documentary. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11200546.