Why Jammeh Watches Gambians Die At Sea

Every day, scores of lives perish in the deserts and the Mediterranean Sea. Hardly does a day go by that you do not read about Gambians dying trying to make it to Europe through the ‘Back Way’. It is devastating. However, none of what has been happening all these years but astronomically worsened in the past couple of years, happens in a vacuum. We’d all have to do something to decelerate it.

I have seen a lot of Gambians take to social media making “Say No To Back Way” videos, to sensitize and dissuade our brothers and sisters from venturing into these very dangerous and uncertain journeys that already claimed more than enough lives. These efforts are great, laudable and are spiraling. However, most came short of identifying and addressing the root causes of the unfortunate tragedy.

The ever growing statistics of the number of people dying at sea, those ‘lucky’ enough to have crossed to become illegal immigrants in Europe, are shockingly alarming. The Gambia, the smallest country in mainland Africa (population less than 2 million) with relative peace, dwarfs nations like Mali and Syrian that have been in turmoil and civil unrest for few years now. Gambia’s 1400 (134 minors) to Nigeria’s 800, arrived in Italy by Sea in the first quarter of 2015. Just last week alone, there were two boat accidents that had at least 750 and 300 lives unaccounted for, respectively. It’s a sad reality that our boys and girls are somewhere in that bottomless ocean and will never be buried.

While we’d all love to have our brothers and sisters stay at home to avoid a literally suicidal journey, we must also be realistic in recognizing that these kids are being forced by their circumstances to make a better living for themselves and their families. As foolish as we think it is for them to see some of us who have ‘escaped’ the struggle from abject poverty as ‘success stories’, it is an innate desire for a man to want to be a provider, especially when they are looked up to as the ‘Yakarr’ of the family. We cannot tell them to not go because is risky when there are no alternatives to the predicament. This is not to make an excuse for our able-bodied youth but is understandable.

Unemployment is the premier causative factor of the economic migration that continues to claim lives and in most cases, levy a hefty financial burden on the already struggling families who would give an arm and leg for a potentially enhanced livelihood, which most times is only promissory and in some cases elusive. The pasture isn’t always a guaranteed greener on the other side. Most of the people who set out on these journeys are poor, provincial kids who either graduated without jobs or dropped out of school and are unemployable. These people hail from families who have always paid their taxes but almost never get to benefit from their government; individually or as a community. So majority of them become Economic migrants, and a few Political refugees escaping shackles and political persecution from an oppressive regime.

So the buck stops at President Jammeh and his Government! In plain terms, Yaya Jammeh DOES NOT CARE if half of the country’s youth raced out of that country to never come back. As a matter of fact, that is lessening his burden of having to deal with an unemployed, ‘unproductive’ lot. Jammeh would have cared if this was anything that posed any sort of threat to his reign. We have seen how he does not hesitate to launch all these violently aggressive “Operations” in order to legitimize his use of force to cower and oppress Gambians further, to deter any potential resistance to his Authoritarianism.

In his characteristic fashion of abdicating responsibility as the country’s CEO, Yaya continues to deflect attention from significant priorities where he is found wanting, to play victim. In his UN address in 2014, Jammeh asked that “The U.N. must conduct a full and impartial investigation into this manmade sinking, capsizing of these boats carrying young Africans to Europe,” accusing European Nations of “racist and inhuman behavior of deliberately causing boats carrying black Africans to sink.”

Lest we forget, a year prior Jammeh in his 2013 Tobaski address to the Nation, shamelessly went off on a tangent to blame his ‘Mandingo Brothers and Sisters’, whom he said comprised the 98% of the youth taking the going to Europe, seeking asylum just to tarnish the image of the country since 1994. He thought that is not only an unpatriotic act but Unislamic and is punishable by Treason. Although this came on the heels of UDP asylum saga, when he’d used his erstwhile unwise Presidential Affairs Minister Momodou Sabally to accuse the US & UK, and insult a whole ethnic group for being tribalist, I believe Jammeh sees no urgency in mitigating the migration because it works in his favor since the troublesome, unpatriotic bunch are leaving the country to patriots. So he’d not lose a night’s sleep over their death.

This unnatural, schizophrenic by-product of mistaken birth, is a delusional hypocrite, divisive lunatic and a self-aggrandizing, deranged ‘thot’ of a president who never takes credit for his failures as the country’s Chief Executive. After claiming to have had evidence that these people claimed persecution for homosexuality and not on ethnic grounds, how dare he flipped that to make it about a particular tribe?

But here is a government that does not have the political will nor the ability to sustain or enhance any sector of the economy that creates jobs to employ 50 Gambian a year since 2001. A government with a leadership that believes he’s doing the country a favor by reigning over her people, giving them cash handouts, food rations and throwing ridiculously expensive festivals to party their pains away at a time the country is on her deathbed. Today, the largest sectors that employ graduating students or dropouts are the Armed/Security Services and Education (teaching). And even for these areas we have seen active soldiers, police officers and teachers abandoning their posts to take chance with the risky high seas.

We may never be able to stop the Back Way venture for ambitious, unemployed youth would always pursue opportunity somewhere whatever the risk. But had we had a capable, effective and responsible government they would have:

Put mechanisms in place to mitigate it by not only going on TV to boast about opening schools but not able to get graduates absorbed in the workforce.

Be able to open skill centers to train the youth and have careers.

Liberalize the economy, support and encourage small scale businesses by giving tax breaks and/or subsidize them to be able to flourish and create employment.

Let the president cease competing with the State and private businessmen as the conflict of interest and competitive advantage is killing the already struggling Gambians.

Let’s mechanize our Agriculture with adequate focus by revitalizing Jahali Pacharr and other places it instead of Yaya grabbing all arable lands and have the whole country work on his farms.
Bring back our one-time Tourist Mecca that he’d killed off with his weekly distasteful international headlines that instills fear and erode confidence for tourists.

Evidently, these are not things that President Jammeh and his administration are capable of doing. That leaves us with one remedy for the hand that we’re dealt: CHANGE OF REGIME! Yaya Jammeh and the APRC administration are a bad omen for our nation and they’d have to GO for us to make any significant headway!

Let’s continue to sensitize and dissuade our brothers the best we could. The Gambian Artist Bro K has a very messageful song on the ‘Back Way’.

Good Morning And Peace To The Planet!

Pata PJ



  1. My tears roll as d plain truth is explicitly detailed out in this piece.

    May Allah have mercy on us as a people and punish Yahya for each and every Gambian, born and unborn. Amen!!

  2. Pata , a brilliant piece . The root cause of the problem is dictator Jammeh . Jammeh needs to be removed by any means necessary , if not more youths will continue to die in the high sea. The regime undemocratic nature , state sponsored terrorism as well as lack of economic opportunites as resulted to exodus of Gambian youths we are witnessing today .

  3. True, all root cause of this horrible situation as of recent times is Jammeh and his enablers wherever and however. In my youth, I and perhaps many more youths would not have landed in those Eorupean countries even with a visa.

  4. Jammeh gambled on the future of the Gambia nation and people. He never had a plan for the nation, neither wisdom nor foresight. He is a tragedy……

  5. The ‘Backway’ syndrome is a very complicated issue which needs a lot of research to put it to a stop. I partially agreed that Jammeh’s rule has contributed to aggravating the movement of Gambians to Europe. However, the economic system left behind by our colonial masters that reduce Africa to just producing raw materials for European industries which products are sent back to Africa at cut throat prices and the Africans inability to turn our economies around is much to be blamed for this ‘Back Way’ menace.
    The solution will not be simply to change regime or regimes and replace them with any regime or regimes for the sake of it. Governments must have clear cut programmes and policies that are radical enough as to create ample employment opportunities for the youth at home and the remuneration must be attractive to sustain the laborer or the employed.
    Concerted effort must be employed to help the average African citizen to understand that he/she owns the country and therefore it is his/her responsibility to identify with the party that best address the issues at play and select leaders based on those considerations and not to vote for the sake of voting alone.
    The Gambian case is a special one in that apart from the economics of it, the Gambian leader’s erratic behavior of making sentimental decisions without resorting/ respecting constitutional guidelines such as removing the country from the common wealth of Nations is one such example that has created immense difficulties for Gambians throughout the world in their pursuit to travel, whether for greener pasture, business or simply to visit. Emerging that Gambians will require visa for almost half of the about 80 countries in the Common wealth after Gambia’s withdrawal and the amount of time and cost involved in the transactions, must be astronomical.
    And that is not all. The strain in relation with other countries like Taiwan, Britain, US, Commonwealth which involves big countries like India, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, Sri Lanka etc must have impacted negatively on Gambians’ desire to travel and make business around the world. The loss of income and opportunity is incalculable.
    Finally, the lack of democracy and the persistent disrespect for human rights by the Jammeh regime is an added reason why countries would want to dissociate them from Gambia in many ways not to enter into certain joint agreements which all goes to impact negatively on investment opportunities etc.
    No country will be attractive to tourists and visitors alike that is notorious for lack of rule of law and bent on impunity as a weapon to contain its citizens.
    So as i can see the solution to this predicament may be two-fold. 1. Africa must be ready to venture into a new economic programme that would be diametrically opposite the one left behind by the colonials. 2. Africans must be made to be sophisticated enough as to distinguish parties with tangible programmes that would uplift their suffering and economic emancipation, and 3. International community has a stake in this whole enterprise to play a pivotal role in not only helping the continent to build democracy but to help it in the drive to build an economy not only to sustain the livelihood of its citizens but to be able to compete with other countries so as to accrue to it its rightful share of the world’s resources. How this dream is to be fulfilled should interrogate the minds of all Africans and like minded people across the globe.

    • You see Yero, when people talk about the present you jump in with 100 years in the past and 100 years in the furure.
      The buck stops at the problems of today not yesterday or tomorroow…aahhh “PDOIS analyze rekkk wakh wahk rekk” no dungen dem”

      • Deyda you killing me with laughter. To be fair to Yero this piece is short compare to the usual PDOIS analysis.

  6. Governments whose citizens are risking their lives and those of their children, to cross the Mediterranean in this fashion, are no doubt, culpable for blame because they have failed their citizens, in one way or the other…

    Our own government, under the APRC regime, has actually aggravated this “back way ” escape to Europe, due to its rule of impunity, foreign policy disaster and wreckage of the economy it inherited beyond recognition and belief…All these have exacerbated the worsening trend of people’s livelihood that has been on the downward spiral since the 1980’s…

    However, simply pointing a finger at national.governments, without interrogating the root causes of our failing economies (for the masses) and absolving those that undertake these dangerous and perilous journeys of all responsibility, is not the way to approach this issue…

    Africans, in particular, have come to a point where we must decide whether we want to develop and pursue an economic system that serves our interests or just be part of an already established system that craftily uses our continent and people, to serve the interests of others…

    Equally, whilst we sympathise with the families of the people who are losing their lives in the Mediterranean and pray for the deceased for eternal bliss, we must also accept that individuals who make these choices are personally responsible for their actions…

    Indeed, people have a right to seek refuge if their lives are threatened, either by conflict, war, state agents or poverty, but not to the extent where they put their lives at a greater risk than the one they are fleeing…If anyone does that, then they are entirely responsible for the consequences of their own actions..

    Gambians have been using the “back way ” to Europe, in search of greener pastures, to escape poverty during the PPP era, without going to such extreme measures…

    The AFPRC / APRC era has not changed that…It has actually aggravated the trend….

    This is because the economic policies of both governments have been a continuation of the one we inherited from the colonial era, which has not served to uplift Gambians from generational poverty, where generations are born in poverty, grow up in poverty and die in poverty…

    Changes to family circumstances, in most cases, is only “accidental”, due to members migrating to Europe and USA or becoming very top officials in government (and it’s attendant opportunities) with access to the Public Treasury. ..

    The responsibility before the Gambian People, as we head to another election cycle, is to ask the most important questions….

    “Who has the.policies to halt this trend and.begin the task of building.a self reliant economy that can change the state of affairs for the good, for the vast majority, not just a handful..?”

    The parties are out campaigning to win the votes…The choice of who forms the next government lies with the voters…and we will.be collectively responsible for the consequences of the choices that we make in 2016…

    We must not allow anyone to use Jammeh’s failings to catapult themselves into power, just as Jammeh used Jawara’s failings to catapult himself into power…because that will change nothing except for a few close to, or connected to power…

    Once again, condolence is offered to the families of victims and prayers to the souls of the departed. ..

  7. Yerro, however complicated an issue it maybe, the Gambia’s case in this terrible phenomenal kind of a western journey by the sub-Sahara Africa youth has worsened during the two decades of dictatorship in the Gambia, reasoning with the fact that during the first republic, many youths in the Gambia would not like to travel to every part of Europe then, even if they have acquired legal visas to those countries.

    My question is; how many of such statistics do we have in our records in the first republic compared to the present dictatorship regime???
    Thank you.

  8. Yero Bah…I share your views about looking into the past because. …

    A serious interrogation of the Past, leads to a comprehensive understanding of the Present…

    A comprehensive understanding of the present, will facilitate a detailed and relevant planning for the Future.

    Without a serious interrogation of the Past, there will be no proper understanding of the Present, and if you don’t understand the Present, you can’t possibly plan for the Future….

    Those who are oblivious to these facts, are the ones who repeat the same mistakes over and over, and like a ship without a captain, simply float with the tides, leaving their lives and future at the mercy of circumstances, with little or not control over their destiny….

    Gambians should reject people who demonstrate such attitudes from holding leadership positions because they will end up messing the country up, without a doubt..

  9. Bourne:how many of such statistics do we have in our records in the first republic compared to the present dictatorship regime???
    I am afraid we will not have any such statistics but what is evident as day-light is that thousands had taken dangerous treks across the Sahara to reach Libya during the 1st as well as the 2nd republic, and many Gambians had lost their lives. Reports of such deaths were not published by the newspapers because of the difficulty in communication at the time.
    Secondly, countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway etc did not require Gambians to get visas and that really helped the situation. And because of this, many who reached Libya could easily purchase tickets and fly to many European cities or Malta and join the ferry boat plying between Malta and Italy’s Regiosi port at the time without a visa of course. Countries like Canada did not also require visas for Gambians as Commonwealth citizens in the 70s up to the 80s. And this is one major reason why Gambians had a choice as to which countries to go to or not at the time.
    And this is also why i said Gambia’s withdrawal from the Common wealth has also brought an added suffering in the whole scenario.
    However, i am inclined to believe that the situation has been compounded by the present regime’s erratic economic policies and its failure to build any viable democratic dispensation even though the PPP government cannot be exonerated from the above general neglect.

    • Yerro, Thank you for your elaboration but I still insist on to ask another question; do girls and women take such risk inorder to travel to Europe during the first republic?

      I remember two decades ago and had just lived in Europe a couple of years, I do bluff out to citizens of other west African countries that, “Our Gambian woman come to Europe only as housewives and not HUSTLERS’

  10. To be fair to Jammeh he did try to crack down on back way boys. It is not the solution but I do not think he would intentionally support these kids taking such risky journeys

  11. Yerro Ba, ” however, the economic system left behind by our colonial masters that reduce Africa to just producing raw materials for European industries which products are sent back to Africa at cut throat prices and the Africans inability to turn our economies around is much to be blamed for this “back way ” menace “.
    I agreed with the last part of above statement which highlighted Africans inability to put in place better economies for Africans. However , blaming the colonial masters for this back way menace , is mischaracterization and misplacement of blame to wrong people . The question is , how long should we continue to blame colonial masters for every problems that we have in african continent? Is african countries only ones which are victims of colonialism and exploitation? If the answer is no , why are we so obsessed with idea that our every problems should be blamed on colonial masters . It is time to grow up and stop whinnying and take personal and collective responsibility for our failures . We are a like spoiled child who never learn to take personal responsibility.Today a lot of developing and advance countries were once colonized by colonial masters , and they were able to have better economies for their citizens who are competing with citizens of countries of those colonial masters . Africans failures lies in poor governance , poor leadership who has no vision for Africa and lack of collective will of Africans to take responsibility for their own destiny . Reading yerro Ba statement blaming colonial masters is like listening to dictator jammeh blaming the British for his lies of the British 400 years rule. When do this brainwashed has to stop and recognize that our own government has to take responsibility for failing the youths . Jammeh has been doing this blame game for long time and he continue to do so for his personal and selfish political gain. Looking at countries in Africa today , they have independence at the same time as Asian countries like South Korea from colonial masters , that is in 1960s. Look at South Korean economy today and compare to Ghana, Senegal or Gambia , you will see that we are way behind . Look at United states economy and compare to African continent, you will see we as Africans , we are not doing what we suppose to do simply because we Blame others for our problems . This is the cultural problem we have and it is the same backward thinking that is preventing us from moving forward as individuals and society. A society where governments and individuals continues to blames others for their problems and backwardness will remain decadence and underdeveloped. This is why no one care to tell the truth and our citizens continue not to seek truth and hold those in positions to be accountable and responsible .Lot of countries , have recognized that colonialism was based on exploitation and that was why they fought to gain their independence. After independence , these countries developed their human and natural resources for advancement of their countries. So we should stop blame game and work towards better economies for Africa . How can colonial masters be blamed for current back way menace ? We have to use our brain to critically think about our situations in order to have better solutions for the common good of our societies . I therefore blame current back way menace squarely on dictatorial government in kanilali.
    You can argue that Gambians has been traveling through back way since JAWARA regime , but you should acknowledge that was very small number compare to recent exodus of youths . Migration is natural phenomenon that has been going on since time immemorial. The current crisis is never seen before and I totally with Pata on this piece .

  12. Paul, Jammeh only did cracked down on our democracy and that will not help keeping you and I at home. Many probably want to be out of it by all means necessary.

  13. Paul , I respectfully disagree with your assertion that Jammeh did not intentionally support these kids to take risky back way journey . Am not sure if you really understand that government has responsibility to ensure that citizens have better living conditions by creating favorable environment for job creation , economic opportunities , safety and protection of citizens which Jammeh autocratic and dictatorial regime has woefully failed by any standard . Your indication that Jammeh did not intentionally support these kids to take risky journey is like shifting the blame to somewhere else or lack of understanding that it is goverment role to provide what I described above. Jammeh’s policies and his undemocratic nature resulted to massive exodus of youths . The only lucky ones are those who Join his security services who continuously harass innocent citizens on daily basis. this is why security services like the military , police and nia are the biggest employers in the country just to protect Jammeh and his inner circle. Jammeh has specifically targeted mandingo tribe as people who seek asylum to tarnish his government image and as you know rural mandinka people formed the majority in this back way menace as evidence by the region where the back way boys came from . This is systematically elimination of these individuals in participating in national affairs and total elimination in economics opportunities. therefore , it is fair to say that back way boys is Jammeh creation so that he will continue to abuse Gambian people . This is huge benefit for Jammeh because only old people are left in the country especially in rural areas where we expect to have opposition stronghold. Can someone tell me if we have such massive exodus of youths from foni happening compare to baddibu or URD? I would like to know . We need to wise up and analyze the ramifications of Jammeh policies and absolute hegemony on power , economy and social life of Gambian citizens. The back way menace is tip of iceberg of huge historical mistake done by acceptance of military dictatorship in Our country .

  14. ,Maxs, please read this quotation again and tell me where it blames the colonial masters for the ‘Backway’ syndrome.
    ” However, the economic system left behind by our colonial masters that reduce Africa to just producing raw materials for European industries which products are sent back to Africa at cut throat prices and the Africans inability to turn our economies around is much to be blamed for this “back way ” menace “Yerro Ba.

  15. Max I have to admit I didn’t think about it from that angle. Thanks for the detail analysis.

  16. Yerro Ba, the colonial system you blamed in your description was created by colonial masters . In your statement above , there are two factors you identified , that is economic system left behind by colonial masters and Africans inability to turn our economies around are to be blamed for back way menace. Colonialism was a legacy based on exploitation to advance the interest of colonialists , so we need to move on as many advanced and developing countries did. African dictators always used colonialism as a political tool to loot and entrench themselves in power . This is what Jammeh always do whenever he boasts about his so called development achievements for past 20 years.
    As I said before I agreed with you on Africans inability to turn around their economies for progress of Africans .

  17. Paul , thank you for bringing up your view.

  18. Maxs: I did not blame the colonial system or colonial masters for any present crisis but just making an analysis to reach at the root cause of the ‘Back way’ syndrome. My emphasis is on the inability of the African to overturn that system as the major cause of the problem. And that blame if you like goes to the both the present and past African leaders and not the colonials. Do i make myself clear this time around?

  19. Yerro Ba, please read your quotes below ; I just want clarity and not to misunderstand you . Here is what you said .
    Yerro Ba “however, the economic system left behind by our colonial masters that reduce Africa to just producing raw materials for European industries which products are send back to Africa at cut throat prices and the Africans inability to turn our economies around is much to be blamed for this back way menace”.

    In the above quotes you clearly stated the root causes which was separated by the word “And” which you indicated are to be blamed . As I said I agreed with you the last part while I disagreed with this part “economic systems left behind by colonial masters” which you blamed for this crisis.
    Here are another quotes:

    Yerro Ba: “the colonial system is what I describe as the root cause and our inability to turn that around is what I said is much to be blamed for the back way menace , not colonial masters parse”
    The above statement is different from original quote which you blamed both economic systems left behind by our colonial masters and africans inability…., this is the statement You want me to understand.

    Yerro Ba :” I did not blame the colonial system or colonial masters for any present crisis just making an analysis to reach at the root cause of the back way syndrome ”

    It is very interesting here because all three quotes in the above are stating root cause( economic systems left behind by colonial masters) . Yerro ba , you believe that the root cause was economic system left behind by our colonial masters but at the same time you don’t want to admit that root cause lead to back way menace ( its effect),. I want to remind you that every cause ( problem ) has an effects , so going by your logical statements , if the root cause was ” economic system left behind by our colonial masters ” then the effect will be “back way menace” you indicated . I fully disagreed with that assertion that was why I indicated that african countries are not the only ones which are victims of colonialism.
    To be fair if only you worded your statements in a way that indicated that africans inability to turn around our economies for africans progress , then I won’t respond because we agreed on that . I hope you also get my points . Thank you .

  20. Maxs; It appears that you are just interested in semantics to prolong an argument.I do not want to specialize in condemning the Colonialists for the present economic crisis we find ourselves today. However, let me state that i simply cited the past economic system imposed on us during the period and my intention is simply to blame independence leaders for their inability to turn around that system for the good of the African. The root cause of our present economic system is colonialism which leads to the stagnation of the economies of Africa in the present which has among its adverse effects the ‘Back way menace’. That is my analysis. So no matter how you interpret it i want you to understand that i intend to blame only the African leaders who had and still have all the opportunity to make that transitional economic change happen. If this is what your emphasis is, i say we are together irrespective of semantics.