By Sr Madeleine Mendy
A Sister of the Presentation of Mary (on mission in Ghana)
It is in my state of life as a senior member in society and in the Catholic Church that I dare to speak out and to question certain behavioral patterns that I see rampant and gaining momentum in the Gambian society today. The land that has cradled us all with peace and integrity has unfortunately become a source of great tension, disunity, power struggle and the bullying of the weak by the powerful. The fight for land and precisely in the Kombo South district of our nation has become a behavioral pattern. Urbanization has it benefits and its faults. It has brought about positive development in our country but it has at the same time initiated much wrangling over land leading even to the depletion of the environment and the Agricultural sector. Farmland in this part of the country has become a rare commodity in a nation that depends heavily on agriculture.
2.0 Respect for creation and the environment
As children we had known beautiful fields and farms along the road between Bakoteh, Sukuta all the way to Kartong. The land was covered with farms that sustained our population from one rainy season to the next. Today, however, we see the quick depletion of the nation’s breadbasket through ravaging and selling of the land to estate agents. The advent of these Agents in the country has brought about development as well as much injustice to the land and its people.
The Gambia is undergoing a period of bullying and grabbing by force as far as land is concerned. What do we expect? The fields are all sold out and naturally the money squandered. The only agricultural zone left in this part of the country is the cashew plantations of those who still value farming and depend on the produce of the land for their income. This has brought about aggressive envy, intimidation and the use of force and dishonest claims of lands by a group of people especially by village chiefs who rely heavily on easy and quick money for their livelihood since they have all abandoned the hard work in farming.
How legitimate are these claims that bear no legal documents as a proof? Who has a right to own land in this country?
Does ownership of land depend on the name that one has? Or the religion or the ethnic group that one belongs to?
It got to the point that several Manjago communities were issued out eviction notices to immediately quit the villages they were born into and that their parents and grandparents whose tombs are still lying beneath those grounds, had lived, worked and developed to what those towns and villages are today. I am particularly referring to villages like Ndean, Fallah, Bunkiling to name a few and of course Kunkujang Mariama where the rights and dignity of our people is violated and undermined.
The use of force and intimidation is a common practice by certain individuals in the Kombo South who have the queer belief that they own the land. The Gambia has never known this type of behavior in the past. This makes me wonder on whose shoulders these people stand to make such claims.
3.0 My concerns
3.1. Grabbing of School and church lands in Kunkujang Mariama
It is sad to say, but some of our village leaders, particularly those who are there for money, lack a moral compass to guide them in the way of truth, peace, justice and respect for human integrity and dignity. What is happening in Kunkujang Mariama right now is an outstanding evidence of imposition of power based on self-interest. The use of force and power to revoke land legally allocated to our school and church for educational and worship purposes respectively is beyond comprehension.
3.2. Absence of Chief and Village Development Committee
Does Kunkujang Mariama not have a local Chief and Village Development Committee? What is their position in what is happening in the Village? Complacent, indifferent or have they been overridden by some supreme undocumented council?
3.3. Unfair treatment of the common people
The unfortunate thing about all that is happening right now, is that, the leaders who should safeguard the rights of justice of the common people are the very ones violating it. Is there a rule of law in this country for such offences? The outcry of the Catholic Community for justice to Kunkujang Mariama School and Shrine lands is a long standing one. The old slogan still holds true that justice delayed is justice denied.
My dreams and wishes
o I wish to see justice done to our school land and the shrine land… to see the entire land relocated for the purpose to which it was destined. I wish to see the plunderers of our nation amend their ways and see every individual regardless of their tribe, religion and social background as equals deserving respect and fair treatment.
o I wish to see an end to the intimidation given to some minority groups of people and a stop to their unfair treatment as second-class citizens.
o I wish to see the government show more concern for the depletion of our land and for the wellbeing of those who fall victim of abuse by a few group of people and speak out in defense of their rights.
o I wish to see more encouragement given to agriculture and farming and the efforts of cashew plantation owners be recognized and applauded. The fight to maintain these plantations has been tough and challenging for the local farmers.
4.0 Discovery and experience
I have always had a great admiration for the farms in Europe. The acres and acres of grain, fruit and vegetable fields stretching as far as eyes can see. This has made me to question about the agricultural sector of my country. What is the breadbasket of the Gambia? Where is it situated at this point in time?
5.0 Our dependence on farmlands
What lands have the country reserved for the subsistence of the population besides the women village gardens? The Gambia is supposed to be a farming country, where are our farmlands today? What is it we depend on for our livelihood so that we do not rely totally on imports for everything?
6.0 Self-reliance on food production
World Health Organization has declared drastic food crisis particularly in the continent of Africa due to the war in Ukraine and Russian. What food production can our people rely on if the situation continues to get worst?
A glimmer of hope
I am hopeful when I see the Catholic youths mobilizing themselves to find a peaceful solution to the problem of the shrine land. I give them credit for that. We can no longer be onlookers, fence sitters and wait for others to act.
Mobilizing ourselves to find a peaceful and equitable solution is our desired goal but we desire peace that is based on justice and respect for the dignity and rights of every citizen. God made us equal and we must not be allowed to be intimidated and marginalized. Let us never lose sight of the beauty we carry in us, of being “made in the image and likeness of God” Genesis 1, 26. We have all contributed to the welfare and development of our nation, from our forefathers down through the ages.
We are in some way responsible for the unfair treatment we are receiving. We have been too lenient, tolerant and complacent. We need to wake up from our slumber and become more proactive, more engaged in protecting our rights. No one will do it for us. Those who are bullying us do not have any rights over us.
I would like to end with a quotation of Albert Camus I already shared in one of the platforms. It states: What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear… that they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood/stained face history has taken today. The grouping we need is a grouping of men and women resolved to speak out clearly and to pay up personally.”
Let us take time to think over this.
In Christ Jesus our Lord and God.