By Isatou Juwara
In the United States, African-Americans suffer from police brutality and harassment because of their skin colour. In my country The Gambia, young innocent citizens are detained, intimidated and harassed by police and security personnel in the name of tourist season – a fancy name for the presence of white visitors. Here I was thinking slavery was over. I thought the days when Africans suffered from inferiority complex were long gone – I was wrong. The difference is that now, we enslave ourselves.
In this modern-day of slavery, we live in a country where a man in authority threatens to lock up the unemployed youths that he is supposed to empower through the tourism sector, a country where hotels prevent citizens from gaining access to the facilities because white people are around (chuckles), a country where an entire area is reserved only for white people (go to Kotu), a country where you get stopped and questioned simply because you are a black person who wishes to get dinner at the Senegambia area.
Just the other day, a friend and I decided to take a walk to the beach and enjoy the scenery. Out of nowhere, a police officer stops us. He doesn’t ask for an ID. He asks where we are headed. We replied that we were headed for the beach. He asks what we were going there to do. We informed him that we only wished to meet some friends and hang out. He orders us to stand – what for? We were neither suspects nor did we look like criminals. In fact, we looked as decent and as responsible as many Gambian youths who are only interested in living their life as peacefully as possible. The police officer informed us of a certain “policy” that requires all Gambians to have a certain “ID” in order to gain access to the beach and other areas often visited by the “white visitors”. Yes, that’s right. In my own country, I must be given permit to move around because “the white people are so special and I’m a danger to them” (laughs!).
So many people have cried about this shameful and unbelievable insanity on social media. Here’s a post from one of the many angry and frustrated youths in Gambia:
“As a Gambian citizen, I have the right to walk on the beach without being kicked out simply because of the colour of my skin. Took my car to the car wash at Elton Bijilo and decided to take a walk to the beach. The moment the police officers spotted me, they approached me to “educate” me on the “Government policy” that only allows Gambians on the beach between the hours 5: 30a.m – 9a.m. Beyond that, only white people/tourist are allowed on the beach. I find this quite insulting…
As a Gambian working and paying my taxes, I have the right to move freely within the Gambian territory without harassment from the police or any security personnel. Is this really a policy/law from the Ministry of tourism and GT Board? Should this be the priority of the government to only protect the tourist but discriminate against Gambian Nationals? Whilst countries are busy saving their nationals from slavery in Libya, the security is busy harassing and treating their fellow citizens as slaves in their own country… We need to evaluate, review, amend/repeal these so-called discriminatory laws/regulations/polices.
Otherwise, all these efforts towards development will be a freaking waste of time!”
Let us create a different scenario. Let’s say a girl of 15 was walking with a tourist past the same police officers. Can anyone swear to me that that young girl or the white man would be stopped and questioned? Anyone? Here’s a fact: Prostitution is illegal in The Gambia. Yet, every single day, more young Gambian girls get picked up right at the Senegambia junction under the watchful eyes of the so-called security men. Our girls are being used by these same tourists that we worship. No one stops them because their currency is foreign.
Are we so hateful of ourselves?
What exactly are those police officers who are situated at Senegambia area doing there? Who are the police protecting? Are they protecting you and I? Or are they protecting the white “masters”? Please explain to me why the good, young people of Gambia are not allowed to enjoy the beauty of their country simply because of tourists. Since when did it become illegal for an adult to go to the beach?
Who is responsible for this situation? Tell the tourist police to drop their whips of slavery; we pay for the food we eat at restaurants, we pay for the pools we use at hotels, we pay! Just like the white visitors, we pay! But most importantly, this is our country and we were born free!
Instead of harassing Gambians and preventing them from gaining access to facilities in their own country, why not place security personnel at the beach and other tourist areas to patrol the areas continuously? That should be enough to prevent any wrongdoings from Gambians and non-Gambians alike! Let us get our priorities straight. Our young boys and girls are being exposed to many harmful effects of tourism. Likewise, tourists are at risk of being harmed by bad elements in our society.
The government must come up with a solution that does not infringe upon the rights of the citizens while protecting the interest of both parties.
I dream of a day when Africa would be truly independent of the “white masters”. When Africa, and The Gambia in particular, would have educated and empowered her youths so that they can truly take the country to higher heights. That, am afraid, would never happen if we continue to drive the youths away from home.
Say no to slavery! Stop harassing the youths!