By Lamin Cham, just back from Georgetown
President Adama Barrow has said The Gambia will seize the bicentenary of the arrival of freed slaves in Jangjangbureh and its diplomatic, intellectual, and cultural advantage to promote the reparations agenda.
The president was on the island throughout last weekend leading activities marking the two hundred years since freed slaves landed there. In front of Senegalese prime minister Amadou Ba and Commonwealth secretary general Patricia Scotland, Barrow, with mixed feelings, said the historic festival in Jangjangbureh was organised to remember the events of the mid-nineteenth century characterized by the cruel act of forcing Africans into slavery. He said the events of those dark ages have forced Africans to demand reparations from those who took part in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
“It is a welcome development that the African Union, the United Nations, and some African countries have already started to ask for reparations.
The African Union, for instance, has in the past two decades led a strong and persistent campaign on reparations for slavery as a basic human right for Africans. We are in this historic town, therefore, to celebrate its bicentenary on an island where hope was restored to captured Africans who were unjustly seized, unjustly treated, and unjustly removed from their homeland and families without any regard for their rights and dignity,” Barrow told a huge gathering which also included Ecowas Commission president Dr Omar Touray.
The president revealed that Jangjangbureh was transformed from a peaceful Gambian settlement to a trading centre by the British, under Queen Victoria but it eventually hosted many French and British firms and was renamed McCarthy Island, with a part of it called Georgetown.
“As we have it on record, thousands of Africans who were freed from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade bound for Freetown, Sierra Leone, were re-settled here in Georgetown.
We are in this historic town, therefore, to celebrate its bicentenary on an island where hope was restored to captured Africans who were unjustly seized, unjustly treated, and unjustly removed from their homeland and families without any regard for their rights and dignity,” he said.
President Barrow took particular delight in the fact that in 2022, at its 73rd Ordinary Session right here in The Gambia, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights agreed to set up a committee that would establish a case for reparations and to keep that momentum, The Gambia will use the Jangjangbureh festival to push and invigorate that agenda. The president thanked his tourism minister Hamat Bah, officials, local and international institutions that contributed energy, time and funds to the success of the event.
The Senegalese prime minister, Amadou Ba, said President Macky Sall shared the lofty ideas behind the festival and welcomed the initiative firework of the unique relations between the two countries.
The Commonwealth secretary general, Patricia Scotland, commended the initiative and called it a home-coming for herself and others with similar stories connected to slavery.
The four-day event featured a symposium with eloquent speakers who made riveting presentations on the history of slavery and related things. The organizers made sure there were plenty of artistic displays and cultural performances by dozens of artists and groups while tourist attractions on the island such as the Methodist Church, believed to be the oldest church in Africa, were visited and featured as key elements of the history of the town.