By Omar Bah
A Soninkara group has urged the government to exercise good faith in handling the caste tension in Basse to avoid scratching old wounds.
The group urged the government to ensure that the culture and tradition of both sides are respected.
“We also want to issue a formal complaint to the Gambia government and the Inspector General of Police against the Basse police chief (Ensa Badjie) over his handling of caste issues in Garawol,” the group said in a statement shared with The Standard.
According to reports, police and army commanders in Basse cautioned the people of Garawol after the village alkalo ordered a man to pay a fine of D10,000 for leading a congregational prayer for “slaves” on Tobaski day.
The decision to caution the people of Garawol was reached at a meeting summoned by police commissioner Ensa Badjie between the supposed slaves and supposed free born natives of Garawol in the URR.
“The alkalolu in Soninkara communities, like other alkalolu around the country should serve as authorities maintaining peace and order in their various villages. We want to remind the government that each Gambian village has its cultural and traditional norms.
“These practices rely on both our religious and constitutional values. The caste system in the Soninkara society just like in Mandinka, Fulani and Wolof societies is a tradition. We are aware of the constitutional provision which clearly states that no person shall be held in slavery or servitude or forced labour. These provisions are not violated by the Soninkara society,” the group said.
They further argued: “These values, cultural and traditional ways of living are also protected under the Gambian Constitution. We will not tolerate attempts by anyone to destabilize norms that guide our peaceful co-existence in our villages for hundreds of years. As far as we are concerned, everyone is free to belong to any caste group without resorting to violence, insults and disturbing the peace in our communities.
“For the police commissioner in Basse to convene such a meeting with other law enforcement officers and basically threaten our alkalo is totally unacceptable. We in Soninkara Concern Group want to register this formal complaint loud and clear that days are gone when officers responsible for public protection and safety can bully and threaten societies and go scot-free.”
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had also recently recommended “urgent” government action to address the caste system that has gripped the URR and other parts of the country.