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City of Banjul
Saturday, May 8, 2021

Lessons from Sanyang riot

The problem of insecurity such as the Sanyang incident this week should be treated with urgency and resolved in a multi-lateral way to ensure durable peace among the inhabitants including foreigners, especially the Senegalese fisher folks.

Of course, we all know and would appreciate that the suspected killer must face justice for his crime but the reminder of the crisis such as the reaction of the natives through vandalism of the police station and the factory, demonstrates a deep-seated resentment that can easily spread to other fish landing towns where, in fact, there already exist similar issues.

Let’s face it, for more than half a century, Gambian coastal villages from Bakau, Brufut, Tanji, Sanyang right down to Gunjur have been hosting seasonal and sometimes permanently stationed Senegalese fishermen and their families, mainly the Lebbous from Dakar, Ndarr in Saint Louis and the Serer from Jaol. In fact, in older and bigger fishing communities like Tanji and Brufut, they have even intermarried with Gambians. 

Until recently, hardly had there been any issue between them. So what is the source or cause of the current anti-Senegalese sentiment among the people of these areas? The reasons are both economical and nationalistic.

The Gambia Government must wake up and take this message seriously; the presence of the fishmeal factories in all these costal towns is not popular and is the main source of tension among the people and whipping up narrow nationalism against perceived foreign destruction of their sea and land resources.  While most of the anger is often directed at the Chinese investors and government which gave them license, the Senegalese fishermen who traditionally live harmoniously with the locals, have now found a lucrative business in supplying the foreign factories with fish which unfortunately dragged them to the bad books of the locals.  Yes, the killing of a Gambian by a Senegalese may have sparked the current crisis but came against the backdrop of growing suspicion among the local and their usual traditional friends, the Lebbous, and Serer from Senegal.

Another element to the saga is the role of the local police. Apparently, the locals in the costal towns seem to have little trust in the police as demonstrated by unwarranted attacks on their facilities in the Tanji and now Sanyang.

The police have always said the mob took the law into their own hands and wanted them to act unprofessionally, unlawfully and forcibly in handling cases without regard to due process, while the natives said police never take their complaints seriously.

This is a worrying trend that must be looked into. No one should attack the police under any circumstances, especially where there are channels of communication and avenues for complaints to be lodged against any alleged malpractice by the police.  But the police too must be tactful and use their much-praised community policing methods and include the local elders and officials. In this regard, we welcome the excellent mediation and peace mission conducted by deputy Governor Musa Suso of West Coast Region who worked very hard through the night to simmer down tensions.

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