With Rohey Samba
It is no doubt true that social media and especially Facebook, was instrumental in bringing change to The Gambia. When our entitled dictator, former president Jammeh, refused to step down eight days after conceding defeat to the Coalition government, social media inspired our persistence to cultivate success and value tenacity that help to shape the silent war waged against Babili Mansa in the catchphrase ‘Gambia Has Decided’.
But those were the good old days. To date, the abuse of social media to incite violence, inspire hate and pursue personal vendettas is way overboard. I am referring specifically to body shaming of fellow Gambians, mainly female Gambians, by their boyfriends, jealous wives and ex-wives, friends and mere acquaintances and so on.
In effect, body shaming does not end there. Last week or so, I was shocked to receive on my WhatsApp the shocking images of the late Vanesha, allegedly beaten up and killed by her male escort, lying in the cold streets of Manjai, half dressed and dead as dead can be.
Once in The Gambia that cared, where people vouched for each other and hid our profligacies behind the shroud of ‘sutura’, this would be unheard of. She would have been wrapped up in kindness by the first person who caught sight of her. And anyone who was bold enough to take a picture of her, would keep the image to himself/herself, not create a buzz out of someone else’s misfortune.
The way her body was exposed, snapshot and diffused on social media is heart breaking, not only for her mother who lost her only child in those macabre circumstances, but to all feeling Gambians who have their hearts in the right places. Our unnatural obsession with nudity, body shaming and pornography is killing our sentiments for human compassion, empathy and kindness, without which we are an empty lot clinging onto life by the skin of our teeth.
Suffice it to say that the horrific portrayal of Vanesha in the last stages of her life transcends base cruelty and enters into the realm of savagery. Abiding by the human hunger for prurience, and Gambians’ thirst for gossip, social media is wreaking havoc in our society. Barely a week passes by without a dirty video of a woman in a compromising position being posted or a new image of a nude girl sent online for all to see.
The display of the female body parts in numerous stages of undress shared on social media for all to see is basically the latest leanings of idle, bitter and jealous partners/persons. But this is nothing compared to the viral pornographic videos of young and older Gambians, mostly women, spread across social media. Since the first video of the school girl performing a sex act in school uniform emerged, in 2014, more and more such videos have been made viral without any consequences.
The 2014 video, without doubt, gave shape and definition to the fundamental assault on our country’s best traditions and cultural heritage. The replication and evolvement of suchlike videos in the New Gambia with all its freedoms however, speaks to a lack of knowledge about freedom and the lack of recognition of the human rights of its people. This already has pernicious effects on society at large, where young adolescents are exposed to materials they have no rights in seeing at all, at their tender ages.
The dirty dancing of the expelled student from one of our prestigious senior secondary school demonstrates an audaciousness and flagrancy that only a society steeped in decadence can muster. I am not going to give any judgments on the matter of whether it was right for the school to expel her or not, because that is not my prerogative. Schools have rules, and students must abide by those rules or face the consequences of their actions. The same is true for societies and all institutions for that matter.
To date, many young people cannot venture into society unarmed with their smartphones. My latent fear is for my kids to find any censured videos on my phone. So each day, before I close work, I delete all videos and images sent to me on WhatsApp, which are unbecoming, because even my last child who is four years old borrows my phone to watch videos! Fact of the matter is, I cannot submit my children to a fate I was protected from during my own childhood.
In effect, social media is today’s reality. This generation cannot be protected by putting a ban on it, but the unearned punishment of offenders who post dirty videos and/or pictures, be they of their relatives, spouses, exes, cohorts, partners, enemies etc. is bolstering the knack for repeated offenders to post more censured tapes.
Yes, break-ups are painful, especially if it is caused by another fellow human being, be it a man or a woman, a teenager or an elder. Betrayal affects us all in profoundly painful ways. There is no one who is immune from the pain, neither can anyone inoculate themselves against it. Yet, I see no merit in a personal vendetta against any person other than the one who decimated ones relationship in the first place by cheating with someone else, that is, one’s current partner.
We all dream of lifelong partnerships. But sadly, just a few of us will ever get to realise this in our lifetimes. Shelling out for an online exposure of ones partner’s lover in order to debase, body shame and humiliate them is cruel, unethical and criminal. It is allowing a breakup to consume one’s life in concerning ways rather than using the bad experience to set the tone for your future relationships.
As for the boyfriends/spouses who send these images to their friends just to satisfy someone’s idle curiosity, the penalties should also apply. If one is accosting strangers to ones doorstep, one must be ready to bare out all the cockroaches in one’s own house. So while you send ones partner’s private pictures, also send your own reciprocating pictures. It takes two to tango, right? Smdth…
Really, I am incapable of seeing the merit in these callous acts.
Verily, coping with these assaults on our traditions and values as peoples of The Gambia by minimisation, denial and/ or leniency cannot afford us the wherewithal to protect ourselves from the consequences of unregulated social media in this country. The ‘Mashallaha’ syndrome, where everything is brushed under the carpet as if nothing has ever happened cannot save us from ourselves. Neither can further legislative advances. The violations of universal human rights and dignities of persons whose images and videos are made viral without their prior informed consents must be protected at all costs.
The good and the bad news is that if the government of New Gambia fails to address this folly, we New Gambians are presented with the opportunity to establish appropriate consequences. Excuse my brazenness, but what is FLAG, i.e. Female Lawyers Association of The Gambia doing to put a halt to this nonsense? Or any respectable lawyer in The Gambia for that matter.
Personally, I don’t care about the motives of the body shamed individual, that is, whether the woman sent the pictures to trade her body to exhort money or whatever is irrelevant, but the flagrant abuse of the person’s unalienable right to privacy as a free adult, is the matter of contention here.
The lack of response from high government officials on a matter that is clearly getting out of hand must be addressed by institutional organizations as well as legal reforms. We cannot expect victims to come out and fight for themselves through the courts of law, as Mbaachu of Senegal did earlier this year when an ex posted nude pictures of her online. For most of these victims, it is financial untenable to do so, the services of a lawyer being so exorbitant in small Gambia. And most victims, by the way, are too traumatised and humiliated to even show their faces up in society.
As anyone who assaults the dignity of the President is apprehended by the police and taken through due judicial process, so must anyone who share censured images be equally apprehended for the common good of our society. The President of course, is a simple citizen of The Gambia as any other Gambian. No one citizen is more equal than the other. It is therefore our duty of care to ensure that a halt is put to this phenomenon. Otherwise, it is catastrophic for our society.
(Rohey Samba is an award winning Gambia writer and author of 3 books, with experience working as a media analyst, press and public outreach assistant for the EU Election Observation Mission in The Gambia National Assembly Elections, 2017. She owns a publishing company and works as a maritime specialist, specialising in maritime safety and environmental administration at Gambia Maritime Administration.)