By Tabora Bojang
Over 200 students from the University of The Gambia who are on a research trip to Guinea Bissau were gripped by fear and anxiety after their convoy was caught up in a melee during a protest by youths in Casamance against Senegalese president Macky Sall’s decision to postpone the February presidential elections to December.
The postponement triggered wide protests in the country including Casamance, the home province and strong base of opposition Pastef leader Ousmane Sonko who was barred from contesting the election and jailed.
The UTG student convoy which left the Brikama campus Friday afternoon was confronted by mobs burning tyres and setting fires on the roads resulting in the stoppage of vehicular movements near Bignona.
Believing calm was restored, the UTG convoy comprising four buses and two vans issued by State House started to move but were stoned and the students panicked.
The carrier of one of the State House vehicles was damaged tipping the luggage to the ground.
During the melee, the buses fled the scene and drove towards Ziguinchor while the vans remained stuck.
The protesters instructed the two vans to move from where they were parked but as they were moving, the vehicles were stoned and the windscreen of one was completely damaged.
A student in one of the vehicles was hit with a burning wood, and another was hit with a stone on her hand but they did not sustain any serious injuries.
Popular Brikama preacher Wuyeh Njie who was also en route had to break up a prayer session after the protesters stoned the congregants.
A native suggested a different route for the two vans to use to drive towards Ziguinchor but along the bypass route, gangs of youths stopped the vehicles and demanded money from the passengers.
Armed gendarmes were seen on patrol but they could not deter the mob from lighting fires and burning vehicles.
The convoy spent the night at the Guinea Bissau-Senegal border and arrived in Bissau at 1pm on Saturday.
UTG lecturer, Dr Ensa Touray, who led the students to Bissau as part of an annual research trip to study the diverse cultural groups of the people of Guinea Bissau and how its nationalist leader Amilcar Cabral carved a movement against the economic manipulations of the colonial system that threatened the spiritual space of the people, explained: “We were not even aware of the situation in Casamance until when we reached Bignona. Then we realised that the youths were actually protesting against the extension of the election. Upon realising this situation, we approached the youth leaders and told them that we are Gambians heading to Bissau. We were eventually led to the highway after the military dispersed the rioters and our movement was facilitated. Information that the rebels kidnapped our bus is not true. There was no rebel that we saw, people were not armed with guns and we were not arrested. So the information is unfounded and we are informing everyone in The Gambia that we are safe and our students are enjoying Bissau and witnessing its diverse cultural display.”