By Baba Sillah
In July 2005, at least 54 Ecowas nationals including 44 Ghanaians were alleged to have been killed in The Gambia by soldiers on the orders of President Yahya Jammeh. The killings led to a major diplomatic crisis between The Gambia and Ghana before regional and international bodies stepped in, investigated the matter and defused the tension. The Gambian government ended up paying token money to the families of the murdered Ghanaians.
On 25 August 2005, the then Ghanaian Foreign minister, now President, Nana Akufo Addo, sent a letter to the Gambian Foreign minister detailing Ghana Government’s finding on the matter. Akufo Addo’s letter contained a statement by Martin Kyere, then 27, the only Ghanaian survivor of the massacre. The Standard investigative team has laid its hands on Kyere’s statement, abridged here: “[Our] group left Saly-Mbour in the Thiés Region on Friday, 22 July 2005 at 5.45pm. A total of 56 [people] joined the canoe. The owners took the canoe to Barra beach and abandoned us at about 9.30am. The leaders of the group Victor and Amo then called a Captain Pat to come out with a credible plan to get us into a ship at sea.
At 2pm, he returned from Barra town alleging that he has been instructed by Captain Pat and a man called Lamin to find [another] canoe and transfer the group to a new place. At 5.30pm Victor returned with two canoes with four Gambians. One of the Gambians started giving instructions to stop the ferry coming from Barra and to return to Banjul. That made it evident that a police operation was ongoing. At 6.45pm we were marched into Barra Police Station. Twenty five people handed over their travelling documents. The two women in the group were asked to give written statements. The men made [oral] statements. Then they collected 7,000 Euros, 3 million CFA and D250,000 from Victor. The group was divided into two with one group containing 30 and the other about 20. The group of 30 was taken on a white colour 207 Benz bus driven by a policeman. The group left about 8.30pm. They were put on a naval boat and crossed to Banjul. Then they returned to collect us.
“We then met over 150 soldiers and policemen armed with rifles and Uzi weapons at the Banjul side of the river… A military man dressed in a bizarre manner, wearing a traditional cap with cow horns on them was holding a long sword with talisman all over him. The sinister looking soldier used his long sword to remove every dressing or anything a member of the group was wearing. They searched and removed any money from us. We were marched, amid beatings with police cudgels with some losing their teeth.
Then ten of us were put in one bus and tied together and distributed to various security posts. On Sunday, the 24th, at about 1.30am the two Senegalese were removed from the group leaving eight Ghanaians and one Togolese. The Ghanaians were myself, Richard Boakye, Kwadwo Antwo, Eric, Edmond Kumi, Fi and George Amo. Lamin was brought into the cell. On Sunday 31st July at about 11pm, together with Eric and Fi I was put onboard a police vehicle were six others were there including a Nigerian. We were taken into a warehouse and after 30 minutes more prisoners joined us taking the number to 15. At about 11.30pm, three soldiers armed with banderols, knives and guns and the man with the sword now in mufti appeared and instructed us to pick our bags. Lamin was taken out of the group and was undressed naked except for his underpants.
They used copper wires to tie our hands behind us and put us in a vehicle with our bags. They took us away from the warehouse at about 1.30am on a highway. At about 2.30am, the vehicle hit a sheep. They picked up the sheep and brought it with its blood in the vehicle. One soldier told us, ‘You will travel with the sheep’. We continued until we entered a forest. After an hour’s drive the soldiers went down with our personal effects. They spent 35 minutes and returned without our bags. One soldier hacked Mr Amo’s shoulder with a sword because Mr Amo complained that his hands were hurting him [from being tied]. Then we knew they were going to kill us. So we started making efforts to untie ourselves. I succeeded in untying myself and jumped into the forest. After about four minutes I heard people shooting and it continued for two minutes. I walked through the bush and came to a Senegalese border town, Bounkiling in Casamance where they gave me clothes and a letter to travel to Dakar on 5th August.”
According to Foreign minister Akufo Addo, the “56 West Africans” went to Banjul after being made to believe that there was a ship on the high seas off the Gambian coast to transport them to Europe.
The Standard has also seen the autopsy report of the eight Ghanaians whose bodies were discovered near Ghana Town between Brufut and Tanji during the period. The reports prepared by Dr Duanda of RVTH noted ‘severe skull fracture’, ‘devastating crushed skull exposing brain matter’, ‘traumatic skull and maxilla facial fractures’ during external examination of the bodies. The causes of death were listed as ‘massive traumatic crushing of the skull’ and ‘shock’.