Ghost of a tyrant: Gambia exiles return to fresh challenges   

A Gambian psychologist, Professor Sidibeh, told The Torch that he is ready to hold a public therapy sessions with victims of Jammeh to help them heal their past wounds.  

Gambia after Jammeh

Gambians look in anticipation as President Adama Barrow lands at Banjul International Airport from Senegal. Barrow was temporarily exiled in Senegal as regional leaders pleaded with former president Yahya Jammeh who refused to accept the polls result to cede power. Jammeh eventually accepted his fate and now lives in Equatorial Guinea.   

While Gambians still celebrate two months after the fall of dictator Yahya Jammeh, the tiny population still bears the scars of the strongman’s rule.

Those he banished from the small nation are back. But they have struggled to find their footing in a land they call home.

“When you come back, it is difficult to start over unless you are guided through,” Col. Abdoulie Jatta, a former Gambian soldier who spent seven years in exile in neighboring Senegal, tells The Torch.

Like many other former Gambian soldiers who fled to neighboring Senegal, Jatta had to resort to security jobs to survive.

At the time of his return in March, he had nothing except the money that the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, gave the returnees which, he reveals, had to be used to pay his monthly rent.

“It is difficult starting from zero,” says Jatta, who speaks fluent Turkish, having done his basic military training in Turkey.

He had joined the army in 1997 as a cadet officer and rose through the ranks to become Jammeh’s personal bodyguard.

Read more: ‘Executed’ Gambian coup plotters exhumed

– ‘Our stories are the same’

Jatta, 40, was dismissed from the Gambian army in March 2010 with scores of other high-ranking officials who were later arrested and jailed.

After realizing he was being followed everywhere he went, fearing for his life, he left Gambia.

Jatta’s struggle is one of many since the fall of Jammeh, as numerous Gambians in exile return, namely from neighboring Senegal.

Lamin Kanagie, 34, a medical field assistant, spent two years in Senegal after being accused of leaking information to anti-Jammeh online media outlets operating in the U.S. and Europe.

Lamin now joins the nearly 40 percent of jobless Gambian youths.

“Our stories are the same. We all suffer the same predicament. I have not gotten a regular job since I came back,” says Lamin who came back in March.

Sanna Camara, 36, a Gambian journalist exiled by the Jammeh regime for doing a story that suggested that government is having capacity problems dealing with human trafficking in the country, said their plight requires attention.

“… The help shouldn’t just come from government but also other bodies concerned with plight of journalists. Many of us have returned to big arrears, unpaid school and other bills, others to broken homes as a result of their being away in exile. It would be noble for these people to receive help from society they suffered for. Every trauma, psychological or otherwise, needs diagnosis or therapy,” Camara argued.

Lamin Sidibeh, a psychology professor, who has worked with the UNHCR in Somalia, Sudan and other African countries for 15 years, says that after four or five years in exile, “reintegration does not come by easily because lots of things change and therefore lots of adjustments are required”.

– Expert help

“Normally, when people flee their countries because of fear of persecution, they run away ill-prepared or unexpectedly. And the longer they stay away, the more problematic it is likely to be for them to come back and resettle or reintegrate,” Sidibeh argues.

He says the exiles and other victims of the past regime would need expert help, including a start-up grant to help them reintegrate society.

“There should be an open forum, a group therapy with an expert, for these victims who have come back, to discuss their problems… Give them help in positive thinking rather than distorted thinking… But also giving them financial support is also important because government could not employee all of them. You can also give them a starter grant.”

“When I pass people on the street, I hear all kinds of comments and anger and sometimes, I smile but sometimes I feel so deserted because I know those are normal psychological reactions after such an ordeal…” Sidibeh says.

Sidibeh expresses readiness to hold open “public therapy” for victims of Jammeh, including the exiles to talk to them about their various traumatic experiences.

Meanwhile, some former military officers have been reinstated into the army since their return while others like Col. Jatta await their fate.

He says he has already seen the country’s military chief, Masaneh Kinteh, over his desire to serve his country again.

Meanwhile, while the former military have hope of being reinstated as necessary vetting appears to be a mere formality, job search for others continues for the formerly exiled.

Reconciliation

The new government that toppled the dictator has promised to reconcile the people who are still nursing the wounds of 22 years of misrule.

However, the commission that the government intends to establish, according to the justice minister Bubacarr Tambedou, will come in September 2017.

Meanwhile, 9 former National Intelligence Agency members of the former government are being tried for the allege murder of an opposition activist, Solo Sandeng.

Sidibeh says while justice must be given consideration by the Government, the country can’t move on without a “healing process”, adding “that is why truth and reconciliation commission is important”.

“After 22 years of dictatorship that Gambians have undeservedly gone through, there are bound to be lots of psychological implications,” he says.

“Justice should prevail but there should also be a healing process… A committee of psychologists and social workers should be used to work on the minds of the victims.

 “There could also be a radio or TV programme to talk about the psychological problem of the people in general…”

 

 

 

 

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