For 22 years Gambians lived underneath the grip of former president, Yahya Jammeh, whose rule was marked by allegations of human rights abuses together with killings, witch hunts and compelled labour – though Mr Jammeh has beforehand denied wrongdoing. Since his shock election defeat greater than 5 years in the past, the nation has been coming to phrases with its painful historical past, together with by the medium of artwork.
Fatou Terema Jeng was overcome with emotion when she first noticed her pictures within the grounds of a museum known as The Reminiscence Home. Nevertheless it was not the same old despair and disappointment she feels when she thinks about what she mentioned was accomplished to her household by the Yahya Jammeh regime in The Gambia.
As an alternative of tears, there have been smiles.
“I used to be so completely satisfied once I noticed my portraits. They regarded so lovely. I could not cease smiling that day.”
Her radio technician husband, Sankung Balajo, died due to witch hunts allegedly meted out on the orders of Mr Jammeh.
They apparently began in 2009 after he blamed an aunt’s loss of life on witchcraft and are thought to have occurred sporadically over seven years. They struck deep terror and divisions in communities in Gambia.
Ms Jeng’s pictures are a part of a strong sequence of portraits of 11 people who find themselves sharing their tales of the horrific abuses they are saying they and their households suffered underneath Mr Jammeh, who was in energy between 1994 and 2016.
The exhibition, We Are Not Executed, is on show within the courtyard of The Reminiscence Home – Gambia’s first ever memorialisation centre.
The constructing is run by the African Community Towards Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances (ANEKED), which is pushing for alleged human rights perpetrators to be dropped at trial and was arrange by filmmaker and human rights activist, Nana-Jo Ndow, a couple of years after a private tragedy.
In 2013, her father Saul Ndow – a outstanding businessman who usually spoke out towards Mr Jammeh – went lacking whereas on a visit to Senegal, together with Mahawa Cham, a former politician he was travelling with.
In July 2019, one of many “Junglers” – a paramilitary group which reported on to Mr Jammeh – confessed earlier than a fee to research the Jammeh regime that he had buried Mr Ndow’s physique on the president’s cashew nut farm in The Gambia.
In response to Omar Jallow’s testimony, Mr Ndow had been kidnapped from Senegal and murdered on the orders of the then president.
“His disappearance actually shattered our household. It simply broke us into items,” says Ms Ndow.
“Many individuals turned their backs on us. It is like you’ve gotten one thing that’s contagious. You’re additionally made to really feel responsible.”
Ms Ndow discovered that different folks, principally ladies, skilled one thing related. Her work at The Reminiscence Home now focuses on “making the invisible seen”, utilizing visible story-telling as a software to uncover and protect the historical past of what occurred throughout Mr Jammeh’s rule – and to assist the therapeutic course of.
In addition to pictures, The Reminiscence Home comprises private objects, like id playing cards and outfits, of among the individuals who have been allegedly unlawfully killed and forcibly disappeared.
The museum can also be now on the checklist of websites authorized by the Gambian schooling ministry the place colleges go to to study their nation.
“A lot of the college students have been born in the course of the Jammeh period. So all they’ve recognized is a dictatorship,” says Sirra Ndow, Nana-Jo’s cousin who works alongside her. “And we have to guarantee that the scholars know that dictatorship isn’t a standard system of presidency.”
Sirra Ndow calls it “unlearning a dictatorship”. It includes workshops by which youthful folks study human rights and transitional justice.
The We Are Not Executed portraits – taken on cellphones by Rohey Cham, Fatou Ndure and Cecilia Wuday Sanyang – got here out of such coaching.
Throughout it, Ms Cham, 18, realised that she too had had her human rights violated. On the age of 10, she was alleged to go on a college journey to an historic website. As an alternative, the kids have been taken to Mr Jammeh’s farm in Kanilai and made to select cashew nuts underneath the supervision of troopers.
“I by no means thought that was pressured labour, as a result of I used to be so younger.”
‘The witch hunt’
Six out of the 11 tales documented by the photographers centre on witch hunts.
The victims have been rounded up at gunpoint and brought to secret detention centres. They recounted being stripped bare, overwhelmed, pressured into confessing to committing murders by witchcraft and compelled to drink a hallucinogenic, natural concoction. Some died.
A lot of these featured within the exhibition reside with the bodily after-effects, in addition to flashbacks, crippling nervousness and despair attributable to post-traumatic stress dysfunction.
Fatou’s mom was eight months’ pregnant when she was accused of being a witch and brought away by troopers. She misplaced the kid, and had no less than two different miscarriages.
Fatou was bullied at college due to these accusations made towards her mom, and needed to depart when she was 10 years outdated. She ended up getting married when she was very younger. Whereas her husband is out at work, she spends the times alone: “I’ve no buddies,” she mentioned.
Fatou requested that her id not be revealed – which is why the pictures of her on show have been taken together with her carrying a veil.
Like many others within the exhibition, that is the primary time Fatou has opened up concerning the witch hunt.
Earlier than, she was afraid of talking about it due to concern “one thing worse would have occurred” to her and her family members.
She isn’t the one one. Many Gambians didn’t testify earlier than the Reality, Reconciliation and Reparations Fee (TRRC), which heard witness testimony between January 2019 and mid-2021 about life underneath Mr Jammeh. Some as a result of it was broadcast reside and was subsequently far too public a discussion board by which to speak of deeply disturbing incidents.
Others as a result of they have been scared of doable repercussions.
Mr Jammeh is in exile in Equatorial Guinea – however a few of his henchmen stay in positions of authority in villages, in authorities, within the military and within the nationwide intelligence service.
Mr Jammeh could have left The Gambia, however the ache many really feel his regime inflicted stays.
Life has been an actual wrestle for Ms Jeng ever since. She makes a bit cash by washing garments. However she has been shunned and shamed by some folks: “Our neighbours is not going to permit my youngsters to eat with them as a result of they mentioned their father was a witch.”
However coming to The Reminiscence Home, seeing her portraits and her husband’s haftaan – a standard outfit, which she has donated to the museum – has been cathartic for her.
She feels that she is, lastly, beginning to get better.
“This was my first time sharing my story and it has helped me heal rather a lot.”
We Are Not Executed runs from the center of Might for 3 months, or till the rains come.
You may hear extra about The Reminiscence Home on this version of The Comb podcast.
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All images are topic to copyright. All images within the exhibition have been taken by Rohey Cham, Fatou Ndure and Cecilia Wuday Sanyang.