Bitter Truth: Emotional Burdens of TRRC Confessions on Ordinary Gambians
The past few weeks have been quite painful and theatrical at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC). Jungulars (members of ex-president Yahya Jammeh’s hit squad) from Malick Jatta (the first confessed jungular to testify) to Alieu Jeng (the latest to testify), gave chilling accounts of how they went on a killing spree for Jammeh.
One after the other, they confessed to shooting, suffocating, decapitating and strangulating their victims. Like broken record, they also gave distressing accounts of how they tortured detainees and prisoners mainly at the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in Banjul. Their confessions validated what people knew about the Jammeh regime; a reign of terror characterized by extreme levels of brutality and extrajudicial killings.
So what have so far been the emotional burdens of these gruesome testimonies of the jungulars on the Gambian people who have been religiously following the proceedings of the TRRC? The Chronicle has been out and about to gauge the views of the people.
“When they started it was really interesting to hear these confessions – people talking about what they did and talking about the truth about so many mysterious things that happened in the country. But then later on it started affecting me,” says Haddijatou Bah.
“I later realized that it is becoming so barbaric. I don’t want to watch it anymore.”
Amara Kanteh, a chef, regularly followed the TRRC proceedings when it started but stopped following after the first week because he found it boring and time consuming. But on 22nd July, when Malick Jatta was testifying, Amara couldn’t resist the temptation.
“I didn’t plan on watching it. I had a TV screen almost in front of me but I had no interest in watching,” he tells The Chronicle. “But all of a sudden, I heard the guy confessing to killing people. When I heard him saying how they pursued Deyda Hydara and how they shot him to death, I couldn’t move my legs. I thought I was hallucinating. I kept on asking my friend who was with me at the time if what I just heard was real. I realised my friend was also speechless.”
Malick Jatta confessed to other killings and tortures afterwards but the testimony was too depressing for Amara to keep following.
“There was no way I could follow. I just sat there imagining what his victims’ families were going through. Tears were dropping down my cheeks. But that wasn’t the worst thing that happened to me. Since the guy made those confessions, I’ve not been myself. It looks like I can’t shake off the memories of his voice and the image of his face confessing to killing innocent people in such terrible ways. I’ve not followed the TRRC after that and I will never follow it. I’m done.”
Babucarr Jallow, a private security guard holds his small radio set listening to the TRRC testimony of Alieu Jeng Thursday. “I am always with my radio to listen to the TRRC sessions,” he says.
Until the commencement of the TRRC proceedings, Babucarr believed allegations of atrocities against the former regime were false. “I thought people were just accusing him (Jammeh) of crimes he didn’t commit. But everything is now clear and people will not deny the atrocities done by him.”
Ya Awa Ceesay, a cross-border trader (between Senegal and Gambia) was excited about the TRRC testimonies at the beginning.
“For me it was both interesting and educative when people Chongan and others testified about what was going on during the Jawara regime etc. I was only 11 years when Jawara was overthrown by Jammeh. So it meant a lot to me to hear testimonies about the Jawara government from people who were deep inside that government,” she says.
But as the proceedings deepened, Ya Awa’s excitement about the TRRC quickly disappeared.
“When Alagie Kanyi testified and confessed to killing 11 November soldiers, I cried so much but then I continued watching. But when the Malick Jatta guy and the second jungular testified the other day, I felt like I was being suffocated. It wasn’t normal.”
“I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I felt so much pain in my chest. I’ve been so angry and so upset. My friends kept on telling me that it’s normal but it’s not. What I heard from these killers has taken away my happiness. I don’t know how those people at the TRRC do it but I can’t even watch it or listen to it anymore. Whenever there’s TRRC, I go away from people who are listening to it,” Ya Awa tells The Chronicle.
Ali Sey is a keen follower of the TRRC hearings. During the day, his uses his radio to listen, and at night he watches repeat broadcast on TV. So far the confessions of the jungulars stand out for him.
“On the case of the jungulars, they shouldn’t expect to capture someone’s child, take the person away, harm him and then come and ask for forgiveness. For me I’m not going to accept such.”
He urges the government to take them [jungulars] to Mile 2 prison to serve life in jail. According to him, compensation of families with money is not the solution.
“If it’s an accident one can understand. But taking plastic bag to suffocate victims to death and bury them at the same place when people were looking for their family members for years and they could not see them.”
Many more jungulars are expected to testify at the TRRC.