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Brikama-Ba: Ex-Principal Explains How The School Faced Brunt of April 10/11 Demonstration

The first principal of Brikama-Ba Upper Basic School (now senior secondary school), Merican Mendy, has given a shocking testimony on  how some of his students were shot to death, while others were maimed by live rounds shot by state security forces during the April 10/11 student demonstrations.

The tragic demonstration started on April 10th, 2000 across the Kombos before being replicated in Brikama-Ba, a commercial town in Central River Region. The demonstration was in reaction to the death of a teenage student, Ebrima Barry, who was reported to have been inhumanely tortured by members of the Gambia Fire Services leading to his death in March 2000. 

Around the same time, an athlete, Binta (last name withheld for anonymity), was allegedly raped by police officers at the premises of the Independence Stadium in Bakau. She was representing the sporting delegation of Brikama-Ba Upper Basic School at an Inter-School Sports Athletic Competition. According to the now defunct Gambia Students’ Union (GAMSU), these two incidents justified their action to stage a student demonstration to call for justice for their peers.

Mendy told the TRRC that he found out that a demonstration was taking place in Kombos on the 10th of April when he switched on his television and started seeing security men running after students. He wouldn’t want his students to see what was displayed on TV and had to change the channel to video-player. He warned the students around him not to get involved in any demonstration, according to his testimony.

Soon after that, he told the TRRC that the armed men appeared at his residence and asked all of them to disperse. He said one of the security officers advised him to spend the night somewhere, which he did.

While coming to his residence the following morning, he recalled seeing a group of students at the school-gate being denied entry. He later asked the students to leave as there was supposed to be no school.

“Whilst I was in my office, some students came and joined me there and after a while, some more students came in. That was the time they informed me that the Head Boy, Hamadi Sowe, and the assistant Head Boy, Malick Jallow, were arrested at night.”

“They told me to go to the police station and secure the release of the students. I decided to call the police station to confirm whether those two were actually detained and the police at Brikama-Ba station confirmed to me that they were indeed arrested.”

According to him, he suggested to the students in his office that they should disperse and go home although some insisted on staying. 

“During that discussion, a soldier came inside the office and said: ‘Master, tell your children to go away’…The students insisted that they will not leave. There was a bit of push and pull and finally they ran out of the office. The soldier followed them and then I came out and saw them running towards the gate and the soldier was running after them into the village. At that point we heard a gunshot, followed by more gunshots.”

He recalled that Musa Kanagi, who also testified before the TRRC recently, being the first to be shot at.  “We saw blood coming out of his body.”

Apart from Musa, he testified that Ousman Sabally, an 8th grade student was shot to death soon after. “Ousman Sabally was shot in the chest and he died. He was confirmed dead upon arrival at Bansang hospital. But I believe he died before reaching Bansang.”

The school’s former principal who is now heading Ming Daw Upper Basic School recalls the moments when Ousman was brought into the compound by other students with blood oozing from his body.

“They came with him, laid him down in front of us and they were trying to give him water but he was not swallowing the water. We decided to take off his shirt and tied his wound and took him to the hospital. He was bleeding.”

Emotional tributes to victims 

“For Binta, I believe her rape had a very serious impact on her as a person. It cost her to lose something valuable. In our culture what we deemed valuable in a girl – she lost her virginity.”

According to him, Binta’s image in the community as well as in the school was destroyed.

“The family lost something very valuable in Binta and that has actually affected her education. Without the rape, she would have stayed on in the school and complete her schooling. Who knows what she could have become today?

He described Binta’s withdrawal from school as a great loss despite the efforts the school had taken after the family withdrew her. “I think the consequences were very devastating.”

“We lost Ousman [Sabally] at that tender age. He was in grade 8. I often said he would be the most remembered of all the students that have passed through me because, in death, the future will never change. With others, when you part with them after some time, you cannot recognize them because they have grown. He would remain the most memorable student for me. His family lost a lot and so has our nation.”

“For Musa [Kanagi], he’s incapacitated for the rest of his life because from the report, we understand that the damaged kidney was removed and he now lives on only one kidney. Who knows if that kidney has a problem and it would end his life?”

He appealed to the government to speed up the treatment process for the victims in any way possible including assistance for Binta. 

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