Demolition of Structures In Sukuta Salagi: The State’s Public Exhibition of Contempt for Kombonkas
By DF Manneh. Brufut Native, UK Resident.
Land. Precious Land.
Land is a precious and valuable resource. Besides its sentimental and symbolic value, it is also a signifier of economic and political power. Thus, its management needs handling with care and sensitivity.
The selective nature by which organs of the state demolished structures at Salagi, served as a stark reminder of the hallmarked culture of maladministration in Gambian polity. More worrisome, the event evinced the systemic and entrenched nature of the disdain towards Kombo’s customary landowners.
Although there is normalcy and routine to The Gambia’s mis-governance, the one true outlier is the state-sanctioned robbery of Kombo lands – under guises of “land legislation”. A cursory glance at these legislations unearths a staggering and wide-ranging systematic injustice and abuse of state powers.
The state apparatuses that enable this robbery are complex policy infrastructures – the genesis of which we can trace to Jawara’s administration. At intervals, and as required, these methods get refined for efficiency.
Thus, like their predecessors, the current administrators at Physical Planning concocted an elaborate ruse to rob Sukuta community of its land. They assumed the landowners would not stand in their way. An expectation which turned out to be a miscalculation.
The reaction the demolition provoked has a duality: put a marker down, and serve as the catalyst for a corrective action (process) towards ending the pervasive devaluing of Kombonkas. We, therefore, commend the determination and the vehemence by which the community responded. It was both fitting and justified.
However, that justifiable display of outrage is not enough. Kombo should follow this up with revitalised efforts towards redressing an all-pervading injustice. It is important that the reaction be substantial – and not mere symbolism. It should also serve as the vehicle through which Kombo turns a new chapter in its relationship with the state.
1st Republic – Unforgivable Betrayal of Trust.
At the attainment of “self-rule”, the people of Kombo were ecstatic and spell-bound by patriotic fervour. The euphoria at The Gambia unyoking itself from colonialism was quite intoxicating. But as with all intoxicants, a terrible hangover soon followed.
On the realisation that the nascent nation-state – taking its first unsteady steps – needed a viable economy, the pursuit of such means became a national preoccupation. And, to no surprise, when called upon, Kombo answered.
A chance sailing through The River Gambia by a Scandinavian yachtsman provided the realisation that tourism could play a role in The Gambia’s economic well-being. To realise this dream, the Jawara administration asked Coastal Kombo communities to lease swathes of land to the state. As patriots, Kombonkas agreed.
Yet, the reward from the administration for this noble act of patriotism was the ultimate betrayal imaginable. A Machiavellian cohort within the administration had a desire to rob these decent people of their lands. They created clever schemes and codified unjust statutes to aid in their deceit.
They divided up swathes of valuable lands among themselves. And registered them without informing the traditional owners, an act that desecrated centuries-old valued customs and traditions.
To justify their avarice, they created a narrative of “TDA Lands are government lands” – a falsehood that flies in the face of the terms of both the informal (verbal) and the (legal) lease agreement.
2nd Republic – Transfer of Communal Wealth to an Individual. The “tycoonisation” of a chancer.
Under the Jammeh regime, the scale of land theft exploded and developed into a more brazen form. This era witnessed the singular, largest, and most consequential forced transfer of wealth.
The expropriation of communal lands in Yundum and Brufut – and “gifting” them to an individual: Mustapha Njie, is akin to what Mr Banka Manneh surmised as “confiscating the combined bank savings of ten- generations-old communities, and handing it over to an individual.” The act is both unheralded and unparalleled even in our colonial history. If unchallenged, this scandal would become normalised, and leave a devastating legacy on future generations.
Through a dictatorial decree, 361,842.41m2 of Brufut Kajabang Farmlands (Brufut Gardens and AU Presidential Villas – 258,241.41m2 and 103,601.00m2) respectively, got wrestled from the Manneh clan. The forceful “compensation” of 250,000 GMD ($4,857.67 USD – today’s rate) added insult to injury. The subsequent charade of allowing the aggrieved to seek legal redress in a judicial system maximally calibrated against it, was an added insult.
Now, considering this “tycoon” sells 30m by 40m of undeveloped plots at $34,000 (2,058,600.00 GMD) validates Mr Banka Manneh’s assertion.
The proceeds from the sale of these plots are insignificant compared to the revenue from the sale of residential blocks. Prices range from 1,533,924.00 GMD to 3,477,600.00 GMD.
As implausible as it is, they claim these properties are “affordable” and marketed under the “TRIPLE M AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROJECT” scheme.
Now considering an average Gambian’s Gross Annual Income is 85,260 GMD provides a remarkable glimpse into the odiousness of these liars.
The profit margin is astounding. Knowing the history behind these lands; and how Mustapha Njie secured the funding, makes it even more infuriating. To enable development, he used these lands as sureties. This is how he secured investments, loans, and mortgages. Can Gambians not see the gross criminality in this?
3rd Republic – Land Theft on Steroids
Given the “professional” background of the current head of state, it is not a surprise land thievery is now on steroids.
A cadre of administrators are in great haste to accumulate as much wealth as possible, in as short a period as possible. This is resulting in a feast on Kombo lands – as they embark on ever more creative ways to future-proof their ill-gotten wealth.
The ever-burgeoning rise in “estate developers”, the mushrooming of “estates”, and their enablement through crooked administrators (and misguided locals), has created a convergence of necessities for an all-out assault on custodial lands.
This eagerness to scoop up Kombo lands is not incidental. It is very central to the calculations of the people involved. There is an undeniable symbiosis here, almost reptilian; each feeding off the other whilst sucking the collective blood of Kombonkas. This devastating nexus: compounded by poverty (both economic and thought) needs arresting. Failure to do so portends an inevitable outcome: civil strife.
That the current administration displays unfettered materialism, lacks a moral compass, or a sense of care, duty, and responsibility is no longer in doubt. In effect, it is a recycle of the decaying remnants of Jammeh era personalities. Except for half-hearted attempts at cosmetic change, the core has remained intact. No surprises then that there is no difference in either essence or substance between the 2nd and 3rd Republics.
Thus, like its predecessor, this administration carefully uses a mendacious and cynical cost-benefit analysis on all its dealings with Gambians. This includes which communities to enrage with negligible political cost.
Central in these calculations, is the past form of Kombonkas’ own reluctance to fight back. With Kombonkas, the threshold for accepting the intolerable, is unmatched. It is as if they have become attuned to injustice.
That perception, though, does not tell the whole story. The missing ingredients continue to be the deafening silence and inaction of Kombo’s intellectuals. They have failed the masses.
The Cost of Inaction: Kombo’s Intelligentsia’s Continued Silence.
It is true “intellectuals” the world over sometimes fail in efforts to translate their intellect into workable policies. But Kombo’s intellectuals have not tried much, if at all. So, no such excuses apply.
When one reflects on the situation in Kombo, it becomes impossible not to question whether Kombonka intellectuals are crazy or self-loathing. The ordinary Kombonka-in-the-street asks:
- Why does healing the festering wound of land robbery continue to outwit Kombo’s intellectuals?
- if it is beyond the imagination of these intellectuals to force a national reckoning on such blatant and enduring injustice.
The collective lethargy observed and queried above remains true today as it was during the 1st Republic.
To redress this, Kombo NOW needs to push back. It needs to make it politically suicidal for administrations to continue the tradition of disrespectful attitude towards them, their heritage and inheritance.
Kombonkas will need to dig deep in their reservoir of resolve to redress this issue. The spinelessness and the unwillingness to see “uneducated” Kombonkas abandoned to the mercy of criminals, is shameful. It must stop. Continuous meekness in the face of a relentless assault on Kombo’s very essence, and an attack on the sanctity of the ancestors’ legacies are heart-breaking to watch.
Continued inaction would not just result in the loss of socio-economic and socio-political power, it would make future generations of Kombonkas landless. This nightmare scenario should be enough to rouse Kombo towards coordinating efforts and strategizing devices on reclaiming their birth rights through the Kombo Yiriwa Kafo. A non-political affiliated association.
A fallacy: It is in the law books makes it is acceptable; just; or right. – Time to discard this.
It is worth remembering legislators make laws at the behest of someone or some group; and at the disadvantage or detriment or discomfort of someone or some group.
If one needs proof that codified statuses are no guarantees against injustice, they only need to look back at the history of slavery, the holocaust, genocides, apartheid, and colonialism. All those gross injustices had the backing of legislation. And they happened in societies with far worthier “democratic” credentials than ours. So, just because edicts get codified, do not make them unchallengeable. The “State Lands Act” is such a law.
The State Lands Acts is specious, and a gross injustice to Kombonkas. It is selective as it only “nationalised” Kombo lands. This is unacceptable, and a stain on the nation’s collective conscience.
The Salagi Uprising: Way Forward, and Kombo Yiriwa Kafo’s Importance in that Endeavour.
Kombonkas have given government after government the comfort of conversations rather than the challenges of confrontation (civil disobedience). However, we do not have the patience for Job.
Passive reactions which have by tradition been the default of Kombonkas did not result in any desirable or meaningful changes. For as soon as the tempers cool, the injustice gets shoved to the recesses of our collective memories.
The event on Tuesday 21st May 2020, though scandalous, is nothing new. But it is the turning point. What makes it different though is how it gave birth to the forging of extraordinary cooperation in the Kombo’s fight for its lands. The event and the reactions it provoked in both home-based and diaspora Kombonkas gave added impetus to push the vexing land issues to the forefront of the national debate.
It has also created an intense and proactive determination by Kombonkas to protect their lands; and seek redress for the decades-old injustices. It also sent a powerful message that the state should stay clear of Kombo lands.
What is likewise novel about the reactions of people of Sukuta and Kombo this time around, was the non-requirement for a base-incitement strategy. Government’s own witless agencies compiled the necessary ingredients for the uprising.
The Salagi uprising, which resulted in the illegal arrest, detention and subsequent bailing of Ms Fatou Jaw Manneh and sixteen other law-abiding Gambians, is the first shot in the Kombo-wide battle for land reclamation and restitution. A battle which Kombo Yiriwa Kafo should manage with diligence and efficiency. And a battle the whole of Kombo should embrace with deserved vigour. The challenge, though daunting, is not insurmountable if we situate it in its proper socio-political and historical consequence and contexts.
Fighting to right an injustice as entrenched as Kombo land issues requires consistent, disciplined, and innovative efforts. It will also need considerable investment in emotional labour, intellectual vigour, and relentless political lobbying. The battle won’t be through “performative activism” only.
In fighting back against this injustice, the lessons Kombonkas will teach may become a compulsory case study for future students of traditional land administration and land conflict prevention.
It is important the rest of The Gambia view the unavoidable reaction of Kombonkas through a lens of “Corrective Justice” needed to redress state-sanctioned economic robbery and disempowerment.