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Open Letter to Hon Ousainou Darboe: The Intolerable Kombo Lands Situation

DF Manneh

Dear Hon Ousainou Darboe,

Re: The Intolerable Kombo Lands State of Affairs

I write to you as a Kombo native; and as a Gambian, to express my concern at the continuing expropriation of customary lands. The gravity of the crisis is causing a sense of insecurity in Kombo’s traditional landowners.

Mr Darboe, as leader of the nation’s largest political party; with a likelihood of forming the next government, I would hope your party shares in these worries. Uniquely, unlike other party leaders, you have first-hand knowledge of the acute nature of Kombo Lands issues—an experience gained from years of legal representation in land-related lawsuits.

Scrutiny is a certainty when a person of your political prominence weighs in on a vexing national socio-political matter. Thus, I, and I suppose many others, watched your interview on 20th June 2020, on UDP TV YouTube channel with alertness. The expression of your learned opinion was remarkable. And doubtless, the sentiment behind the gesture was genuine and honourable.

      DF Manneh

Mr Darboe, of even greater significance, was your affirmation that administrations serially enabled the legal opportunism the scandalous State Lands Act enabled. Land laws crafted to lack clarity increased the capacity for unscrupulous officials to execute the said laws with calculated misreading & misinterpretation. The consequence: a devastating assault on Kombonkas’ inheritance.

Your revelation about the discriminatory application of the land laws confirmed what many know. But it was refreshing to hear it from a man of your legal repute. Brufut Kajarbang and Yundum Yarambamba cases are notorious examples. The resulting effect created gross economic disparities between the customary landowners and a private estate developer.

The recent upheaval in Sukuta Salagi illustrated a tipping point and a sampler of what could come. I am heartened to notice you did not dismiss the development as mere alarmist fussing. The Kombo Lands issue deserves our undivided attention. At this sensitive juncture, all responsible Gambians ought to spare no effort in addressing issues that inflame emotions and create intercommunal discord. It would be a severe dereliction of duty to stand by whilst divisive legacies engineered by previous governments continue to wreak havoc on the nation’s social fabric.

The public declaration of your intent that upon forming a government, your party would set up policies to “regularise land tenure and land administration” laws elated me. And I am certain you thrilled many Kombonkas likewise. We are confident the corrective measures a future UDP government would institute, would be efficient and robust enough to stop the dispossessions. We understood such a public reassurance from you as an unambiguous signal of your intent; not mere virtue signalling. This has not gone unnoticed by Kombonkas—both at home and abroad.

Mr Darboe, I also sensed in those pronouncements an acknowledgement that the status quo poses a threat to social cohesion, and recognition that the moment of reckoning is upon us. Though our nation confronts a moral and constitutional crisis, this epoch is a seminal moment; a transformative moment to reshape the Gambian polity if we can muster the courage.

On further reflection, hence, I would, with great humility, urge you to not wait until your party assumes the presidency. As the leader of the party with most lawmakers in the National Assembly, you could introduce bills to amend or repeal these laws now. I am confident members of the legislature would rise above political factionalism and support you.

I would like to outline modest recommendations. I collated these from a consultation with a cross-section of Kombonkas. And though you can only implement some when you assume power, all the same, I feel these are reasonable and worthy of your consideration.

Moratorium:

We recommend introducing a bill that will enact laws with the power to declare a moratorium on all land transactions for twelve (12) months. This ban should include sales, registrations, and transfers.

Cadastral Survey and Register: 

We recommend proposing a bill that will compel the administration to set up a technical committee. This committee will investigate frameworks and strategies towards a comprehensive survey of Kombo Lands. It is important to prove who owns what; where, and how

Land Commission and its Composition:            

Resolving the Kombo Lands issue requires a comprehensive strategy rather than mere crisis management. As appropriate, we recommend first: introducing a bill that vests the oversight and scrutiny for selecting commissioners on the National Assembly. Second: setting up an inclusive commission made up of eminently qualified Gambians to investigate the land issues.

Qualification to serve in this commission requires more than professional experience and skill set. Character, personality, and reputation should be prominent requirements. The Act should also limit this privilege to Gambians who have no prior involvements in questionable land transactions—either in their own capacities or as administrative or legal representatives.

For balance and fairness, the commission must include members of the affected community. Thus, the State should give Kombo indigenes the privilege to interrogate the suitability of commission membership. In addition, Kombo should nominate a list of its native “elders”, “intellectuals” and other professionals as its representatives in the commission.

Despite their indigenousness, however, these Kombonkas will also need to meet the obligatory personnel criteria laid out by the Act. In addition, they must have a comprehensive historical knowledge of Kombo’s customary land ownership and geography.

Besides the criterion outlined above, every member must produce a history of all past land deals. And under oath, must declare and provide a verifiable list of:

  • their own landed assets/properties.
  • landed assets/properties of members of their families.
  • landed assets/properties of clients they represented and/or represent.
  • landed assets/properties of employees in organisations they represented and/or represent.

I thank you for your consideration and hope it will lead to the introduction of bills.

Sincerely,

DF Manneh

Kombo native. UK resident.

Cc:

The Hon. Halifa Sallah, Leader of People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS)

The Hon. Mama Kandeh, Leader of Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC)

The Hon. Hamat Bah, Leader of National Reconciliation Party (NRP)

The Hon. Mai Fatty, Leader of Gambia Moral Congress (GMC)

The Hon. Fabakary Tombong Jatta, Leader of Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC)

The Hon. Papa Njie, Leader of People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

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