Torture revelations transfix The Gambia

In our series of letters from African journalists, Sierra Leonean-Gambian writer Ade Daramy says Gambians are trying to come to terms with the horrors committed during brutal rule of the former regime.

The citizens of the mainly Muslim country of The Gambia have an image of themselves and how they would like the rest of the world to see them.

The Gambia of the popular imagination – inside and outside the country – is of tourist brochures, advertising sun, sand and “the smiling coast”.

Gambia Nice, one of the most popular tunes of recent years, has the line: ‘Peace and love is all there is in my motherland.’

But lately, there has been something giving Gambians less to smile about: The hearings before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC).

It was formed to establish a “historical record of the nature, causes and extent of violations and abuses of human rights committed during the period July 1994 to January 2017” – a specific period encompassing the 22-year reign of now-exiled President Yahya Jammeh.

The commission, made up of 11 members from a diverse cross-section of Gambian society – female, male, different religions and ethnic origins, will also consider the granting of reparation to victims.

The hearings are broadcast daily on independent TV and radio and have quickly become must-watch viewing and listening across the nation.

From Mondays to Thursdays, sometimes for five or six hours, give a break or two, everyone who has a TV or radio seems transfixed.

In a bus, taxi or in offices, you regularly hear people ask each other, usually with incredulity: “Did you hear so-and-so’s testimony?”

“I can’t believe Gambians did this to other Gambians,” has become the most commonly heard statement in the country.

What the hearings have revealed, and continue to reveal, is the unpeeling of a layer of barely believable horror, and a rude awakening for the nation – forcing it to see itself in a new and often harsh light.

The truth has been far more gruesome than the whispered rumours of the past.

Part of the horror stems from both the number of cases and the manner of the killings; even where people knew opponents of the regime had disappeared or died, they had, in some cases, believed the “official version”.

At the TRRC, perpetrators have given chapter and verse on their roles in those incidents. –BBC

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