Health Issues Involved In The “Witch Hunting Mission,” by Gambia’s Former President, Yahya Jammeh.
Do you, by any chance, wonder why a “witch hunting” mission, that happened in The Gambia in 2009, is a health issue? Well, here is the reason why – the mental health of the whole Gambian community was affected. Mental health, according to MentalHealth.gov, “includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.” Choices that affect how we interact and work together as a nation with a common goal. A goal which is to develop The Gambia culturally, financially, academically and industrially.
In 2009, a village, known as Jambur, in The Gambia, was invaded by a group of strange men, wearing red clothing that were decorated with mirrors, horns and cowrie shells. The men were accompanied by drummers, drumming loudly and dancing at the village square. The strange men, who were later discovered to be “witch hunters,” stated that they were going to the graveyard to perform prayers. A red goat and a red cock were slaughtered at the cemetery. Upon return from the cemetery, the so-called “witch hunters” stated that they had come to the village to cure the villagers. They singled out some villagers, who they tagged as witches, and accused them of “witchcraft.”
This evil plot of accusing innocent Gambians of witchcraft took place in other parts of the country. It is important to note that the then president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, who claimed to have special powers, masterminded the whole process. A lot of people were ripped off of their dignity, and the Gambian community, as a whole, suffered from this inhumane act of torture. A very poisonous and dirty concoction was made by Yahya Jammeh and the accused individuals were forced to drink it. The accused were then forced to admit that they were witches. Some victims of this witch hunt, to this day, are still suffering from the effect of the toxic mixture. Some have kidney failures. Some lost their vision after the poisonous concoction was poured into their eyes. Some even died after drinking it.
The sad part of this human rights violation is that, the victims were, for a long time, stigmatized by the community, as witches. Not only did they suffer as individuals, but their entire families suffered as well. A great number of Gambians are still fearful of witchcraft, and many blame their misfortunes on the so-called witches. As a child, growing up in The Gambia, I, to some extent, believed in witchcraft because of the bad tales that some elders use to say about witches. I have had recent conversations with some Gambians and a good number of them still believe that witches exist. Some even believe that the accused individuals deserve to be punished. Many other Gambians, besides the former president, Yahya Jammeh, are also subjecting innocent Gambians of witchcraft. It will take a lot more than a pat on the back, financial compensations and apologies, for this stigma to be lifted from the community. Mental health support, that includes psychological, spiritual, emotional and social strategies, need to be involved in the process of healing the nation. The whole Gambian community, with support from international communities, need to participate in the process of lifting this heavy stigma of witchcraft that innocent individuals have been accused of. Where do we, as a people, go from here. Are we willing to unite as one and heal our community? Help starts from within. Let’s be at the forefront of reparation for our innocent Gambian victims.
By Oumie Jatta.