2018 East African Games: Gambia pitches up in Kigali

Goats and baby pigs meet the new family while the women keep vigil at Melinka in Banjul


Banjul: A team of wrestlers and 300 children are competing in a dangerous competition that is proving a pivotal moment for the rule of President Yahya Jammeh in Gambia.

His successor, Adama Barrow, has vowed to end the 32-year regime of one-man rule and is hoping to attract investment in the economy from neighboring Senegal, which has offered to take in Jammeh if he agrees to leave Gambia.

Using toy marbles, children will slug it out for gold and silver medals in the hugely symbolic head-to-head against the president, who will be the only one without any marble in his pockets.

The tournament is only the second match of a series of competitions which Barrow hopes will add to the jubilation sweeping Gambia since his coalition was installed on 15 January.

Fighter jets hovered overhead for the climax of the first competition on 19 January, when all the contestants lined up to shake hands in a rare display of unity in the face of an oppressive past.

Army units “acted with tremendous restraint” during Jammeh’s regime, said Gambia’s former defence minister Mai Ahmad Fatty, who was among the team in Dakar.

Thirteen acts of violence had occurred on that day, Fatty told AFP.

But by 18 January it was clear that Jammeh was “someone who would not be liked any more.”

Gambians ended a two-year political stand-off on 15 January after he accepted defeat to Barrow in a poll that raised the prospect of democratic transformation in one of Africa’s poorest nations.

Outraged by the judge handling his case, Jammeh announced on Sunday he would surrender to Senegal but there have been no formal announcements of his departure.

“Jammeh will end up in Senegal, and who cares what he will do there?” wrote veteran journalist James A. Fanella in the local weekly The Nation.

“The country doesn’t need Mr. Jammeh. His legacy – pollution, systematic theft, bribes, and abuse of power – has tarnished all Gambian goods.”

“It’s a very sad situation – a family has collapsed and we are now parents of their children,” said Olaiya Fatty, 15, whose partner is now caring for four children, including a 15-month-old baby who was born during her mother’s time in exile.

Barrow’s ban on the use of jammers to interfere with communications during his opponents’ rallies has brought a surge in participants to the event in Banjul, said Akintunde Olugbenga, 11, who is in charge of the children.

“People tell me ‘If you win, we will all vote for you’.”

Winners will take home 15 percent of the cost of their competitors’ entry fees.

But Barrow’s success in bringing together some of Gambia’s most polarised factions had a positive impact on the children.

“Now I feel much safer because I’m playing on a family field, and it’s a team game,” says Akintunde Olugbenga.

Leave a Comment