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Beach apartheid in The Gambia?
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Beach apartheid in The Gambia?

It is extremely sad but this morning I experienced what can be described as time based apartheid or worse, in the Gambia, my place of birth. I drove to the beach around 8:00 am. While exercising, an army officer came to me, told me, 'We don't allow [black] people on the beach at this time, come after 5 pm'. Seeing whites were allowed, I told him in the days of apartheid, there was at least some space dedicated to blacks, is there a part of the beach I can go and exercise? He insisted I must leave, he is just following orders. I even told him that I am a partial tourist, because I left Canada, partly, for the beautiful sunlight and awesome beaches of Africa. I couldn't convince him like I convinced another officer less than a year ago. On my way out of the beach, I approached his fellow army officer... After angry explanations, the second officer authorized me to go back, exercise, and enjoy. I vowed that I must try to confront this discrimination beyond self-exception, to fight for the decent Gambians and other Africans who may not have the intelligence or courage to resist a slightly flawed law and deeply flawed enforcement.

The whole purpose of this slightly flawed law is to “protect” tourism but it lacks sensible system based enforcement. Many people cannot differentiate a system based approach versus person based approach. So my opponent, Jola Obama, was partially right and may not have been understood when he said, 'Africa needs strong institutions, not strong leaders.' We actually need smart and strong leaders to build those strong institutions to thrive with or without very strong leaders. It is our collective responsibilities to protect tourists from harassment, not just for economic reasons. However, we must not abuse others' rights while trying to protect some people, primarily for money. We need a system that will punish only the guilty, those who harass tourists. The beach business owners can have their private security cameras or the Government can equip some people with body cameras, arrest the culprits, fine them, and ban them from the beach for a year, two, or something reasonable. I don't beg or harass white people in the western world, why would I do so in the Gambia? Again, I am not looking for personal exception, but a system change – a smart system establishment and sensible enforcement.

Get enough cameras on the beach, train the personnel, monitor even the security personnel, ask for ID cards, check on your laptop or smart phone for banned list names, etc. The government is directly collecting enough from the tourists to fund the equipment; the beach business owners can contribute or be specially taxed for it. I don't even mind paying for a beach access card if security cameras will be bought to minimize unnecessary stopping and questioning. The racial profiling I suffered in the west is sadly repeating in Africa in a worse manner. I think the authorities in both worlds must be pressured to embrace cameras. I spent about three hundred dollars on my security cameras and was covering almost half the block, in Canada – So I know few thousands of dollars can cover a big percentage of the beach area. We either fear the cameras or do not know their importance. Or they can contract me to fix the issue. Cameras don't lie, but can be misinterpreted by a Jola. The Tourists who like interactions must be informed the need to initiate conversation, before they think Gambians are super means.

It is about time for Africa to look for more than white tourism. Once we start treating each other with respect, we will see more Africans traveling within Africa as Europeans travel within Europe as tourists. There are many African countries I will love to visit, but I am scared of how I may be treated on the borders and beyond. Bissau city does not have the nice sandy beaches we have in the Gambia, but how embarrassing it would have been if I was with friends from Bissau? The Ignorant Gambian may claim 'they don't have money', but you will amazed how some people spent money in Bissau. Beside the neighboring countries, we cannot dismiss every Gambian. I put fuel in the vehicle, bought some things along the way, bought fresh juice on the beach, sometimes bought other things there... The juice vendor said I was his only customer up until ten thirty a.m, claims he has about one customer a day due to minimal tourists due to Ebola, timing, or other reasons. If you continue to disrespect people like me, I will imprecate for the Lord to curse your tourism industries lot more until you start to respect us as human beings, worthy of every respect you give to the whites for money. I deserve access to that beach like or more than the tourist, so I will say may the Lord curse every indifferent contributor to my access denial because am not white or do not have lot of money yet? The law makers, the law enforcement officers, the business owners lobbyists, the tourists, must all learn to negotiate reasonable terms with me and other ordinary Africans. I am calling on the Gambian president or someone to fix the flaw in the law and enforcement system. I am equally calling on the media, the international community, and every concern person to note that this terrible discrimination occurred in the Gambia during Jawara's regime, stepped up during Jammeh's regime, ignored by how many opposition leaders and media professionals... Most importantly, how many people and time will it take before we see a change on this simple issue? I would also like to see investigation beyond the Gambia, let the history books note the difference between the apartheid in South Africa, U.S, and other countries like the time based beach apartheid in the Gambia. May the Intelligent, truthful, and Kind Lord bless us and Showlove Trinity: Let's learn, let's work, let's have fun.

Jarga A.K Gigo

An African Activist and Transformer

Photo courtesy of: misigoestothegambia.wordpress.com


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