Commentary: Kombo must rally behind Sukuta in One Voice
Land grabs have grabbed Kombo's attention when 16 people from Sukuta were arrested and charged with obstruction. The arrests came amid protests against widespread land grabbing in Sukuta Salagi.
The already fed up Sukutarians could not stand aside any more and allow the government authorities to grab their lands. Lands that were acquired in the name of common social services end up being sold to individual and business interests by some authorities.
Thus, standoffs ensued between the people of Sukuta and the Gambian Paramilitary Police Force. This happened when the Physical Planning and Ministry of Lands Personnels of the Gambia with their demolition squad demolished lands in Salagi area, belonging to Sukuta.
Fire bombs and tear gas canisters were used on the people who were demanding the authorities to stop demolishing their properties. The notorious paramilitary violently mal-handled the people, arrested and detained them at Burusubi Police Station.
For nearly over 30 years, Sukuta, Gunjur, Brufut and generally Kombos' lands have been targeted by corrupt government officials, notorious land dealers, rapacious estate owners and some parochial local people. The lands defrauded by the government from the communities without proper open consultation and compensation.
These widespread land grabbing are causing endless disputes affecting Kombo. The government authorities usually concocted fraudulent Master Plans and sketches to the communities in order to fleece them of their lands.
The so-called master plans will promise the communities that the lands grabbed from them are going to be used to build hospitals, markets and other social amenities. But instead, the lands will be palmed off to individuals, businesses, land dealers and/or distribute among family and friends.
There is usually no consultation between the communities and the authorities about the lands acquired. Many of such land acquisitions by the government are shrouded in secrecy with a section of the affected communities involved. This creates situations where people within communities are pitted against each other while the land predators nest their own feathers.
If there is a procedure of common agreement based on consultation, perhaps we will not have witnessed the violent demolition, intimidation, beatings and eviction of the people of Sukuta on their lands.
The government, no matter how noble their intentions are, cannot sweep aside the needs and rights of poor communities whose lands they took.
If the government took lands in the name of providing social services but forfeited that claim, they should revert to the community, inform them accordingly and return their lands back. And/or dialogue with the communities involved with the intention to compensate or relocate them to other areas.
But, for the government to turn around and sell the lands acquired in the name of common good to individual land dealers, family and friends without meaningful consultation or compensation is unacceptable and a recipe for conflict.
I contend that civil unrest will ensue if the government failed to institute land reforms and properly recognise the rights of those who they took lands from. Sukuta, Gunjur and Faraba demonstrated this disconcerting truth.
Controversial land acquisitions are a key factor triggering civil disorder in many places around the world. And there is every reason to be concerned that conditions are ripe for conflict in Kombo if the Gambia government failed to settle land disputes.
Gunjur, Faraba, and other areas should have spurred our government to speedily act on land reforms to prevent further unrest but, alas, nothing is happening.
Consequently, the people of Kombo are now thoroughly disillusioned with the government 's land reforms campaign mantra.
With the Pandora's box now opened in Sukuta, the people of Kombo will be ready to bravely challenge the government for usurping their lands without compensation.
The Gambia is on the edge. And yet the government is defensive about the contentious land disputes. The government may call land grabbing development, but, the fact is they are selling off reserved lands to line their own pockets.
This phenomenon, happening in Sukuta now and many places in Kombo, cannot continue. The government should not subordinate the peoples' interests and needs to favour foreigners, businesses and corrupt officials.
Lands in Kombo are owned by 'Kombonkas'. Therefore, it is only on their behest, that their lands should be taken with proper dialogue and compensation.
The government might think that it owns the lands, but it certainly does not. What it does own is the power to arbitrarily decree to itself title to lands that belong to the people of Kombo.
Thus, evicting people from their ancestral lands to make way for corrupt businesses and individuals will only create chaos. Witnessing scenes like recent disturbing development in Sukuta, Faraba and Gunjur is not good for the peace of the country.
The government should know that grabbing lands from the people of Kombo to satisfy the interest of business and individuals in alliance with the government institutions will yield more resistance from the already overstretched people of Kombo.
Kombo, therefore, should speak in one voice and unite against government land grabbing. This is specially true if proper consultation and compensation schemes are not instituted.
The future of the children of Kombo is being sold over our heads. Kombonkas should therefore stand up.
But who owns the lands of Kombo? Nobody, seriously? Everybody, actually ? Where are the ancestral lands of Kombo? Land reform? Which land reform? Habitual reticence?
I am in support of the people of Sukuta
Ebrima Janneh (EB)
Ebrima Janneh is a Gunjurian, and writes from Leeds, UK.
Views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Gunjur Online. Got an opinion article? send it to us at GunjurNewsOnline@gmail.com