In the summer of last year, President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia called on the United Nations to demand compensations for slavery and colonialism describing them as acts of genocide and crimes against humanity “which has caused damage to the continent’s socio-economic and political fabric.” But across the border in Senegal, the Mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall said we must not flounder in the revulsion of slavery but should instead learn from it to build a more prosperous future.

“It’s not about wallowing in these litanies, but to reflect and see how we can build for tomorrow. That’s the best lesson that slavery thought us,” Sall said during a ceremony marking the end of slavery at Dakar City Hall.

President Yahya Jammeh, who stands out as an anti-western Africanist has persistently blamed slavery and colonialism for the lack of development in his country vowing to make sure nations that were responsible pay.

“During colonialism, the people of The Gambia were being paid 5 cent a month with the life expectancy of 27 years. The question now arises: What would have been Europe’s level of development had the people they exploited and trafficked during colonialism and slavery were left in their various counties throughout those four hundred years,” said Bala Garba Jahumpa, The Gambia Infrastructure and Transportation Minister during a speech on behalf of Jammeh at The Gambia’s parliament last summer. “This is why when our president speaks his mind in good faith, many a time, people think that what he is saying will not please the West because many of the recent generation of African leaders would want to please the West against the popular will of the majority of their people.

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And this is one of the major obstacles to Africa’s development.”

Gambia to file a UN resolution

During the West African nation’s state opening of the parliament, President Yahya Jammeh advised lawmakers that his administration will be sponsoring a UN resolution to declare slavery and colonialism as crimes against humanity. Jammeh’s Government with support of his ruling APRC National Assembly has already passed a similar law in The Gambia last June. 

The Gambia is the home of the most known African slave Kunta Kinteh, who was born in the country’s northern coastal village of Juffureh. Just like in the small islands in The Gambia where slaves were kept and then transported to the Americas, at least 12 million slaves passed through Goree Island in Senegal.

Jammeh critics say he is always trying to divert attention for the lack of progress his government has made in extinguishing poverty and improving the standard of living and human rights. They accuse him of holding citizens to ransom and acting like a colonial or slave master if not worse.

Civil servants forced to work on President Jammeh’s farms

“For years the Gambian government, under the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh, has been cashing in on the Kunta Kinteh appeal to boost tourism and guard its image from condemnation over massive human rights abuses. The contrast between the generations of Kinteh and Jammeh is stark, particularly when viewed through the prism of slavery and bondage on the one hand, and post-independence political excesses on the other,” said African Affairs Specialist Jefferey Smith and Gambian-born journalist Aisha Dabo in an article on OkayAfrica.

Many Gambians are forced to farm on President Yahya Jammeh’s farm or risk losing their jobs. Even the country’s Vice President Isatou Saidy participated actively in plowing the president’s farm. But as Smith and Dabo put it: “in the days of Kunta Kinteh, people were bought and sold as slaves. In modern-day Gambia, it’s a different kind of enslavement in which basic human rights are denied or severely restricted, where Gambians are herded as “free labour” and forced to till Jammeh’s land across the country. These scenes are painfully and eerily reminiscent of the forced slave-labor system witnessed on plantations in the American South.”