On this day 15 years ago, major towns around the capital city of the Gambia, went up in flames as students protestors and rogue elements clashed with police and para military officials. The violent clashes were triggered by an event a month prior. That event involved Ebrima Barry, a grade 10 student at Foster’s (Presently, Brikama Methodist Academy) in Brikama and his Commerce teacher, Mr Paul. Ebrima Barry had objected to Mr Paul’s sitting arrangement and the two started fighting in the classroom.
In an effort to get Barry suspended from school, the Senior Master walked about 200 meters to the fire Station to seek their help in ensuring that Barry was handed a suspension letter and escorted out of the school without incident. The plan went accordingly and Barry was escorted out of the School by personnel of the Fire service. Ebrima Barry’s father saw his son and was disappointed by what happened and urged the same fire service officer to escort him and his son back to the school so he could apologies and plead his child’s lengthy suspension. The fire service officer agreed to escort the father and son back to the school again. At the school, the father apologized and pleaded for the reduction in the son’s suspension. His plea was granted and he was escorted away with his son by the same fire service official. Everyone had been unanimous on the facts as highlighted above. But facts start to differ dramatically, from this point onwards.
According to the fire service, Barry’s father was pleased with the fire service mediation and voluntarily requested that they discipline his child for him while he proceed to his job site at the market. But Senior Barry disputed this account. Instead, he claims that the fire service personnel said to him, “Mr Barry, allow us to discipline your child at the station here because he is very rude”. The father then said he allowed the fire service to stay with his child and do as they had requested. His child came home that day march 8th but was rushed to the hospital the following day where he was pronounced dead.
This brings us to April 10th, exactly one month later when students took to the streets burning and looting property across the urban areas, as they charged that the government was not moving fast enough in bringing the perpetrators to justice. The following day on April 11th, the protests have spread to the provinces and this time, the responding forces were the soldiers. There were no para military bases in the provinces at the time except military bases in Farafenni, Kudang and Basse. police have generally fled their bases as marauding students descended on them. This was why the military had to deal with the rapidly deteriorating situation across the country. Many have accused the military of heavy handedness, but absence of a ruthless response by the military, what would have been left of the country as criminals and thugs ransacked and touched businesses and property across the country?