BANJUL, Gambia (AxadleTM)While Gambians still celebrate two months after the fall of dictator Yahya Jammeh, the tiny population still bears the scars of the strongman’s rule.
Those he banished from the small nation are back. But they have struggled to find their footing in a land they call home.
“When you come back, it is difficult to start over unless you are guided through,” Col. Abdoulie Jatta, a former Gambian soldier who spent seven years in exile in neighboring Senegal, tells Anadolu Agency.
Like many other former Gambian soldiers who fled to neighboring Senegal, Jatta had to resort to security jobs to survive.
At the time of his return in March, he had nothing except the money that the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, gave the returnees which, he reveals, had to be used to pay his monthly rent.
“It is difficult starting from zero,” says Jatta, who speaks fluent Turkish, having done his basic military training in Turkey.
He had joined the army in 1997 as a cadet officer and rose through the ranks to become Jammeh’s personal bodyguard.
– ‘Our stories are the same’
Jatta, 40, was dismissed from the Gambian army in March 2010 with scores of other high-ranking officials who were later arrested and jailed.
After realizing he was being followed everywhere he went, fearing for his life, he left Gambia.
Jatta’s struggle is one of many since the fall of Jammeh, as numerous Gambians in exile return, namely from neighboring Senegal.
Lamin Kanagie, 34, a medical field assistant, spent two years in Senegal after being accused of leaking information to anti-Jammeh online media outlets operating in the U.S. and Europe.
Lamin now joins the nearly 40 percent of jobless Gambian youths.
“Our stories are the same. We all suffer the same predicament. I have not gotten a regular job since I came back,” says Lamin who came back in March.
Lamin Sidibeh, a psychology professor, who has worked with the UNHCR in Somalia, Sudan and other African countries for 15 years, says that after four or five years in exile, “reintegration does not come by easily because lots of things change and therefore lots of adjustments are required”.
– Expert help
“Normally, when people flee their countries because of fear of persecution, they run away ill-prepared or unexpectedly. And the longer they stay away, the more problematic it is likely to be for them to come back and resettle or reintegrate,” Sidibeh argues.
He says the exiles and other victims of the past regime would need expert help, including a start-up grant to help them reintegrate society.
“There should be an open forum, a group therapy with an expert, for these victims who have come back, to discuss their problems… Give them help in positive thinking rather than distorted thinking… But also giving them financial support is also important because government could not employee all of them. You can also give them a starter grant.”
“When I pass people on the street, I hear all kinds of comments and anger and sometimes, I smile but sometimes I feel so deserted because I know those are normal psychological reactions after such an ordeal…” Sidibeh said.
Meanwhile, some former military officers have been reinstated into the army since their return while others like Col. Jatta await their fate.
He says he has already seen the country’s military chief, Masaneh Kinteh, over his desire to serve his country again.
Meanwhile, while the former military have hope of being reinstated as necessary vetting appears to be a mere formality, job search for others continues for the formerly exiled.
Axadle International Monitoring – Africa