By: Kebba AF Touray
Scores of Gambians, especially women vendors, within the Greater Banjul Area, have decried that the Covid-19 restrictions impacting negatively on their lives and livelihoods.
This as alluded to by them, was due to executive decision to close down public places such as the market and schools, in a bid to curb the spread of the pandemic among Gambians.
This closure, particularly of markets, they said, has prevented them from enjoying their right to movement, of going out in search of means to provide sustenance and needs for their families; lamenting that they were barred from going to market.
They made this disclosure recently during an interview with this reporter on the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions on the right of movement of the people.
Awa Jarjue, a Food Vendor at the Albert Market in Banjul decried: “The Lockdown has prevented me from selling food at the market, due to the fact that the market was ordered to close by the executive, with a view to curbing the spread the of the disease among the citizens”.
She also expressed concerns with the conditions of the market, which is confronting her work, especially during the rainy season, because the water floods into her shop when the gutters overflow.
A vegetable gardener and vendor, Mariama Ceesay, also said that the Covid-19 restrictions has restricted her going to the market, to sell her produce, due to the closure and other restrictions on the opening of markets.
During this time, she decried, they found it extremely difficult to provide daily sustenance for their families.
“I grow and sell vegetables to provide food for my family, but during the lockdown, the markets were closed and I could not go out to the market to sell my produce, to fend for my children,” she asserted.
Fatoumatta Manjang, a Grade 10 student lamented: During the lockdown our school was closed. This has really affected our academic performance. We were only restricted to receive lectures via the online classes”.
She averred: “This was really ineffective, because I had acute challenges with connection because my parents cannot meet the cost, because most often I go to the internet for research and that requires money for the internet”.
Tabara Jallow, a vendor at the Latrikunda market also stated that the restrictions have brought her business to a standstill.
She said: “I have only the Latrikunda market where I sell my goods. During the lockdown, it was closed and we were left with no other option but to sell at my compound gate, where sale was drastically reduced and almost next to nothing”.
Lawyer Fabakary Jammeh, the Executive Director of Center for Legal Support, has said that the restrictions have prevented lawyers from accessing courts and the prisons.
Counsel Jammeh said this in an interview with this reporter on the impact of Covid-19 on the right of movement of the people within the Greater Banjul Area.
He decried: “Basically, it has prevented lawyers from accessing the prisons and also access to the courts was also hindered. The lawyers end up accessing courts using virtual means, which can in no way replace physical hearing of cases. Thus, the pandemic has negatively impacted on access to justice in The Gambia”.
This he said it impacted on people’ right in the sense that it prevented many Gambians from going about their work as their means of movement have either hindered by the lockdown or business were closed due to the lock down.
He said: “During the lockdown, the living conditions of the people, especially those whose livelihood were affected are further pushed into poverty coupled with mental stress on them and total uncertainty about the future”.
Therefore he said, the living conditions of the people were greatly affected, especially those living from hand to mouth, some people were entirely surviving on savings and on other supports. Generally, people were finding it hard to make ends meets.
On what the government can do in tackling the pandemic, he said that the government can do better with proper coordination, accountability and transparency in respect to the decision making around pandemic response.
He also added that the government can do better with putting a proper social support scheme that can support those whose livelihoods were impacted by the pandemic.
“The government must always put in place budgetary reserves designated for unforeseen circumstances like a pandemic in order to ensure timely support of those that are affected”, he said.
He also explicated that the impact of state of public emergency restricted movements, of the people, and has resulted into the closure of the country’s air space, sea and land borders, learning entities and bans on public gatherings,.
He stressed: “However, the closure of schools and universities to contain the spread of the virus raised concerns among the population. There were concerns that unresolved political tension, crimes, communal disputes and violence could hinder public trust and national social cohesion that are critical to support the national response to the pandemic and save lives”.
He however stated that in The Gambia, the President’s declaration of the state of public emergency is a clear indication that the Government of The Gambia is committed to curbing the spread of COVID-19.
He averred that the declaration of the public state of emergency, however sparked off controversy as some commentators argued that it was too early to restrict fundamental rights when there is no reported case in The Gambia.
The state of public emergency enabled the executive to restrict freedom of movement, assembly and labor rights and also enabled the executive to promulgate regulations.
He said that the main takeaway from the pandemic in The Gambia is that effective response to a pandemic like COVID-19 requires the existence of robust policies, laws and structures to facilitate timely and coordinated response.