By Yankuba Jallow
Branded as a witch at 16, Lamin Jobarteh became a school dropout as a result of the 2009 witch-hunting exercise.
Born in 1993 in Aljamdu, Jobarteh’s career dream of becoming a lawyer came to an end after he was picked by the witch-hunters while he was laundering his school uniform.
obarteh like many others was told that they were going to be cured by the witch-hunters. He became a school dropout while in grade 9 due to social stigma.
Former President Jammeh sponsored a squad of people who were supposed witch-hunters. They went to communities and public institutions capturing people who were all branded as witches. The witch-hunting exercise turned to be a right violating exercise because people were unlawfully detained, forced to drink concoction and some others were tortured. It also became a tool for robbing people.
In February 2009, the witch-hunters invaded Essau and Barra and in the process captured many people and took them to Kololi.The witch-hunters came to Jobarteh’s home, took his hand and placed it on a mirror and asked him to follow them because they were going to cure him.
“I was told by one of the Green Boys to wear better clothing because the place I was going is cold. They stood outside and waited for me to wear good clothes. I was so afraid,” he said.
After changing his clothes, he came out and said he was not going with them.
“They said I should go with them and I insisted that I won’t be going with them. One of the Green Youths slapped me and I became more frightened and I followed them,” he said.
The witch-hunters captured their yard owner Alagie Biji Sonko. Jobarteh was taken to the bus where he sat waiting for the witch-hunters who were going round capturing people.
“I was afraid and I felt embarrassed. People were standing outside looking at us and they were saying we were the witches and wizards,” he said.
Jobarteh told the Commission that he was the youngest among those abducted in Essau. They were taken to Fort Bullen temporary before they were finally transported to Kololi.
“I was not happy. I was the youngest. I was put among the elders and we were called witches and wizards. I was very sad and if I had an escape route, I would have escaped,” he said.
The witch-hunters called him upstairs and asked him to pay D500 for the medicine, but when he indicated to them that he had no money on him, he was asked to join the queue to drink the concoction. He was bathed by the witch-hunters and after that he was given the concoction which he drank.
The Green Boys and soldiers beat those who were misbehaving after drinking the concoction. Even Alagi Biji Sonko was not spared by the soldiers and Green boys, he too was beaten mercilessly.
During their second day in captivity, the witch-hunters came to him and told him not to drink the concoction for the second time. All the abductees except him drank the concoction. The witch-hunters told him to pay D500 to them for him to be cured.
“They told me if I don’t pay the amount, they won’t release me. I told them I was born with red eyes,” he said.
Jobarteh’s release came about after he told his abductors that he wanted to go to school.
“I told them no matter how long they keep me there, I won’t be able to raise D500 to give them. I told them I was a student and I have missed my class test,” he said.
Saikou Jallow one of the soldiers talked to the witch-hunters on his behalf.
He remarked: “I found my mother crying. I was worried about my mother.”
“She was worried and when I sat down, I also cried. I used to shout at night because of nightmares and dreams. I used to have very painful headache. I was unable to go to school on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” he said.
The boy dreamt of been attacked by witch hunters. When he resumed school the following Monday after his release, his colleague students were pointing at him and referring to him as a wizard. Even if he spoke to some of them, they used to bring the issue of witchcraft in their discussion and they would call him a wizard. Later, he sat to his grade nine examinations and failed.
“I was not concentrating on my education. After doing the exams, I knew I won’t make it. I was traumatized by the stigma of my colleague students,” he said.
Jobarteh decided to transfer to Berending, but despite that, people were talking about it there.
“This was the point when I decided to leave school finally,” he said.
Jobarteh still suffers from chest pain, headache and dizziness.
“The witch-hunting exercise destroyed my education career. If I think about the incident, I cry over it,” he said.
“I still have the nightmares. I still have the stress of my victimization,” he said.
Lamin’s mother died after the incident and he is currently the breadwinner of their family. Lamin is now a driver.