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Gambia: Janjanbureh Bicentenary Commemoration, A Powerful Moment For Reflection

By Yunus S Saliu

The just concluded Janjanbureh Bicentenary Commemoration has been described as a powerful moment for reflection that should be a catalyst to change.

Addressing the crowd at the celebration marking the 200 years of returning freed slaves to the historic Island of Janjanbureh through homecoming and rediscovery of Gambia’s heritage, Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland, Commonwealth Secretary-General said “If we have the courage to ensure that our values shaped our choices, we are more than equal than the challenges we face. And that we shall overcome.”

The Commonwealth Secretary-General who had expressed her delight and privilege to witness the commemoration of the Janjanbureh homecoming said “For me, it is a homecoming at the birth of this new year.”

Noting that she has traveled across the seas to join the commemoration and “Yes, to represent our Commonwealth but also it’s a poignant moment for me to come home. You will know that I can trace three sides of my family back to almost 800 years I know the part of me that is indigenous Caribbean, French, and that part of which is Africa, which is written in my blood, which is evident by a mere glimpse of the eye, which I know scans the whole continent, including, yes, Gambia. That ancestral history anchors me, personally, to this commemoration.”

She does not believe, she said, that her ancestors necessarily were amongst those who came 200 years ago, “but I am here today to represent all of those who until today did not come home when not able to. So it is a poignant moment for me. As I stand with you, I call to mind Alex Haley’s stirring was from roots set here in The Gambia.

“As an ode to his ancestors. He said this, ‘Through this flesh which is us we are you and you are us’ In this place 200 years ago, against all odds that will defiance and purpose. Slaves returned to the land they called home. It is this place where we walk in their footsteps and find the imprints of their struggle. We are reminded that we are all connected. In this place, where they found the chorus of freedom, which overwhelmed the shackles of their enslavement and created a symphony of determination that still resounds today. We are reminded that those connections relate to the past, the present, and the future.”

Rt. Hon. Scotland went on that when faced with the turbulent waters of oppression, and injustice, “we will build bridges of understanding, compassion, and hope. Hope filled with unity and that all of us together will continue to carry the torch of liberty, dignity, and justice. This place on this anniversary we confront and honor our history and we reflect on what it means for our present reality. We think about where we have come from and the journey that lies ahead the world is more equal now. The challenges in our world today are not experienced equally. Climate change is just one example.”

While reminding the crowd of countries like The Gambia’s experience about the “flood which swept through this great country in 2022 shows that Gambians are forced to face its consequences. We may have come a long way. But there is still so much more work to do to deliver real equality. Real justice and real freedom for everyone, everywhere.”

However, her heart filled with hope saying “My heart is filled with hope. Part of that hope comes from the model of the Commonwealth and my experience as your Secretary General. It is as the late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II said in 1949 ‘An entirely new concept built on qualities based on equality and friendship.’ It is true that the Commonwealth story is one family at times scarred by Paul Kurtz and yet it is also true that the reality of the modern Commonwealth is remarkable and hopeful precisely because of our history. Because the Commonwealth today bears no resemblance to the empires of the past. We are 56 countries small and large, from five different regions representing 1/3 of humanity of all races, cultures, peace religions, and economic positions bound by practical advantages, common interests, and shared values.”

However, The starting point for all of this, she noted, is the link between “our past, our present, and our future must be our values. Values of equality, respect, and justice. And peace, tolerance, solidarity, freedom and democracy. They are not abstract, they are our foundation for action. And the truth is that we are again, at a defining moment in our history. The choices we make matter, perhaps more than at any other time for a generation.”

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Yunus S Saliu

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