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Interesting Heritage Sites And Cultural Products In McCarthy Island To Be Upgraded, Valorized

By Yunus S Saliu

As the 200 years of returning freed slaves to the Island of Janjanbureh in Central River Region commemorated on Saturday, 6th January 2024, the President of the Republic of Gambia has reassured the Islanders and other African residents there that the Island will continue to receive the attention of The Gambia authorities, while all the interesting heritage sites and cultural products of the Island will be fully upgraded and valorized to generate jobs through heritage tourism, foster national unity, and project a positive image of the people.

Celebrating the day, His Excellency President Adama Barrow was joined by other VIPs including Rt Hon Patricia Scotland, KC – Commonwealth Secretary General, Amadou Bah Prime Minister of Senegal representing President Macky Sall, different diplomats, cabinet Ministers, His Excellency Vice President of the Republic of The Gambia, President of ECOWAS Commission, Her Excellency, Former Vice President of the Republic of The Gambia Dr Isatou Njie Saidy.

And also, Governors, Mayors, NAMs, Councilors, Chiefs, and government officials.

Welcoming everyone to the commemoration under the theme Celebrating Homecoming and Our Heritage, President Barrow announced that The Gambia will seize the McCarthy Island Bicentenary celebration to use its diplomatic, intellectual, and cultural advantage to promote the reparations agenda.

Going through memory lane, he said “History teaches us that, about 200 years ago, the Island of Janjanbureh was transformed from a peaceful Gambian settlement to a trading center by the British, under Queen Victoria. It eventually hosted many French and British firms and was renamed McCarthy Island, with a part of it called Georgetown.

“As we have it on record, thousands of Africans who were freed from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade bound for Freetown, Sierra Leone, were re-settled here in Georgetown. Therefore, we are in this historic town to celebrate its bicentenary on an island where hope was restored to captured Africans who were unjustly seized, unjustly treated, and unjustly removed from their homeland and families without any regard for their rights and dignity.”

Notwithstanding, he said it is with mixed feelings that the historic festival was organised to remember the events of the mid-nineteenth century because of the cruel acts of that dark era, Africans have been forced to demand reparations from those who took part in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

“The African Union, for instance, has in the past two decades led a strong and persistent campaign on reparations for slavery as a basic human right for Africans,” he added.

Coming home, he said, in 2022, at its 73rd Ordinary Session held in Banjul, The Gambia, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights agreed to set up a committee that would establish a case for reparations.

In this case, he noted that The Gambia will seize the McCarthy Island Bicentenary celebration to use its diplomatic, intellectual, and cultural advantage to promote the reparations agenda.

However, President Adama Barrow disclosed “Last October, I observed that it is rewarding for a nation to reflect on the past to chart the way forward for a better future. For this reason, my Cabinet worked closely with the National Organising Committee, stakeholders, and the communities of the area to hold this grand commemoration.

“As a result, among other attendees, the Festival has brought together Gambians at home and those in the diaspora, in addition to friends of The Gambia, historians, and tourists to participate in the healing, re-connection, and reconciliation process through our shared history and heritage. Therefore, I am pleased that the organizers have involved not only artists in The Gambia but also those in the sub-region and beyond in the activities for peace and reconciliation.”

In his speech, he expressed that besides the objectives of the Festival, Africans are celebrating hope over despair and indifference, growth and progress over stagnation and submission, and unity in diversity over intolerance and instability, “This is an important message for everyone, especially the African youth.”

The Westerners who landed in Janjanbureh two hundred years ago, he said, made the best out of a very bad situation and ended up building homes and careers for themselves and their offspring. So, “The lesson for our youths is that we must strive to succeed in the country. As we put it, Tekki Fi.”

His Excellency Barrow at the celebration spoke against illegal migration saying the risk of boarding boats to cross the rough waters of the Atlantic for life abroad is most unnecessary. Like the Western settlers, 200 years ago, “Let us stay in our homeland and exploit the numerous opportunities available to build better homes, uplift our lives, and support our families.”

The Gambia President addressing the gathered audience who had descended on the beautiful Island for the Janjanbureh Bicentenary commemoration said his government is aware of the role that heritage and culture can play in job creation and the economic well-being of youth. “This partly explains our commitment to the Festival, and it will not end here. We will build upon the lessons and success stories of the Bicentenary and further promote the heritage and artistic sectors for the gainful employment of the youth.”

Speaking on the continuous promotion of heritage, he said through support from UNESCO, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture has developed regulations for The National Endowment For Arts and Culture. The instrument will attract funding, through grants, for artistic and cultural projects.

In conclusion of his speech, the President once again expressed delight over the commemoration and thanked all the dignitaries that joined to celebrate this important occasion and also well reflected on the presence of the Senegalese high-level delegation to the commemoration which he said has “once again, manifests the bond of friendship and good neighborliness President Macky Sall holds for The Gambia.”

Among other speakers who delivered powerful speeches in commemorating this unique event were Rt Hon Patricia Scotland, KC – Commonwealth Secretary General, Amadou Bah Prime Minister of Senegal representing President Macky Sall, Honourable Hamat NK Bah – The Gambia Minister of Tourism and Culture, Hon Ousman Bah Governor of Central River Region and others.

However, the event was marked by different cultural performances and other activities.

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