By Demba Kandeh and Lamin Jahateh
The Gambia government through the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has issued a directive ordering the closure of St. Augustine Senior Secondary School in Banjul as a result of an upheaval that broke out in the school on Tuesday 26th February 2013.
In a news release aired over the state TV, Gambia Radio and Television Services, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education said students of St. Augustine school are asked to stay away from the school premises until such a time that the school is re-opened.
Parents and guardians of students attending the school are also urged to ensure that the directive is adhered to strictly.
The release has it that authorities of the said ministry will be working together with the school with a view to re-opening the school.
Students Rioters Rock the School
Student protesters in Banjul smashed the car of the vice principal of St Augustine Senior Secondary School and destroy parts of the windows and doors at the said school. It is not clear why the student protesters went on rampage but sources close to the school authorities said the students were angry because they were denied the opportunity to write mock examinations.
Mock examination is normally the last internal exams students preparing for the West African Secondary School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) take in their respective schools.
Eyewitnesses said they heard protesters chanting slogans like: “We don’t need Father”. Father is the vice principal of the school. There are no reported casualties. The students were finally dispersed by security officers.
Another eyewitness said officials of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) including the Permanent Secretary, Baboucarr Bouye visited the school.
A source close to the Gambia Teachers’ Union (GTU) told Front Page International (FPI) that the union has scheduled an emergency meeting on Wednesday to “handle the matter.”
In May 2012 students and staff at the President’s International Award (PIA) staged a mass protest against the re-appointment of their former chief executive officer, Abdoulie Bah, by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The angry students, who were chanting “We don’t want Abdoulie Bah” said they needed the help of the authorities to address the problem at PIA. That protest was generally peaceful. Authorities later arraigned and charged about 22 members of staff of PIA for “Jointly conducting themselves in a manner likely to cause a breach of peace.”
About twelve years, The Gambia experienced the most deadly students protest. Students in the 10th and 11th April 2000 bloody protest expressed anger at the murder of Ebrima Barry and the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl. The embattled Gambia Students Union (GAMSU) renamed National Union of Gambian Students (NUGS) organised the protest and requested a police permit, which they could not secure.
Reports have it that GAMSU decided to protest anyway and thousands gathered on April 10 in their school uniforms. They intended to nonviolently march to the city center, but they were stopped by police, who ordered them to disperse. When students refused, the police opened fire, attacking them with tear-gas and rubber bullets. As non-students joined the fray, protestors attacked government buildings and set a police station on fire.
The police reacted by using live ammunition, killing fourteen students, a Red Cross volunteer/radio journalist, and a three-year old that was hit by a stray bullet. Hundreds of others were injured. The next day students across the country protested in solidarity. The police violently repressed the protests and arrested hundreds of protesters. The two days of protest are now referred to throughout The Gambia as the Student Massacre of 2000. The government issued a statement blaming student leaders, and closed all schools for a number of days. The Vice President even claimed that the students “killed themselves,” shooting each other after breaking into police armories and stealing weapons.