Feb 2, 2023, 1:10 PM
It was in August 1987 that a land measuring 850m x 300 m was applied for the purpose of a Catholic Shrine at Kunkujang Mariama. The application was approved and granted by the Commissioner Western Division, in Brikama. On the 3rd September 1987, an official document allocating the requested land was handed over to the Christian Shrine Committee (CSC).
At the time of taking delivery, the allocated land was then bushy and full of tall palm trees. The CSC was responsible for the land to be cleared and the ground consecrated on Saturday, 5th December 1987. A grotto was erected and dedicated to ‘Our Lady Queen of Peace’. This is now known as the Roman Catholic ‘Shrine’ or more fully addressed as ‘Our Lady of Peace - Kunkujang Mariama’.
The primary purpose of this shrine in the midst of a remote virgin forest then was to carve out hallowed space and environment conducive for Christian meditation, spiritual growth, fasting and prayer.
Today, the situation at Kunkujang Mariama is very worrying, indeed. The forces of intimidation and encroachment have been relentless on both School lands and the land of ‘Our Lady of Peace - Kunkujang Mariama’.
Encroachment into the land of this Roman Catholic Diocese in Kunkujang Mariama was first reported on 23rd August 2016. The Physical Planning Authority responded by serving a notice to one Dodou Modou Kah, who was acting under the authority of the Alkalo Adama Jallow, requiring the demolition and removal of an erected building fence. .
Following sustained trespass on the Diocese of properties at Kunkujang Mariama West Coast Region of the Republic of The Gambia, a protest letter was sent to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government and Lands on 19th February2018 ‘TRESPASS ON ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSION PROPERTY IN KUNKUJANG MARIAMA WEST COAST REGION OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE GAMBIA’.
While the Diocese continues to cry for justice, the trespassers refuse to vacate the land and have continued in their intimidation, taunts and threats on worshippers, in particular.
The perpetrators of these heinous acts have hardened and emboldened through the years. Currently they have resorted to not only the trespass and destruction of landed property, but have seized, partitioned and sold property that is not lawfully theirs. This violation of land belonging to the Roman Catholic Diocese at Kunkujang Mariama is of grave concern to and not only limited to the mission directly affected, but to all Gambians of good faith. The social fabric of a once peaceful society is being threatened with disintegration before our very eyes. These mal-practices are benefitting only a few ‘lords’ whose appetite for material gain is insatiable. The Church has all along being patiently awaiting justice while pursuing the legal processes. But it seems that the state institutions responsible to adjudicate and decide on these matters seem impotent. The Land Commission that government intends to set-up to resolve such matters may arrive too late.
One would have assumed that between the Ministry of Local Government and Lands and Religious Affairs, the Department of Justice, the Department of Lands, the Office of the Governor West Coast Region and the Inspector General of Police (the Keeper of the Law), together, have adequate powers and authority to adjudicate on the matter, implement what is just in law, protect the offended party, and maintain the peace in the area. Disappointingly, this has not been the case.
Under the current explosive situation at Kunkujang Mariama, it is urgent that both the Minister of Local Government and Lands and Religious Affairs and the Minister of Justice, together take the lead in conducting a review this sensitive case without delay. Hopefully, it will arrest the general downward slide to lawlessness prevailing at the village. During this proposed process, it should be necessary to remind the Alkalo that he has been appointed head of the whole community of Kunkujang Mariama. That he is required, by law, to administrate justice to all, irrespective of social position, tribe, race or religious affiliation.
Simultaneously, politicians, civil society activists and religious leaders of our diverse faith communities are invited to work to restore mutual trust and bring peace amongst the peoples of the area.