The city of Madison signed its ninth sister-city relationship on May 17, but some are raising concerns regarding the state of human rights in the West African country and what type of message the partnership sends.
When Bubacarr Ceesay thinks about growing up in Gambia, he remembers the good times.
“There was never these kind of stories about torture and people going to prison for no reason,” Ceesay said.
Born and raised in Gambia, Ceesay said the state of the government has changed. He now lives in Sun Prairie and works in Madison, and said is disappointed with the newly formed relationship between Madison and the city of Kanifing.
“It sends a wrong message, that the city is not paying attention to what’s going on in Gambia, and they are basically just ignoring it. And what’s going on should not be acceptable,” he said.
He said he doesn’t think the alders understand the reality of what’s happening in the country. He said the Gambian government has a reputation for persecuting people who speak out against the government as well as those within the LGBT community, because same-sex relationships are considered illegal.
“There are really horrific things happening in the lives of people out there, and it’s important for the outside world to know what’s really happening,” Ceesay said.
Human Rights Watch has reported Gambian authorities commit serious human rights violations against perceived critics and political opponents. They say the environment promotes a climate of fear and repression. The activist group said the human rights climate has deteriorated since President Yahya Jammeh took power in 1994 and repressed all forms of dissent.
“I think it’s very problematic to have an official relationship with a city where the mayor says that LGBT people should be beheaded,” said Steve Starkey, executive director of OutReach LGBT Community Center.
Despite such concerns, Samba Baldeh, alder for District 17 in Madison, said the program’s mission is to promote cultural, academic and economic relationships between Madison and the West African country.
“It is important that we know each other and understand each other’s qualities so we are able to live together as a people rather than divided in the same community,” Baldeh said.
Baldeh has felt the impact of the Gambian government with the incarceration of his own family members. The alder, who pushed the sister-city relationship, said the partnership is not an endorsement of the government.
“This has nothing to do with any government. This has to do with the people. They are the ones who are suffering and need the relationship. We can’t say, ‘Let’s not do anything in this country just because there are problems,’” he said.