EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, The Gambia: Director of Basic and Secondary Education at Gambia’s Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has explained how students were recruited into her Ministry’s beauty pageant through the backdoor by the office of the former president to lure the queens into ‘sexual contracts.’
Tida Jatta-Jarjue told the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission on Wednesday that for seven years, her Ministry has been organising a national beauty pageant for hundreds of students from the junior, and senior secondary schools on Mr Jammeh’s instructions.
With exception of the first edition in 2008, participation to the competition was decentralised, having all Regional Education Directorates involved in preliminaries. Stiff competition in the show of beauty and talent accorded the event prestigious status where finalists were sponsored to further their education in the name of “July 22nd Beauty Pageant.”
Having a lot of participant from the rural poor making it to the initial list of one hundred and later twenty-two, the exiled former president used his status and wealth to win the attention of these girls to satisfy his personal desires.
“I think the problem was when students started contacting Office of the President without our knowledge”, she said, adding that “[We] sometimes will hear that so and so have gone for studies without our knowledge,” Mr Jatta-Jarjue said.
In June, news broke that the exiled former president had used his influence to rape the 2014 winner of the beauty pageant.
From the testimony of Tida Jatta-Jarjue, those involved in the entire arrangement of the pageant would have nodded heads in confirmation of Jammeh’s access to such an innocent girl who joined with hope to sail through her educational journey.
The educationist told the Commission that the former Minister of Basic and Secondary Education, Fatou Lamin Faye in one occasion extended invitation of then president to all participants of the beauty pageant to a reception in his hometown.
“I received a call from the Honourable minster and she informed me that the president wants to organise a banquet for the girls and it will be done in Kanillai and all the participants and those in the organising committee can participant if they want to. So, all the girls were camped again at the hotel and they were accompanied by some judges and some members of the organising committee for a banquet organised for them.”
In other occasions, she said, the ministry was never informed of the contact between Jammeh or his protocols with the girls. As a result, some of them were travelling on the invitation of Statehouse, while others were being offered jobs without consultation with her office. And that she came to know some of these happenings when issues began to come up as a result of the pageant.
“Yes, normally we give the bio data of the girls together with the passport size photos of the girls and after the end of every pageant. But around 2013, they asked for the full photo of the girls and their bio data and we were asking ourselves why the need for that when only passport size photos are needed.”
On why must it take so long for the truth to come out, the director said nobody has ever reported a matter of wrongdoing to her, although, she said she normally used to advised the girls to be cautious.
The July 22nd beauty pageant was courtesy of the Miss Black USA, which attracted the then president of the Gambia.
The pageant was also aimed at empowering girls through education and appreciation cultural diversity, and beauty. Few years down the line, more and more girls from the pageant began to point fingers at former President Yahya Jammeh for sexual harassment or rape.