Habibou Barrow, 8, was son of Gambian president elect
BANJUL, The Gambia––Had a big brindle pit bull or mastiff belonging to the family of the other national president inaugurated during the third week of January 2017 killed one of the president’s sons only days before the inauguration ceremony, very likely the death would still be in the headlines, influencing national policy.
But U.S. President Donald Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric have had no dog-related incidents––at least not that made news.
Eric Trump’s wife Lara Lea Trump on September 28, 2016 posted via Instagram that “laraleatrumpl was so saddened to hear about the decision in #Montreal to ban #pitbull breed dogs.” But Lara Lea Trump’s own dogs are not pit bulls or mastiffs.
The pit bull or mastiff victim was Habibou Barrow, age 8, the son of then-Gambian president-elect-in-exile Adama Barrow’s second of two wives, Sarjo Mballow-Barrow, and one of five Barrow children in all.
Reportedly killed by a head bite at his aunt’s door on January 15, 2017, Habibou Barrow “was rushed to hospital but couldn’t make it,” reported Gambian journalist Fatu Camara. “The president elect’s media team confirmed the news to local Gambian news portal Freedom Newspaper.”
Verge of civil war
With the nation of Gambia in political turmoil and perhaps on the verge of civil war among ethnic factions, little information was released about the pit bull or mastiff attack. Beyond Africa, Habibou Barrow’s death barely made news at all.
Preoccupied by preparations for the Trump inauguration on January 20, 2017, most Americans might not have noticed anyhow.
Defines Wikipedia, “The Gambia, officially the Republic of the Gambia, is a country in West Africa that is entirely surrounded by Senegal except for its coastline on the Atlantic Ocean at its western end. It is the smallest country in mainland Africa,” from which Arab slave traders exported more than three million black Africans in the 18th and 19th centuries––about twice as many people as presently live there.
Crisis of regional significance
The entire Gambian gross domestic product of $3.4 billion is approximately equal to that of the U.S. animal advocacy sector.
Despite U.S. indifference, the Gambia in the days just before and after Habibou Barrow was fatally mauled endured a constitutional crisis of perhaps pivotal significance for the recurrent Islamist insurgencies frequently menacing the stability of the region.
Elected in December 2016 to succeed Yahya Jammeh, who had ruled since 1994, Adama Barrow fled to Dakar, capital of Senegal, when Jammeh initially balked at surrendering the Gambian presidency.
Defeat for Islamists
Jammeh had in 2015 changed the name of the Republic of Gambia to “The Islamic Republic of Gambia.” Surrounded by an ax-bearing corps of personal guards, Jammeh seemed to believe for several weeks that he could rally sufficient support from elsewhere in the Islamic world to remain in power.
Adama Barrow, a Sunni Muslim realtor who gained early working experience as a security guard while studying in the United Kingdom, is considered friendly toward the U.S. and Europe.
Inaugurated at the Gambian embassy in Senegal on 19 January 2017, Adama Barrow returned to The Gambia on January 26, more than a week after Habibou Barrow was quietly buried at a family ceremony.
Pit bull or brindle mastiff?
The Gambian news portal StarrFM on February 3, 2017 provided the most thorough available account of Habibou Barrow’s death, including a post-euthanasia photo of the dog who killed him, syringes left atop the remains.
Because the dog was facing away from the camera and there was little in the photo to provide a sense of scale, whether the dog was a large pit bull or was a brindle mastiff was left a judgement call.
“It is unclear why the dog attacked the young boy,” StarrFM said. “The animal, which had been certified rabies free, was put down with a quick procedure. The dog was owned by the president’s sister and was kept within a compound. A government official said the dog belonged to the aunt and had not attacked anyone before. He said the attack had worried the family and they were comfortable with the action taken.”
“Not safe for the community”
Said the official, according to StarrFM, “We thought it’s not safe for the community if the dog was on the streets.”
Concluded StarrFM, “Many homes in the upmarket area of Fajara, where Habibou was staying along with his mother and other siblings, have security dogs to ward off intruders.”
“It is hard to get a clear story on the President’s child’s death,” Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust founder Heather Armstrong told ANIMALS 24-7.
“Ironically the child had been moved to his auntie’s house for safety. He went to the shop, and when he returned through the gate, some say with a stranger, the dogs attacked. There were two dogs,” Armstrong said, whereas published accounts mentioned just one.
Sister of Stella Brewer Marsden (1951-2007), who founded the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Trust in The Gambia in 1969, Armstrong has had an almost lifelong involvement in Gambian animal welfare work.
“Fashion for mastiffs”
“There is a fashion here for breeding and having mastiffs,” Armstrong elaborated. “They even crop their ears to make them look scary. Sadly, there is little understanding of the training and needs of dogs here. The so-called pedigrees are very inbred. They receive no stimulation and are tied up for most of their lives.
‘It is not so much at the hands of Gambians,” Armstrong added, “as the expatriates who breed them. In a small country such as Gambia, it is easy to make out that one is an expert, and the breeders keep the dogs chained or in tiny cages, so I am surprised that there are not more accidents.”
Is that where Habibou Barrow’s brief story ends, as just another death among hundreds inflicted by pit bulls and mastiffs worldwide that are ascribed to “accident,” resulting from bad practice in breeding and keeping dogs?
Or will the death of a president’s son lead to meaningful restrictions on possession and breeding of dogs––at least in the Gambia––whose whole reason for existence is to serve as lethal weapons?