Monday, August 22, 2016

Stand-off at the Banjul Christian cemetery

Arial view of the Christian cemetery in Banjul, Gambia
This past weekend, a spectacular scene unfolded at the Banjul Christian cemetery site.

Approximately 250 leaders and members of all the denominations of the Christian faith met with officials of the Ministry for Local Government to inspect the cemetery site with the view to disproving government claims that the cemetery is full to capacity, as a result of which there is encroachment on the adjacent old Muslim burial site.

Earlier in the year, the regime of Yaya Jammeh issued what amounted to a cease and desist circular demanding that no more burial should take place on the Banjul site.  Henceforth, all burial should take place at the Kanifing site.

Contrary to government claims, there is still space in the current site and thus no need to cease utilizing the existing facility.  To prove their point, representatives of the Local Government Ministry were invited for a site inspection by members of the Christian community who came armed with their expert surveyors, engineers and lawyers.

According to sources, at the end of the exercise, the regime's claims were proven wrong.  What Yaya Jammeh will do next is anyone's guess.  But what is certain is that the Christian community is not taking these constant threat to the peace and stability of the communities lying down.

What is certain, however, is that the intimidation and bullying tactics of this repressive corrupt and incompetent regime of Yaya Jammeh will not go unchallenged by the Christian community whose religious freedoms have come under serious threat from the proponents and promoters of transforming the Gambia from a Secular Sovereign Republic, as prescribed by the 1997 Constitution, to an Islamic Republic.

The threat posed Yaya Jammeh to the peace and security of the country and the region had always been underestimated at best or ignored at worst.  Presently, we could ill afford neither, both as a country and as a Member State of ECOWAS.

Jammeh has threatened to "kill Mandinkas one by one" whom he described as "enemies" and foreigners", a threat that caught the attention of the Secretary General of the United Nations which resulted in a scathing rebuke from the world body.  Jammeh was inciting violence against an ethic group which can lead to genocide.  This possibility was not lost when the New Times newspaper of Rwanda, in an editorial, recounted the genesis of the Rwandan genocide and the role that vitriolic rhetoric played in fanning the flames that consumed the nation.

Jammeh has continued, in our view, sowing the seeds of discord and fomenting more trouble that can only pose a grave challenge to the peace and stability of The Gambia.  We must not stay silent as a people.  This man is dangerous because he poses an imminent threat to Gambia and the Region.    

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Gambian schools: 96% failure rate is a disastrous, unacceptable outcome

A village school outside Banjul 
When it was announced that only 444 of the 11,659 Gambian pupils who sat for the West African Senior Secondary Certificate exams scored five or more credits, including English and Maths, it was met with shock and disquiet by the public.

The 96% failure rate is both disastrous and unacceptable.  It is further proof that the Jammeh regime has failed an entire generation of Gambians who have been denied decent education so essential to compete in a world economy that is increasingly becoming integrated and interdependent between national, regional and local economies.

The regime, on the other hand, remained silent.  There are no public statements from neither the Ministry of Basic Education nor from the Office of the the President which is consistent with the characteristic silence that normally greets news that puts the regime in bad light.

Like many of the sectors of the economy, the education sector fell victim of a regime that when its leaders seized power illegally in 1994, they prescribed solutions to problems that did not exist.  In short, Jammeh and his crew came with a set of solutions looking for a problem to justify their unconstitutional acts.

The sector was guided by the 1988 - 2003 Education Policy that placed emphasis on the improvement of the quality of the education that was on offer to Gambia's children.  Internal efficiency measures were introduced to held supplement the the regular budget in addition to placing heavy emphasis on the software such as textbooks, teaching/instructional materials, teacher training that included upgrading and retention of qualified and highly trained teachers.

To reduce the foreign exchange component of managing the education sector, the Book Production and Material Resources Unit (BPMRU) was provided with a new facility in Kanifing.

When the 15-year policy expired in 2003, Jammeh's forces took charge and changed the educational structure to the current 6 years of lower basic, 3 years of lower basic and 3 years of senior secondary, eliminating the Sixth Form in the process.  Jammeh saw access to basic education as a portent political weapon against his political enemies and a justification for his military coup against the Jawara administration which marked the beginning of the politicization of the education sector by substituting quality for quantity.

Building schools anywhere and everywhere regardless of the population profiles in the affected catchment areas became the norm which took money away from teacher training and incentive programs designed to retain teaching staff.  The school building program allowed Jammeh to award contracts to his political backers and business cronies while lining his own pockets as well. While impressive educational access numbers were registered in the lower basic grades under Jammeh's education policy, they drop precipitously in the first few years of lower basic. The cost of being in school and remaining there, especially in the rural farming) area is unsustainable and has resulted in children being withdrawn.

The claim by the regime that primary school education is free is not quite true.  Parents are still required to pay for books, fees and other school expenses that has caused friction between parents who cite Jammeh's claim that education is free and headmasters who must collect these fees as required by current policy.

The results of  this year's WASSCE is testimony to a broken educational system that substituted quality (good teachers and quality instructions) for quantity (more school buildings and less contact hours).  A reversal of the trend can only occur when there is a total overhaul of the current system which can only take place when Jammeh is removed because the extensive nature of the damage done to Gambia's education system.  The education data, just like the census figures, are known to be cooked up to depict a narrative that supports the regime's policy position for donor support or other purposes rendering an rational and effective planning impossible as long as Jammeh is in charge.

Because the issues facing the education sector are important and complex, we will be devoting a few blog posts to look as specific topics in the coming weeks.  Ongoing series.      

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Arson attacks deepen cracks in the Gambian military

Jammeh inspecting the troops 
Recent arson attacks that target the economic and political interests of the Gambian dictator have deepened cracks in the military and heightened suspicions among the various ranks and across services.

As a result, major realignment of the military is to be announced that will merge the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) - a paramilitary outfit - with the army, effective immediately.  Formal announcement is expected today as the Interior Minister makes his way to Kanifing PIU camp to inform the paramilitary command.

The Gambian army under Yaya Jammeh has undergone a transformation that is dictated by his personal safety needs and the desire to maintain his grip on power than by the national security needs of the nation and the general welfare of the Gambian people.

It's been two weeks since the rash of arson attacks started without anyone being arrested.  The attacks were carried out with such precision that Jammeh has started to believe that they were conducted by persons within the military.

Sources suggest that General Saul Badgie, as head of the army, has fallen out of favor with the Gambian dictator because of the reported influence he has over a good portion of the army whose allegiance are with General Badgie rather than with Jammeh.  It is for this reason that Jammeh decided to merge the PIU with the army to dilute and eventually sideline General Saul Badgie in favor of men of the PIU.

There is obviously a power struggle going on that has its origin in the 30th December 2014 attack on State House that further culminated in the May United Democratic Party (UDP) demonstrations demanding electoral reforms that led to the death in custody of Solo Sandeng.

General Badgie's refusal to deploy the army against unarmed civilians was viewed as insubordination by the Gambian dictator.  It was the PIU that stepped in to quell the peaceful demonstrations with excessive and brutal force that led to the furious international condemnation.

The men who led the PIU was Paramilitary Commanders Biran Mbye and Nfamara Jallow.  Both of these men were members of the defunct Gendarmerie with Yaya Jammeh.  This move is seen as preparing the ground to remove General Badgie and his allies who are considered disloyal to Jammeh in favor of Biran Mbye, Nfamara Jallow and elements of the PIU.

Meanwhile, investigations into the arson attacks continues as more attacks are expected.  It is because the permanent threat that these attacks posed to the regime's existence that has resulted in Jammeh's postponement of his annual leave according to a source.    The ultimate aim of the arson attacks is to remove Jammeh from power and as long as the military remains fragmented the attacks are likely to continue.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Lessons from the death of Kebba Dibba and others

The late Kebba Dibba of GRTS
By all accounts, Alhagie. Kebba Dibba was a kind and gentle human being who was generally acclaimed as an excellent print and television reporter by colleagues and consumers of news alike.

The outpouring of Facebook tributes from Gambians of all works of life following the announcement of his untimely death is testimony to his general appeal to those who ardently support Yaya Jammeh as well as the ferocious opponents of the Gambian dictator.

As a television journalist at the government-owned and controlled GRTS, Mr. Dibba served Jammeh well with regular interviews that were noted more for their propaganda value than newsworthiness in line with the standard dictators' manual of using state media to disseminate propaganda to advance a personality cult designed to perpetuate the dictatorship's grip on power.

Despite Mr. Dibba's loyalty to Jammeh that was on visual display on national television, when the veteran journalist fell ill, neither the state-owned television nor the person of Yaya Jammeh lifted a finger to see to it that he gets the medical treatment he desperately needed until last weekend when he was finally transported to Dakar where he died a few days later.

The lack of attention paid to Mr. Kebba Dibba by Jammeh when he was gravely ill and in need of urgent medical attention is consistent with the dictator's lack of empathy for anyone outside his immediate family comprising of his wife and two children.  Jammeh is known to abandon allies who've outlived their usefulness and Kebba Dibba was just one case in a string of cases involving former close allies and collaborators of Jammeh,

Mayor Musa Jammeh and Captain Tumbul Tamba both served as personal body guards to Jammeh and were known to be more loyal to Jammeh than to the state they both swore to serve and protect. Both fell ill and were abandoned by Jammeh to die slow and miserable deaths, leaving their young families in a destitute state without state assistance to this day.  

Momodou Sagnia, an avid supporter who managed Jammeh's television image as Managing Director of GRTS was abandoned when he became ill and infirmed for several months before Jammeh succumbed to pressure from family members to send him to Cuba for treatment.  Mr. Sagnia later died.  Lessons to be drawn from these and similar instances of neglect and abandonment by Jammeh of former allies and supporters are clear : support the dictator at your own risk.    

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Is Jammeh losing grip of the country?

APRC Party Headquarters destroyed by arson fire
The 30th December 2014 attack on State House in Banjul by a group of Gambian dissidents resident abroad was the mark of a new phase in the battle to oust Yaya Jammeh from power.

The attacks, though unsuccessful in dislodging the much-hated Gambian dictator, succeeded in sowing the seeds of discord and suspicion within the various security services resulting in a degree of dysfunction among the ranks.

Dissidents have upped their game since then and the spate of recent arson attacks against Jammeh's business and political interests are testimony to the new strategy.

The gutting of the APRC headquarters by arson fire which occured a few days ago is the latest in a rash of similar torching of facilities belong to Yaya Jammeh.

The attacks have raised the specter of discord and suspicion among the various security services.  The security council meeting convened after the APRC headquarters attack was acrimonious with an element of finger pointing.

How could a group of persons enter the building, neutralize the security, burn the valuable contents of the party headquarters and then escaped is the main preoccupation of Yaya Jammeh who is demanding answers from his security service chiefs?  Who knew what and when?  There is a discernible division among the various security services which can only weaken Jammeh's grip on power.

 The National Security Council was convened in the absence of the Security Council Chairperson, Isatou Njie-Saidy, who has been absent from office for a little over a month due to ill health.

Visibly shaken as a result of the rash of arson attacks, Jammeh's behavior has grown increasingly erratic.  He is reportedly demanding answers from members of his security apparatus some of whom have become prime suspects.

Twenty two years of Jammeh's dictatorial rule appears to have taken its toll on the patience of a growing number of Gambians who have been denied their basic human rights under a repressive regime that does not tolerate dissent of any kind.

Many Gambians feel that the regime has failed in delivering on many of its promises, especially on providing the basic needs of ordinary Gambians.  Unemployment is high, especially among the youth resulting in mass exodus to Europe via the treacherous Mediterranean.

The economy has been contracting since Jammeh seized power in 1994 as a result of mismanagement and high level corruption.  Basic food commodities are in short supply and when they are available they are unaffordable rendering a third of the Gambian population to be food insecure.

It is the accumulation of the failures of the regime of Yaya Jammeh's that has generated the growing number of Gambians opposed to the status quo who are determined to rid him of The Gambia as Jammeh's popularity takes a precipitous decline.

This is a developing story ....

Sunday, August 14, 2016

APRC ruling party headquarters gutted by arson fire

APRC HQ gutted by arson fire - photo courtesy Sainey MK Marenah  

The APRC ruling party headquarters of dictator Yaya Jammeh was burned to the ground, Sunday morning around 3:30 AM.  The act has been ruled an arson attack by those opposed to the dictatorship.

The building situated on the street housing the Senegalese School and MDI Road belonged to the late A. B. Denton who was Accountant General when Jammeh illegally took over power in 1994. The building was seized by the Provisional Military Council chaired by the then Lt. Yaya Jammeh and later transferred ownership to the APRC after Jammeh and his military buddies traded their army uniforms to civilian clothes.      

According to sources, the security who was guarding the building was overpowered and tied up before the intruders torched the building.  All of the contents, including computers and documents have been destroyed by the fore.

Reaction has been swift from Yaya Jammeh who has returned a couple of days ago from Kanilai. Our sources said Jammeh was not only furious but "gave ultimatum" to his security chiefs not only to capture the culprits but to stop the arson attacks on his business properties and party symbols, failing which hey will be sent to Mile II prisons.

According to one of our sources Yankuba Badji, the Director General of the notorious National Intelligence Agency is expected to be a prime casualty as a result of these arson attacks all of which have gone unsolved.

Area residents, we are told, have expressed fear and trepidation at the prospect of something worse that could happen to them.  Most Gambians in the Greater Banjul Area have grown increasingly insecure following these attacks that have become ever too frequent.

The arson attack is the fourth in two weeks, raising the fear that they are being carried out by a well-organized group or groups to express their opposition to the brutal corrupt and incompetent regime of Yaya Jammeh.    

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

In The Gambia, every life matters

"Ebrima" a mentally ill Gambian man 
Meet "Ebrima".  He is a mentally ill man who appears to be in his mid 30s or early 40s.  He hangs around Pipe Line and sleeps at the Atlas petrol station along the same street.

Last week, the Gambian dictator's convoy was passing through Westfield Junction when "Ebrima"decided to haul insults at Yaya Jammeh.

The police officers nearby heard the mentally challenged man and didn't appreciate Jammeh being insulted.  They proceeded to take the matters into their own hands as they routinely do as a matter of routine procedure.  

According to eyewitnesses, "Ebrima" was arrested and "beaten up mercilessly in front of the crowd." He was subsequently taken away by the police and never seen since.  It's been a week since "Ebrima" was last seen.

The regime of Yaya Jammeh is viciously protective of Yaya Jammeh.  Gambians have no right to express the way they feel towards him.  Any criticism of him can and does land you in jail or worse, as in the case of "Ebrima", never mind he is mentally ill.

The use of torture and other inhuman treatment of Gambians must stop.  While treating "Ebrima" as a 'regular guy' and not as a mentally ill person who should be in a mental hospital is morally repugnant, the regime's insistence on getting every Gambian to fall in line behind one of Africa's most brutal and repressive dictator is both unreasonable and unsustainable.