Monday, November 13, 2017

Strong and confident leadership demanded of our politicians and men and women in uniform

Circa 1959 
At the height of our fight to rid The Gambia of Jammeh, there were many doubters as to whether we will be able to pull it off in 2016.  We happened to have been among those who were not expecting his defeat through the ballot box but through public protests employing Arab Spring tactics of civil disobedience.  Therefore, it was as much a pleasant surprise for us as it was for millions of Gambians and friends of the Gambia across the globe to dislodge an entrenched 22-year old brutal and corrupt dictatorship. .

Although skeptical of the election route, what was never in doubt was the power of the human resolve to achieve what looked, at the time, unachievable and thus the battle cry of the moment among the online activists: "Never Relent".   Our advice then, as now is never give up or surrender your core beliefs and values because your life is meaningless without them and a life without a set of values, in our view, makes you less of a human.

Although a child of the colonial era, born, raised and high school educated in the colony of Banjul, I have always felt liberated, enjoying all the inherent freedoms that every freeman and woman was endowed, even when the top three to four most senior police officers in the Police and the Field Forces were British and so were most of the Commissioners (now called Governors).  

This brings us to the incarnation of the Public Order Act of 1955, not by any colonialist or imperialist oppressor but by one of our own, a brutal and corrupt African dictator in the name of Yaya Jammeh that sent the top echelon of the United Democratic Party, including its leader to jail using the very same 1955 odious law.  It now appears that it is the same sword of Damocles that is being dangled over our heads by the transition government we all fought so hard to elect to usher in the New Gambia under new management and new orientation.  

Instead, the government decises to operationalize a relic of our colonial past that Jammeh used to jail his opponents and Governor Edward Windley used to crush the “Bread and Butter" riots of 1959.  

Whether the Barrow administration realizes it or not, the insistence by the Inspector General of Police to reverse the previous decision to allow the #OccupyWestfield protests is raising concerns among our traditional allies and friends abroad.  The trend is chilling as it is disappointing. 

If the Inspector General of Police cannot guarantee the safety of a few hundred peaceful demonstrators, as initially projected by the organizers, then Gambians have every reason to question his fitness to man the post.  The security of the country must also be in a much more precarious state than ever imagined to cause the denial of law abiding Gambians to exercise their inherent right to publicly display their displeasure at their government; even in the presence of ECOMIG troops in the country?   

ECOMIG’s mandate had recently been extended for one year with the simultaneous drawdown from the initial troop level of 4,000 to its current 2,500 stabilizing force level.  Can you blame laymen if the IGP’s claims are treated as suspect?  We believe we could do better, as a country, with more confident leadership from our politicians as well as our men and women in uniform, especially now. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

EDITORIAL: President Barrow must put his stamp on the transition government

President Adama Barrow 
When Gambians went to the polls last December 1st, their choice to lead the Coalition of 7 +1 was Adama Barrow.  He campaigned and won an election that the entire world, except Yaya Jammeh, acclaimed as free, fair and credible. 

In fact,  Barrow's election was historic as being the first time that a sitting dictatorship, with all the instruments of power still firmly under his control, was defeated at the ballot and democratically without a shot being fired. 

African dictators have lost power in the past but it has almost always been through the use force or the threat of the use of force.  Because of the uniqueness of our last December experience, we have been pleading with the new administration to avoid stepping on a very powerful and unique story that should serve as a platform to start the consolidation of out new found democratic freedoms. 

The Coalition government stumbled right out of the gates as some of us expected.  If you ask a dozen Gambians the cause for it, you are likely to get a dozen but one different answers.  The one reason they all share in common is that the majority of the cabinet lack experience in governance.  Whereas this common factor may not be sufficient reason for failure, it is a necessary condition for a slow start as cabinet members feel their way around the treacherous terrain.  Most, if not all, have been out in the political wilderness for over two decades. 

After almost a year at the helm, President Barrow and his team have made some progress, not of the earth-shattering kind, but progress nonetheless especially in the judiciary where discernible progress is being registered in appointing qualified and experienced Gambians on the bench.  Members of the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of the former dictator have been seated over three months ago and its live extended for an additional six month. 

The law establishing the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission is on its final stage of being tabled before the National Assembly.   The security sector has also been scheduled for restructuring.  This is by no means an exhaustive list because there are ministries where public information is thin. 

All of the gains enumerated here will come to naught if hard choices are not made in the country's economic management team.  A significant draw down of the ballooning domestic debt over the last decade must be made to start the reversal of the crowding out of the private sector that has been starved of cash from the commercial banking sector for investment purposes. 

The rebuilding effort  of the Central Bank must commence from the ground up after what has come to light at the Commission of Inquiry.   Without the restructuring of the civil service, it'd not be possible to successfully implement the reforms that must take place to set us on the road to economic recovery.         

#OccupyWestfield group has been issued with a permit to protest on Sunday, November 12th

President Adama Barrow 
After a week of much ado about nothing, the government of Adama Barrow has decided to allow the #OccupyWestfield group to protest at the Westfield Junction, a decision that should have been made last week to avoid the unnecessary rancor and vacillations that ensued.

However, the decision was finally taken by Hon. Ba Tambadou, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice who has been been selected by President Barrow to oversee the Interior Ministry while a substantive holder of the post is identified and appointed.  Hon. Mai Fatty's dismissal is unfortunate but as the saying goes in these parts it comes with the territory.  Ministers serve at the pleasure of the president and thus can be removed without offering reason(s) for the removal.  That is the prerogative of the President.  It is not a right but a privilege to serve in a cabinet post.

Regarding the protests, Mr. Alieu Bah of #OccupyWestfield speaking to us from Banjul confirmed that permission has been granted for his group to protest at the Westfield Junction on Sunday 12th November from 3PM - 6PM. 

To peacefully protest in a democracy is a right that must not be infringed.

The decision is a welcome relief that will serve as an outlet for pent up frustrations for a number of our youth - an important constituents of the Coalition -  frustrations resulting from the lack of progress in the provision of reliable supply of electricity, as seen from their vantage point.

Yes, we acknowledge the promises made by government and the efforts made for the realization of those promises which should not preempt the inherent right of every Gambian to publicly and peacefully express his or her dissatisfaction or otherwise without fear of arrest or worse. 

The government has shown, through action, that reasons advanced by the former Interior Minister that resulted in his decision to deny #OccupyWestfield permit were, in our view, without basis.

The refusal to allow the protest to proceed projected weakness and not confidence in our security forces to maintain order at all times.  It was also a grave mistake for the paramilitary forces to be on high alert and in full battle gear thus escalating a problem to unnecessary levels.  Let us leave such knee jerk reactions to dictators.

Today, we are all democrats.

President Barrow's government should consider memorializing Solo Sandeng in naming the Westfield Junction in honor of the UDP youth leader and to designate it as a zone for Gambians to peacefully assemble to show their opposition to or support of issues they consider to be essential to contributing to a stable and prosperous society. 

The Gambia needs a clean break from its dictatorial past by throwing away the Jammeh playbook.  Many Gambians will lend support to this or any other effort that will solidify our democratic gains.  These young people are the future of the country and must be seen as a reservoir of hope for the future of the country and not as a source of potential conflict and instability.     

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mai Ahmad Fatty has been fired as Gambia's Interior Minister, effective Friday November 10 2017

PR/C/6/Vol. 21(84)                                             

Media Advisory

Fajara, 10th November 2017 - The General Public is here by informed that His Excellency, Mr. Adama Barrow, President of the Republic of The Gambia, acting under the provision of Section71 (4) (b) of the Constitution of The Republic of the Gambia, has decided to relieve  Mr. Mai Ahmad Fatty of his appointment as Minister of The Interior with effect from today, Friday, 10 November 2017.  

Mr Fatty has been re-deployed to the diplomatic service. 

In the same vein, His Excellency, the President has assigned the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Honourable Abubacarr M. Tambadou to oversee the Ministry of The Interior until further notice.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

To what are Gambian migrants returning home to?

The European Union signed recently a D 200 million grant agreement with IOM and the government of the Gambia, represented by the Interior Minister, as part of the $ 2 billion EU - Africa emergency trust fund.*

The initial tranche is earmarked for the irregular migrants of 1,500 Gambians who will be repatriated from Libya, where many live in squalor and grim conditions and whose lives are under constant threat from human traffickers and bandits. 

According to local reports, the head of IOM said the project is designed to strengthen migration in The Gambia and also to raise awareness of 250 communities.  Awareness programs are also envisaged for the potential 2,500 migrants expected to return on migration options and alternatives which must include training programs to prepare them for reentry into an under performing economy. 

The IOM head emphasized the lengthy and complex nature of reintegrating migrants that must focus beyond economic integration but social, psychological and other aspects as well.  As part of the assistance to the initial batch of irregular migrants coming from Libya, the project provides € 65 (approx. D 3,600) to each of the returnees upon arrival in Banjul to cover their transportation fares to their respective towns and villages and also to take care of incidentals.  The figure has already raised a few eyebrows.

Returnees needs are subsequently assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine the type of assistance accorded to each.  The challenges facing government and returning migrants are huge.  It therefore requires careful and a realistic implementation schedule.  The European Union also must be prepared to make adjustments to the project design to accommodate concerns expressed by local and international development practitioners. 

The Oxfam is reportedly calling for more clarity in the design of these types of emergency projects to avoid them being repackaged as border security projects with no development goals.  The Oxfam EU migration policy adviser, recognizing the quick disbursement nature of emergency projects of the sort being envisaged, is calling for more transparency and accountability.   There are no "quick fixes" to the long and tedious process of reintegrating a group of migrants who have little or no skills to speak of to be successfully integrated into society.

Gambia's reentry program for returnee migrants will require, in addition to the Ministries of Interior, Trade and Youth and Sports, the robust and proactive involvement of  civic society organizations in the monitoring of its implementation by civil society organization specializing in such programs.  Because the stakes are high, the program must be properly implemented with some changes to the original design as suggested by Oxfam and others. 

Public awareness campaign utilizing both the public and private media must be mounted by the implementing agencies, as well as the government, to publicize project objectives.  Government must develop a communication strategy around the reentry program will help the general population understand the process and help, as part of community support mechanism, in easing the reentry pains that returnees are likely to encounter.

* This is the first in a series of blog posts that will examine certain aspects of the EU - Africa emergency trust fund including the implementation of this and similar projects in the pipeline.

Monday, November 6, 2017

EU drops mass deportation idea for African migrants - This is a republication

We've come a long way from exactly two years ago when the EU was contemplating massively deporting African migrants to their respective countries until the African leaders raised massive objection to the idea. 

President Macky Sall of Senegal led the way which ultimately resulted in the Europeans dropping the idea and replaced by the $2 billion Trust Fund that Gambia and other migrant-exporting countries are benefiting from.  We will be taking a closer look at the re-entry programs and how it will potentially impact The Gambia, in particular.

Here's the blog post we wrote on November 12th, 2015.

EU - African Heads of State Summit in Malta  

On the final day of the two-day summit of heads of state and governments of the European Union and Africa, the idea of an EU-issued travel document to African migrants to facilitate their deportation back to their countries of origin have been rejected.

The Africans strongly objected to "laissez passer" idea which would have been an EU-issued travel document.  According to the African Union Ambassador to the European Union the idea was unheard-of in international law.

Realizing that the idea would have meant that the EU would have had the power to determine one's nationality on behalf of the migrants country of origin, the idea was quickly dropped, preventing EU mass deporting African migrants.  The focus then was rightly directed at how to absorb the migrants by focusing on the long-term solutions of addressing the problem comprehensively.

The seed money for the proposed  $2-billion "Trust Fund" as additional aid package for participating African countries was approved by the EU, provided from the Commission's central budget with matching funds expected from individual EU Members States.

The  fact that the issue of readmission is central to the refugee crisis, it should not be exclusive domain of Europeans alone.  This issue was driven home more emphatically by the Senegalese president Macky Sall who was highly critical of the European and Western multinationals business operations in Africa.

The Senegalese president was clearly referencing the little-known and less publicized  UN's High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows led by Thabo Mbeki that estimated as much as $ 50 billion annually was being siphoned out of Africa by multinational companies - an amount that represents approximately twice the size of official development assistance.

It would appear from the European Union has abandoned is ill-advised approach of separate and unequal treatment of the Syrian and African migrants.  In addition to the "Trust Fund", Britain plans to increase its aid package in the next four years on education and job creation schemes.  Britain is also pushing EU countries into accepting failed asylum seekers.

The tone certainly changed on the second and final day of the Summit.  It is hoped that, in moving forward, the migration crisis will be viewed and treated as a global issue, requiring global solutions that must take into account the root causes - both man-made and natural - moving forward.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Press Release from #OccupyWestfield

#OccupyWestfield Official logo 
Gambia: Barrow government breaks promise to protect citizens’ right to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly

Banjul November 5, 2017- President Adama Barrow has reverted to the ways of his predecessor, dictator Yahya Jammeh, whose intolerance for criticism and disdain for protest, locked the tiny African nation in a rule of terror  for 22 years. Matters came to a head on Sunday November 5th, when the Ministry of Interior deployed military and police units to Westfield, in the Kanifing Municipality, a densely populated area, which hosts the majority of businesses, and residents.  The move by the Interior minister Fatty, was to deter public service delivery protests from going ahead, and intimidate the organizers and supporters in the process. 

The Inspector General of Police denied the group a permit to peacefully gather at Westfield, through the use of the Public Order Act, a law that Jammeh relied on in suppressing freedom.  This was the same law that was used to jail the entire United Democratic Party leadership, which ironically saw President Barrow ascend into the position of leadership, ultimately becoming president.

“What this new government is doing is very disappointing as it is worrying.  They are showing tendencies of a dictatorship, with their disdain for dissent.  It has not even been a year since we kicked out a previous dictator, who was notorious for levels of intolerance for citizens’ rights,” said Alieu Bah, the leader of the Occupy movement.
Occupy Westfield’s call for a nationwide protest is due to the dismal failure of the water and electricity company, which continues to plunge the country in darkness, a situation that has worsened under the Barrow administration. Although the new administration is not responsible for the technical insolvency of the electricity and water company, which has been unable to deliver basic supply of water and electricity for almost 40 years, it is nevertheless, obligated to respect the constitution, which allows for citizens to peacefully gather and express themselves, in whatever form, as long as such assembly is lawful. Added to this caveat, the current leadership of the United Democratic Party, which is now in power in a coalition government, challenged the very act that it is using to suppress the rights of Gambian’s to protest poor service delivery.  The case is currently at the Supreme Court.       

“The contradictions of this government are now clear for all to see.  They say one thing, and do the complete opposite.  Their credibility levels are diminishing by the day, which is disappointing for people like me that stood up to the previous dictatorship,” said Ali Cham- aka: Killa Ace, an activist, and the first musician exiled for standing up to Jammeh’s dictatorship in 2015.

A year ago, in the run up to the presidential elections, President Barrow, through the opposition coalition, made a specific pledge to repeal the notorious Public Order Act.  The coalition’s manifesto explicitly stated that: "Public Order Act, Laws of The Gambia 2009 gives too much power to the Inspector General of Police and does fetter freedom of association and assembly. The Coalition government will repeal any provision in the Public Order Act which is not reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society such as those which hinder peaceful procession to highlight public grievances which is the main tool for exercising civil society oversight over the governance process." 

It seems that the Barrow administration has forgotten that pledge. #OccupyWestfield, is not deterred by the show of heavy-handedness by the government under President Barrow.  The group’s right to freedom of assembly and the right to protest will not be surrendered.  The Gambia government has an obligation to promote and protest these rights.  The 1997 constitution guarantees us these rights, as do the plethora of regional, continental and international treaties. 

The fact that President Barrow, made several undertakings to uphold the rights of all Gambians, when he addressed the continental rights body last week, which Banjul continues to host, should at least prod this government to lead by example in respecting the rights of its citizens as enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.   Article 11 of the Charter states: Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, heath, ethics and rights and freedom of others. 

The #OccupyWestfield Movement is not a threat to anyone.  We have made this absolutely clear, to a point whereby our weapon of choice is a candle- something that signifies peace, spirituality, and power of the human spirit to endure in difficulty and preserver with hope. But our candles are being met with guns, bullets and batons.  Our supporters for peaceful protest are being met with soldiers that are ready to unleash violence.  Our calls for our rights to be respected as we demand for better service delivery, in the process asserting our rights to access basic electricity and water, are being ignored and silenced.  This was what former President Jammeh practiced with great success, in the process turning The Gambia into a state of fear and terror.  This is something that we will not accept.  This is unlawful and tyrannical in every respect.  We will exercise our rights.  We will continue to call for better service delivery and asserting our fundamental right to assemble, and to express ourselves.

For more information please contact: +220 7571117, +220 7309494, +220 7202981

Key dates and timelines:
October 26- Alieu Bah, a Gambian citizen posted a message on Facebook using the hashtag #OccupyWestfield, which called on Gambians to gather and protest the lack of service delivery (water and electricity);
October 31- the #Occupywestfield group applied for a permit from the Inspector General of Police to proceed with its planned protest, which would take the form of a candlelight vigil;
November 1- the Intelligence Agency invited the members of the group to an interview.  The meeting was meant to “screen” the members, and personal details were taken;
November 2- A meeting was held with the IGP, and other security chiefs, where the application for a permit was denied;
November 3- Meeting with the Minister of Interior, Mr Mai Fatty;

About #OccupyWestfield:

#OccupyWestfield is not a formal organization but a shared desire, even as it is a shared grievance, for the very basics of life namely: water and electricity. It’s a rallying call that took a life of it’s own and became a movement. It started as a hashtag on facebook for Gambian ctitzens to come out and protest peacefully and share their frustrations. It has since grown into a movement with a coordinating committee.