Friday, October 4, 2019

GDC's National Youth President receives a death threat from a military police officer

M.C.Cham Jr. 
The National Youth Mobilizer of the Gambia Democratic Party (GDC), Mr. M. C. Cham Jr., was threatened with bodily harm, including an explicit death threat from a military police officer identified as Mr.  Sarjo Conteh.

According to Mr. Cham, the officer in question told him "in the presence of many that the military and State Intelligence Agency (SIS), formally the notorious NIA, were mad at him for always criticizing President Barrow and for talking about the 3 years Jotna campaign."

"If you take part in the demonstrations, I will break your leg.  I will gun you down and I would care less about any investigation or face another TRRC", the officer was quoted as saying.

To underscore the fact that his view of GDC's National Youth Mobilizer political activism is shared by many of his colleagues, the military officer warned him  "he (Mr. Cham) is being targeted by the security forces loyal to Barrow."  His final threatening words to M.C.Cham Jr. were "I will make sure you are killed."
Military Police  Sarjo Conteh
   
The campaign slogan (3-Years Jotna) is roughly translated from the local vernacular meaning "the 3 years are up" in reference to the stipulated duration of the term of office of transitional presidency of Adama Barrow, as outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of the Coalition of seven opposition parties.

In the characteristic style of the military during the dictatorial regime of Yaya Jammeh, the military police officer Conteh revealed that 100 soldiers are currently undergoing intense training in readiness for the "3-Year Jotna" campaign in the event members of the group carry out their promise of sustained public demonstrations next December.

The ultimate objective of the campaign organizers is to galvanize public opinion to the optimum level to force President Adama Barrow to step down at the end of the 3-year term, as stipulated in the MOU entered into by the Coalition partners.

The entire episode of the death threat took place at the residence of radio journalist Pa Nderry Touray in the presence of many other witnesses including one Omar Tunkara.

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Note: An earlier version of this blog post referred to Mr. Cham as National Youth Mobilizer.  He is presently GDC's National Youth President.  Our apologies

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The €1.45 billion pledge heard around the world - Re-publication

President Barrow and European Commissioner, Neven Mimica 
A blog post first published May 28th, 2018
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The recently concluded two-day Donors’ Conference on The Gambia hosted by the European Union in Brussels closed on a high note with a total of €1.45 billion in pledges from donors to help finance the 3-year National Development Plan (NDP) 2018 – 2021 of the coalition government of President Adama Barrow.  

In addition to this amount, the European Union is contributing €140 million in grants on top of the € 225 million already committed by Gambia’s single biggest donor.  The total amount pledged is roughly equal the amount The Gambia came to Brussels to raise in pledges that led the EU Commissioner to declare the two-day affair a great success. 

The eight priority areas of the NDP aimed to ensure sustainable and inclusive were fully supported by the EU.  Further support of government priorities areas of democratic reforms, agriculture, promoting job creation for the youth, in energy sector and granting access to renewable and sustainable energy for the Gambian people.

The Gambian delegation shared the sentiment of the EU Commissioner that the conference was highly successful, confirmed by the competing press releases from State House touting similar sentiments and urging Gambians to come out in droves to welcome the president from his Brussels trip.

We expect that once the celebratory mood has waned and reality sets in, the daunting task of managing the high expectations driven, in part, by the citizen’s lack of familiarity with and understanding of what transpired in Brussels will begin.  

Managing high expectations starts with explaining to Gambians that a pledge is nothing but a promise.  Thus the €1.45 billion in pledges by the donor community is a collection of promises from donors – both bilateral and multilateral – to contribute towards the financing of the projects and programs suggested in the National Development Plan.  As expected, the World Bank, AfDB, IsDB, BADEA, EIB will provide the bulk of the financing of the NDP on concessionary terms.    

To illustrate our point, the State House is reporting on its Facebook page that France appears to have been the first to transform its pledge into a €50 million actual contribution towards the global figure of about a billion and a half euros in pledges.  The swift decision by France did not come as much of a surprise as the level of its contribution, given its increasing role and influence in post-Jammeh Gambia.   

That said, the road to translating the €1.45 billion pledges into actual contributions had just started and it is going to take a great deal of effort to reach the goal because the international community is notorious for failing to fulfil their pledges.  Haiti, Syria and, most recently, the Democratic Republic of Congo, are few examples where actual contributions fell far below pledges.  In the case of Haiti, the figure was as low as 30% of pledges and even lower in the case of the Haiti Trust Fund housed in the World Bank.  

Therefore, to translate pledges into contributions would require renewed commitments by the Barrow administration to institutional and structural reforms – something they’ve been reluctant to do so far - while taking firm steps on the fiscal front to provide the financing of the other half of the total cost of the NDP, according to the official submission of the Gambian delegation to the conference.    

The challenges on the fiscal as well as the monetary fronts are daunting.  Government must explain the process to ordinary Gambians to avoid misconceptions or run the risk of having government initiatives buried by national euphoria, driven more by politics than rationality, a condition that Alan Greenspan referred to as irrational exuberance.  They must understand that to transform pledges (promises) into actual contribution usually is contingent on further conditionalities imposed by prospective donors.  

It is encouraging, however, that President Barrow saw the need to signal, upon his return from Brussels, that the time for politics is over.  The time has come to work hard towards national cohesion to achieve the objectives of the economic and social agenda set out in the National Development Plan.  President Barrow's legacy, a major preoccupation of his, rests, in large part, on how successful the implementation of the new undertaken will be.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

President Barrow must step down in 2019 unless...

The Coalition of 7+1 
We are republishing our February 24th, 2018 blog post on the MOU as it becomes more topical with each passing day.  The national conversation must commence.

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The adage that a person is as good as his or her word will be tested in the coming months as President Barrow presidency approaches the halfway mark of the three-year MOU-specified tenure in office, which, in our view, must be respected.

For Barrow to serve beyond December 2019, the Coalition Partners comprising of the seven opposition parties and the independent presidential candidate must reconvene, in a convention-style forum, to agree to extend the mandate prescribed in the MOU beyond the 3-year limit.

During normal times, the issue would find an easy solution by simply referencing the MOU which created the Coalition under certain terms and conditions.  Unfortunately, these are not normal times.  The country is beginning to emerge from twenty-two years of one of Africa's most repressive regimes, the trauma of which is debilitating to both the democratic institutions as well as the human spirit.

The dictatorship also weakened the political parties to the point of rendering them impotent.   The former regime succeeded, as well, in blurring the lines that distinguished one political party from the other.  The resultant effect is a symbiotic relationships between them, driven partially by expediency and political opportunism rather than by shared values and principles.

The blurring of the boundaries occurred among opposition political parties, as well as among political parties' interests and, the personal interests of individual party members that were beginning to converge after the electoral victory of Adama Barrow.  It immediately resulted in the trading of party membership for positions in the civil service.

Recently, we cited the various sentiments expressed across the political divide regarding whether President Barrow should stick with the provisions or principles set out in the Coalition's MOU that requires the Coalition President to vacate the seat after three years or to follow the stipulated constitutional presidential term of 5 years.

The matter may have been a topic of discussion during the negotiations that led to the selection of Adama Barrow as the Coalition's flag bearer.  Whereas there are some who feel that the Coalition partners should stay true to the MOU, there are other voices that favor the stipulated presidential term of 5 years.

Because the National Assembly Members were elected to serve the full 5-year term, it becomes necessary to realigned the president's term with that of the NAMs.  The shortening the term of the NAMs to 3 years would be an unlikely option because it is already consistent and in line with the constitutional provisions.

That leaves open the options of formally extending the term of the Coalition president for an additional two years or not extending the president's MOU-mandated 3-year term which automatically allows the Vice President to assume the presidency for two years.

A convention of the Coalition partners must reconvened sooner than later so as to determine the length of term of the transitional president created by an MOU that is still operational, independent of the standard constitutional provisions and, only if to confirm maintaining the current status quo.  The MOU created the current political dispensation.

The MOU should form the basis for untangling the untidy mess created as a matter of necessity.  It is therefore an absolute and necessary imperative to untangle the mess to allow The Gambia to start the recalibration of the term of office of the President of The Republic with that of Members of the National Assembly.

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Saturday, July 27, 2019

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

President Adama Barrow 
This editorial blog post was first published on November 11, 2017 
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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.       

The fracture that threatens the peace and stability - A republication

Barrow and Darboe 
A blog post first published October 8th, 2018.
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The coalition of opposition parties that contested the December 2016 presidential elections against the regime of Jammeh, although it ended up victorious, was wittingly or unwittingly made to fracture.  Halfway into the three-year transition government of Adama Barrow, discernible cracks, deep enough to prove irreparable, emerged, confirming the temporary nature of what can now be characterized as a political alliance of convenience - an admission that would have invited the wrath of the partisan supporters of the coalition.

Presidential candidate Adama Barrow was the by-product of the political realities of the time when the leader of the single largest opposition party, Ousainou Darboe, leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) was imprisoned for leading a demonstration to demand the release of the body of Solo Sandeng, a member of his party's executive and youth leader killed by paramilitary police.  In addition to facing a leadership deficit, the unification of a plethora of opposition parties into a coercive and unified force to contest the December 2016 presidential elections, will again, prove to be a special challenge after failures in three successive times in 2001, 2006 and 2011.

The coalition of opposition parties was finally realized but not before it became a precondition of the electorate who demanded it.  Days into the campaign, it became clear that the electorate will not tolerate another fragmented opposition to fail at the hands of a well-financed and state-subsidized incumbent candidate with all the state machinery behind him.  Only a coalition of all of the opposition parties can defeat Jammeh.  In response to this demand, a convention of opposition parties was convened, literally days before the December 1st 2016 elections, that produced an obscure UDP party treasurer of unknown quantity to many named Adama Barrow, the UDP party treasurer, as the coalition's candidate for the presidency.

Recognizing his lack of experience in governance with low public profile, presidential candidate Barrow pleaded for patience for his lack of experience and solicited support and assistance from coalition members in his quest for the presidency.  After his surprise win, followed by a political impasse that lasted several tense weeks of negotiations, Jammeh finally decided to vacate State House under threat of the ECOMIG forces. He went into involuntary exile to Equatorial Guinea and President-elect Barrow assumed office in January 2017,

Few days after he won the presidential elections,  Ousainou Darboe, the leader of the UDP was released on bail from Mile II prisons and subsequently pardoned together with other senior members of his political party.  The man the incoming president refers to as his political 'father' swiftly assumed a central figure in the kitchen cabinet of the incoming administration and helped shaped the cabinet.  He assumed the post of Foreign Minister, a strategic error in the eyes of some astute observers of the political scene.  By insisting on being a member of the cabinet, the UDP  leader voluntarily subordinated himself to his political 'son', The President.

Mr. Darboe's subsequent promotion to his current position of Vice President notwithstanding, the prevailing view is that he should have opted to stay away from assuming a cabinet post in a transition government that would have allowed time to take care of his after his health after his imprisoned at the notorious Mile II before embarking on the task of preparing his party for the next presidential elections.  This option would have also made it possible for him to act as adviser to the Barrow government while concurrently strengthening the UDP into a formidable political machine in time for the 2021 presidential elections.

It can be argued that by joining the transition government, Darboe inadvertently introduced an element of competition between the boss (Barrow) and his subordinate (Darboe), a role reversal that is manifesting itself in a very complex relationship between the two gentlemen.

Conversely, Adama Barrow's performance as president only adds to the imbriglio the transition is turning out to be.  The results of the first eighteen months of the Barrow has been anything but encouraging.  On the economic management front, the economic is still anemic with high youth unemployment.  Little or nothing has happened on the restructuring front which was a top priority of  the coalition because the institutions were seriously seriously weakened under Jammeh.  Lack of fiscal discipline is still pervasive despite promises to control the recurrent budget.

The scourge of corruption has come to be associated with the Barrow government with a series of recent scandals involving over US$750,000 deposited into and transferred from the First Lady's Foundation, SEMLEX, the 57 vehicles gifted to parliamentarians and the latest being the alleged D10,000 per month stipend offered to some parliamentarians by President Barrow which was reported by a sitting member of the National Assembly.

Barrow's record has caused him to lose political support by increasing doubts about his ability and competence to manage The Gambia as president, further making his political position untenable.  Thus his recent move to organize a Youth Movement to rival a similar movement in the party he calls home - the United Democratic Party led by Ousainou Darboe.

Tensions are already high as a result of competing camps within the same political party, with allegations of huge sums of money being handed out to UDP leaders in the length and breadth of the country by the Barrow camp as a means of encouraging them to switch allegiance from Darboe too Barrow.  In fact, social media is awash with rumors including a claim that Barrow dispatched a delegation to Darboe encouraging him to step down from the leadership of the UDP that will permit him to be nominated the presidential candidate of the UDP in the 2021 presidential elections.

The political maneuverings have taken its toll with Barrow spending more time politicking at the expense of his main task of governing a country whose economy and security are both in a fragile state as a result of 22 years of bad governance.  Popular dissatisfaction with Barrow style of governance is growing with every new scandal that has cost him dear, further dimming his chances of securing an extended term of five instead of the current three stipulated in the Memorandum of Understanding - the document outlining both his Manifesto and his term of office as a non-party affiliated candidate of the coalition of the unified opposition parties.

The peace and security implications of an uncertain alliance between President Barrow and Vice President Barrow are great and may have played a part in the Gambian president, inappropriately and publicly requesting through the AU Chairperson the extension of the ECOMIG Mission in The Gambia to 2021, instead of through ECOWAS as dictated by and in accordance with AU's principle of subsidiarity.  This is a move that signals to donors, investors, tourists and Gambians that the peace and security of the country cannot be guaranteed by the transition government, even after eighteen months at the helm, thus sending a message that is anything but reassuring.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Is Jammeh behind the human trafficking that feeds the "Backway" syndrome? - A re-publication

The white shiny bus
A blog post first published June 15th, 2015.
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The white shiny bus shown here has been identified in a Washington Post article authored by Kevin Sieff that serves as the beginning of the "Backway" journey from The Gambian capital of Banjul with the final destination of Agadez, Niger.

We wrote a piece last April, identifying Banjul as one of the centers of human trafficking.  Greater Banjul is a city at war with itself with military road block every 500 meters along the highway which made us to conclude that it is inconceivable for the authorities to be unaware of the human trafficking activities going on right in front of their noses.

Light is finally beginning to be shone on this aspect of the 'Backway syndrome', thanks to the focus that highly reputable news outlets' increasing focus on this sliver of a land that is contributing more than any country in Africa, proportionally speaking.

The "Backway" traffic increased markedly since last December, resulting in a significant increase in drownings in the Mediterranean. 14% of those who drowned in the first quarter of this year were Gambian, a country of 1.8 million which triggered international curiosity as to what's going on in The Gambia.

The bus pictured here is of particular interest because it cannot be allowed to circulate freely without someone higher up the chain of authority assuring its free movement across the Gambia with human cargo on board whose finally destination is known.

If Jammeh is opposed to human trafficking and has accused parents of those allowing their children of being un-Islamic because they are contributing towards their fares, why buses, like the one depicted here, operating freely.

Jammeh appears to be augmenting his campaign of deception by asking the ICC Chief prosecutor to investigate why Gambians and African emigrants are allowed to die in the Mediterranean, and accusing Italy and EU of deliberately causing the deaths.  It is also a preemptive move since the Italian government has announced their investigation of the human trafficking aspect of the tragedy.

Just as Jammeh has refused to accept that his bad economic policies and the human rights conditions of Gambians, he has deliberately turned a blind eye to the human trafficking going on at his front door.

Help us identify this shiny white bus.  Thank you.

Gambian youth as economic migrant - A republication

African economic migrants walking along a Libyan desert road

This is blog post first published July 7th, 2014 
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One of the most painful legacies that the Jammeh regime will be the emptying of The Gambia of its youthful population.  It pains me to say that a disproportionate number are of these economic and human rights migrants are non-Jolas.  We cannot discuss the Jammeh regime without talking about tribalism as an instrument of suppression by playing one tribe against another.  

At this point of this narration, it is tempting to say it is to be expected because Mandinka and Fulas, in particular, form the largest chunk of the country's population, thus should form a majority in many categories which is generally true, but only to a point.  The social status categories like high-paying jobs in the public service, scholarship awards and membership to statutory Boards paint a different picture.  The trend is scary, and more so when the qualifications and experience do not seem to be correlated with the numbers of the one of the smallest and least educated of one section of our population. 

It is important to note at this point that our faith in the Gambian people is unshakable.  Many politicians of past years who tried using tribe as a divisive tool have failed, and Jammeh will fail also.

The Daily Observer warned us this morning of the scourge of economic migration and the risk involved in venturing in small boats and canoes on their journey to Europe via Italy - a journey that usually end up in tragedy.  The regime's official mouth piece, blames the youth's lack of "strong commitment" to the Motherland, implying that these young men and women are more committed to their respective families. 

After all, these economic migrants are making the trip because "they are pursuing work in foreign countries in order to support themselves and their families" according to the Daily Observer. 

Boat full of African migrants
Nothing from our friends at the Daily Observer about the causes of this frantic pace of adventurism into the unknown at extraordinary risks.  Could it be that the regime’s inability to make it attractive for these young people to stay at home?  Unemployment is high and getting higher, while the lucky few to be employed have seen that wages stagnate, eroding their purchasing power to a level that cannot sustain life.  Yet they see their Great Leader ride around town in a Rolls Royce.  The insensitivity and the tone deafness of this regime is bordering on insanity.

The Daily Observer continues to blame the young men and women for not investing locally the money they pay for the dangerous trip, which assumes that there is free entry and exit in an economy that is directed by one man - Yaya Jammeh.  How many houses built by Gambian retirees and those living in Europe have been bulldozed by Yaya Jammeh, and their land seized without due process?  Why are businessmen/women fleeing Gambia for friendlier and safer destinations for their investments; these include Jammeh closest business partners. 

The Gambian economy is contracting because of its mismanagement, and the contraction will continue.  In fact, the economy is headed for a complete collapse.  The young men and women venturing out at seas see the bleak future, and they are voting with their feet, and they see it worth the risk.