Saturday, September 24, 2016

Gambian politicians grilled at ECOWAS Parliament

Majority Leader, Fabakary Tombong Jatta
Netty Baldeh 
Hons. Fabakary Tombong Jatta and Netty Baldeh, both APRC National Assembly Members wished they didn't attend this year's second session of ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja where their colleagues, especially parliamentarians from Senegal and Togo, peppered them with stinging questions, ranging from the deplorable human rights environment, the precarious state of readiness for the presidential elections to the lack of presidential term limit.

The Senegalese parliamentarian, Soulaymane Ndoye, questioned his Gambian colleagues on the wisdom of the arbitrary and exorbitant tariffs increases without due notice in contravention of existing ECOWAS protocol. which led to the 3-month closure of the border between the two countries early this year.

However, it was the Togolese opposition parliamentarian's citing of media accounts of the suppression of the rights of the opposition and the lack of freedom of expression prevailing in Yaya Jammeh's country that irked the two Gambian politicians.  The Togolese parliamentarian wanted to know whether the rights of the opposition and freedom of expression will be guaranteed as the December presidential election approaches.

In response, the two Gambian parliamentarians went into their characteristic incomprehensible and defensive tirade in defense of the man they erroneously refer to as a pan-Africanist who does not bend to the wishes of "external forces" or 21st century imperialists.  Their boss has a special dislike for the British, so it was not surprising that employed - as a matter of routine - anti-British and/or anti-America tirade  in their responses.

It was equally unsurprising when Mr. Jatta said that neither in the UK nor in the US was political space or opportunity accorded to the opposition..  In short, and from their vantage point, the opposition's political space must be restricted to the point of rendering them ineffectual or extinct.  We hope the Gambian opposition is taking note of what is in store for them.

On the question of term limits, Netty Baldeh's responded as a matter-of-factly that " [W]e decided not to limit the mandates and not to have a second round in the presidential. After all, democracy is the will of the people."  The irony to his response is that Netty Baldeh will automatically cease to be a member of parliament by being expelled from the ruling party that the Gambian dictator heads even though he (Baldeh) was elected by the voters of his constituency which says a great deal about the will of the people.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ousman Sonko: Jammeh's one-man killing machine - Part I

Gambia's Former Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko  
Ousman Sonko was Gambia's longest-serving Interior Minister until he was dismissed last week by the country's dictator Yaya Jammeh who has imposed his 22-year iron-fisted rule on continental Africa's smallest country.  He's reportedly fled The Gambia and currently seeking asylum in Sweden - a development that did not come as a surprise to us.  

Ousman Sonko who named himself the "Baye Faal" ( loose translation: The Disciple or follower) of the Gambian dictator whose instructions are carried out without question.  The former Interior Minister has proven, over time, to be one of the fiercest defenders and protectors of a regime that has distinguished itself for its extreme brutality against its real and perceived opponents.

As an army officer in 1994, Ousman Sonko was charged with raping a 15-year old girl. A few months later, Jammeh seized power unconstitutionally on the 22nd July, 1994 and proceeded to drop the charges against his army comrade.  Being a member of the military as well as being from Jammeh's minority Jola tribe who was born in the Casamance region of Senegal but raised in the Gambia seemed to have played a role in his exoneration.  He was quickly reinstated into the army and became part of the elite Presidential Guard.

Mr. Sonko has a self-effacing personality that served him well both as a close protection officer of Jammeh at the State House, his tenure as Inspector General of Police and finally a decade as Gambia's Interior Minister.  He has always preferred staying in the background and away from the limelight while planning and implementing schemes designed to eliminate what he sees as, obstacles to the dictatorship.  Once the target is identified by Jammeh, the rest is left to Ousman Sonko to implement with a devastating precision.

In January 2000, the security forces announced that they've foiled a military coup led by State Guard Commander, Landing Sanneh.  Ousman Sonko who was then a member of the elite Guard was reportedly part of the coup attempt but was able to outmaneuver his accomplices by reporting the other coup makers.  He led a party to arrest the suspected coup makers.  One Almamo Manneh was killed after his arrest, allegedly by Sonko, one Captain Dumbuya was chased and shot in broad daylight at the Banjul Albert Market.  Commander Landing Sanneh was shot in the led.  The surviving coup plotters were tried and sentenced to long prison terms.

It was during Sonko's tenure also Commander of the State Guards* that 14 unarmed school children were gunned down by para-military police under his command which was the worst incident of mass murder in the country's history.  It was also during Ousman Sonko's tenure that 44 Ghanaians were killed, mistaken for foreign menageries who were in the country to topple the regime.

Deyda Hydara, the prominent Gambian journalist's death was planned and executed by Ousman Sonko as a commander of a hit squad known locally as the Junglers" that carry out tortures, rapes and assassinations of Jammeh's enemies. There is a preponderance of evidence to this effect.  Another journalists named Ebrima "Chief" Manneh of the Daily Observer and Kanjiba Kanji an aid worker with the Christian Children Fund were made to disappear under Ousman Sonko's watch.

Solo Sangeng died at the hands of his captors at the National Intelligence Agency where he was tortured and the sessions recorded on the Director General Yankuba Badgie's personal cell phone for the viewing pleasure of Yaya Jammeh who actually was issuing instructions by phone from Turkey where he was on a state visit.

Ousman Sonko has been responsible for the planning and execution or has full knowledge of all the human rights abuses sited in the blog.   

In subsequent blogs, we will review the details of these heinous crimes that Jammeh, Ousman Sonko, Yankuba Badgie and many others in the regime have committed against the Gambian people for which they must be held accountable.
* Initially reported as his tenure as Inspector General of Police.

Stay tuned for Part II  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Dismissed Interior Minister and other senior officials will soon be blamed for Solo Sandeng's death

Dismissed Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko
After months of stonewalling, Yaya Jammeh finally admitted in a Jeune Afrique interview that Solo Sandeng, the UDP youth leader, died in the custody of the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA) - a story vehemently denied as it was being first reported here less than 48 hours after Mr. Sandeng was arrested while demonstrating for reform of the country's draconian electoral laws.

In response to the international community's demands for an investigation of the youth leader's death, Jammeh was quoted wondering why investigate when only one person was killed and therefore doesn't "see the point."  After all, he continued, "people die in custody or during interrogation; it's really normal."

It was not until the threats of additional sanctions that included the possibility of travel bans on senior officials of the regime that Jammeh started singing a different tune.

The European Union's suspension of disbursement of development assistance which took effect several months earlier as punishment for the regime's human rights began to take immediate toll on Gambia's public finances because the EU is Gambia's single biggest aid partner.

Faced with a rapidly dwindling options available to one of Africa's most reviled and isolated regime, the Gambian dictator is looking for ways of responding to its diplomatic isolation and its dwindling financial reserves and a public treasury that it all but empty.  Admitting that Solo Sandeng died in the custody of the NIA - although, he's still refusing to say that the death was due to wounds inflicted while being tortured - is the necessary first step to fulfilling the demands of the international community.

The next step in owning up and taking responsibility for the death is to  name those directly responsible and that is what Jammeh is in the process of doing.  He has reportedly fired Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko, his long-serving and one of the most trusted ministers who has been accused of being responsible, directly or indirectly, for the murder and disappearances of many of Jammeh's opponents.

Sources close to the Gambian dictator said he is preparing the ground to dismiss and/or jail other senior officials, namely the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mama Fatima Singhateh, the Managing Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Yankuba Badjie, the Inspector General of Police, Yankuba Sonko and Sheikh Omar Jeng, NIA's Director of Operations all of whom are being blamed for their role that led to the death in custody of Solo Sandeng.

Why is unity still eluding the Gambian opposition

From the archives of the published exactly two years to the day, on why, in our view, opposition unity is elusive now as ever before.

May be, we all need to reflect on the issues that matter the most and not on tangential ones that can only make the effort to unite even more elusive.

  First published 18th September 2014

Unity among the Gambian opposition is as elusive as it is frustrating to supporters of the political parties generally considered the opposition.  Why is this the case, especially when they number three to four that are functionally operational, the biggest of which represents between 80-70% of the total number of opposition votes cast in any presidential election.

Compared to any of its regional neighbors, and everything else being equal, it should follow that the challenges facing the opposition in uniting against the ruling party should be less difficult than Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Liberia to name but a few.   There are more registered political parties in any of these countries than in The Gambia, and not by a small margins either.

In any one of these countries the number of registered parties are anywhere between five fold to over ten fold more than in The Gambia.  And in all of these countries, opposition parties uniting against the ruling party or the leading vote getter in the first round of elections have almost always been assured a win.  The party that leads the opposition, in every case has been the one with the second highest votes.

It is universally accepted norm and/or process governing a multi-party environment that is conspicuously absent in the Gambian electoral system which is a first-past-the-post rather than the more democratically acceptable system of 50+1.

The ruling A(F)PRC was never confident of its popularity among Gambian voters which led it to the change thus eliminating a run-off phase.  The opposition cried foul for a week or so and then proceeded to contest subsequent elections as if nothing has happened.

Gambian politics seemed to have regressed with time.  Although politics has also become more tribal with Jammeh - at least he's tried to make it all about tribe - he has not succeeded it transforming Gambian society into a tribal community.  In short, we have not become a society where once tribal affiliation determines your fate and success in society, although his Jola tribe has benefited appreciably, both in terms of social and economic/financial standing in society, than at anytime in Gambian history.

With the regression, comes deep rooted sectionalism that can be traced to the Jawara regime. To add the new privileged class created under the A(F)PRC regime, the cleavages became more pronounced.  The new political class, protective of its new-found status leaves little doubt to the rest of society as who is in charge, at least, politically, but flouting the power vested in them by the dictatorship.  The mix of old and new adds to the complexity of the new Gambian society which is reflected in the new political order.

The move by the AFPRC government to ban all political parties except the PDOIS was obviously a deliberate act designed to give the party advantage over any subsequent parties than the regime will allow to be formed.  Since it was certain than the elements of the PPP, from whom power was seized, will try to regroup as a party or join any opposition party other than PDOIS (given the ideological differences than existed between them) Jammeh and his military council  were certain the rivalry between the two will be carried over to post-1996 and beyond.

The soldiers got it right, and more.  Rightly or wrongly, PDOIS sees PPP in UDP and the suspicions and lack of trust that existed between the old rivals has now been transformed into a PDOIS and UDP rivalry. Of course, both parties will deny it but, we, Gambians, know better.

The intense rivalry between the opposition fits in well with the current first-past-the-post electoral system designed to eliminate the need for a second round which would have forced opposition to coalesce around the second highest vote getter or vote for the ruling APRC.

Jammeh and his political operatives also knew that without the 50+1 system, they were depriving the opposition of the surest tool available to extract unity by forcing the opposition, even if they despise each other, politically, because it is inherent in the system. The opposition would have been left with two options :  refuse to go to the polls to get rid of the APRC or to vote for the party representing the one with the second highest votes i.e the united opposition.  We think the answer is clear.

In trying to find out why unity among the opposition parties is elusive, we may have been making the case also for electoral reform that should seek to restore the 50+1 - a system that will force the opposition to unite, a feat they've been unable to achieve in two decades.  All of our neighbors have the system that allows a run-off in the event that no one party enjoys the plurality of the electorate.  Why should we allow ourselves to be the exception?  Why?   


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Stand-off at State House between Jammeh and General Saul Badjie, elections in the balance

General Saul Badjie
Dictator Yaya Jammeh 

A source is informing us that there's a stand-off at State House between the Gambian dictator Jammeh and General Saul Badjie over Jammeh's decision to purge the Republican Guard of Badjie's loyalists.

According to the same source, when Badjie resisted the purge, Jammeh stormed out of State House in anger, heading for his home village of Kanilai and reportedly still furious as we post this blog.

Tension between the two men continues to mount since the General refused to deploy the Republican Guard at the height of last April's UDP-led protest demonstrations against the draconian electoral laws that led to the death of a UDP youth leader.  Jammeh has been nursing a grudge over what he sees as insubordination by General Badjie  

The refusal by General Badjie to carry out Jammeh's instructions to deploy the Republican Guards during the April demonstrations to quel the protests led him to rely on the Police Intervention Unit (PIU), the paramilitary outfit, that eventually suppressed the protests using excessive force.

To show appreciation of the unit's loyalty, Jammeh rewarded the PIU by merging it with the military despite it's non-military character but still under the command of the Inspector General of Police.  It must be noted that the legislative process that formalizes the change has yet to take place - an unlikely proposition under the current tense security atmosphere.

The heightened tension between Jammeh and the head of the Republican Guard threatens the December presidential and the April legislative elections.  The tense security situation, coupled with a regime that lacks the financial resources conduct a credible elections, only adds to the uncertainty as to whether Gambians will go to the polls as planned.

Even under normal circumstances, the prevailing fiscal environment is such that supplementary external financing of the elections would be required.  In the absence of international donor participation and financial support, the elections may end up being postponed for lack of financial resources.  The tense security atmosphere that engulfs the country \can only add to the precarious and uncertain nature of electoral calendar.

A developing story .....

Jammeh's summer hiatus and his belief Kandeh's presidential hopes're being financed by Macky Sall

Gambian dictator, Jammeh
Jammeh has been uncharacteristically silent and shuttling between Banjul and his home village of Kanilai for over two months.  He has not taken his annual leave this year.  At least, he's refrained from making the official announcement on state-controlled media, as he customarily does over the years, to demonstrate his love for the country and farming.  He loves reminding his country folk that he spends his annual leaves in his village farm in contrast to his African counterparts who prefer Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona etc.

Jammeh's radio silence over a couple of months is without good reason. He is confronted with a sustained threat to his regime from political opponents at home and abroad.

Internally, several of Jammeh's economic interests have been targeted by arsonists, signaling an elevation of the opposition to his regime which appears to be planned and implimented from within his own internal security apparatus.  These arson attacks have heightened the angst within the immediate circle of the dictatorship that was once considered to be impenetrable until the 30th December 2014 attack on State House which shook the confidence of the military and splinter the security apparatus.

While Jammeh's vulnerability has been enhanced over time by opposition from Gambian dissidents living abroad,  the regime is being challenged internally by the United Democratic Party's April peaceful demonstrations which was kick-started by one of the party executive member and youth leader, Solo Sandeng, who was arrested, tortured and subsequently died in custody. The regime's response to the demonstrations with excessive force that resulted in the arrest and sentencing of the UDP leader, Ousainou Darboe, and dozens of his officials was roundly condemned by the international community.

The swift and intense criticism resulted in Jammeh's withdrawal from and avoidance of direct confrontation with the opposition that has contributed to his withdrawal from the public scene while he assesses the new political challenges  posed by the emergence of the Gambia Democratic Congress led by Mama Kandeh, a former member of Jammeh's ruling APRC and Dr. Isatou Touray, the Independent candidate.

Sources close to Jammeh are suggesting that the APRC leader is more concerned about the threat posed by Mama Kandeh than any of the other opponents, not because of the purported strength of Kandeh's over-all support and the claim that he is siphoning support from Jammeh's column. According to the same sources,  Jammeh is convinced that Macky Sall, the Senegalese president is partially bankrolling the GDC's party leader and as a result, Jammeh's agents are fanning the Senegalese landscape to collect evidence to confirm his suspicion.                  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Opposition leaders must take full charge

Leaders of Gambia's Opposition parties 
We weren't going to comment on opposition leadership or its absence thereof but as one avoidable party surrogate debacle after another, it's hard to stay mute on a pandemic that can only get worse if concerted effort is not made to reverse the trend.

The lack of message discipline is threatening to derail an otherwise flawlessly-launched rolling out  of the candidature of Dr. Isatou Touray as an Independent presidential candidate at the Kairaba Beach Hotel..  Unfortunately messaging mishaps started to gush out of the faucet immediately following the roll-out event.

A female team of Dr. Touray's supporters that hit the airwaves in support of their candidate was soon dubbed the "gender brigade" and accused of using the gender card to advance the cause of the Independent candidate.  Gambian society is a still tradition and conservative setting and, more so in rural Gambia where .  No one knows this better than Isatou Touray who has dedicated  almost all of her professional life, in rural settings in the fight against female genital cutting.
Tagging her campaign with the gender card label is not only unfair, it is a demeaning to Isatou Touray and  her female supporters - most, if not all, of those whothat is limiting to the human spirit that can only limit personal freedoms by stifling  human progress.

In lamenting the unforced errors of the Dr. Touray's campaign a few blog posts back, little did we expect that the most devastating with potentially lasting impact on the campaign of Gambia's first woman candidate for the presidency.  In an email release from the United Democratic Party members in the diaspora expressed frustration and down right disgust that a member of the Isatou team actually demanded that Gambia's biggest opposition party of the past 20 years should step aside (without any negotiations) and make way for his candidate as the leader of the opposition.  The gullibility of the gentlemen is breathtaking; no wonder the reaction of the UDP in the diaspora was equally brazen and understandably so.

Whether the person was authorized or not is immaterial at this point because the damage has already been done, threatening to leave a bad taste taste well beyond the December elections. unless the party leaders - and that includes Independent candidate Touray -  take full charge of their respective campaigns and restraining unauthorized supporters from speaking on behalf of their respective parties.

Inter-party negotiations must commence immediately which, we hope, will lead to a single flag bearer for all of the opposition parties.  These negotiations should be the exclusive responsibility of the leaders of the opposition and not surrogates - unless empowered by the party - because it is the single most consequential political discussion of their lives, given the options stirring the Gambian population in the face should negotiations fail.  It is time for party leaders to take full responsibility for the process from here on out to avoid the mess currently on display in the online press and social media.