Sunday, August 19, 2018

Shut the Foundations down, Mr. President

Republished August 20th, 2018

Foundations, by definition, are generally nonprofit legal entities, created, typically, to support a good cause by donating funds and support to other organizations or provide the source of funding for its own charitable purposes.

Foundations can also be for wealthy individuals seeking permanence with the preservation of a family legacy. Henry Ford and Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind.  Highly successful businessmen and women, politicians and mega-rich individuals set up foundations, using their own resources exclusively as seed money, or use supplementary funding from various sources to promote a cause.

As the saying goes, the easiest way to fund a cause is to write a personal check.  Setting up of a legal entity requires a structured framework to qualify as a non-profit organization that must conform to the laws, including the tax laws, of the country of incorporation.

The foundation must be appropriately and adequately staffed just like any for-profit entity with executive officers to manage the financial and human resources of the foundation. A foundation and a business enterprise are markedly different in only that the former is a non-profit entity and the latter is not.

Because the foundation requires permanent staff and other recurrent costs, managing it require huge investment outlays in recruitment and retention of professional experts in numerous fields.  In short, to run a foundation is a full time job and thus not an appropriate vocation, especially for a sitting president who is charged with managing an entire country.

If history is a reliable guide, then the country's experience with foundations run by the occupant of State House must serve as a warning to his successors.  The experience has been abysmal, at best, because they served the previous president as a conduit that funnel funds solicited from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries for the private use of the ex-dictator.

It is this sort of abuse that foundations of the kind being proposed by president Barrow are frown upon because they are subject to abuse.  Foundations in Africa have been used by politicians to divert public funds for private use and to launder money.

President Barrow is head of a transition government elected to serve for a period of three years.  It is our view that he should focus the next two years addressing the structural problems created by the previous regime that impede economic growth and development and not managing foundations at the risk of using public funds to run them.  He should also address the problems posed by an inefficient civil service among other institutional bottlenecks.  You can find a detail list of priority areas in this blog post with the review of our Constitution and electoral law reform being among the most urgent.

In conclusion, the CEO of The Gambia and guardian of the State Constitution that declares The Gambia a Secular State should not be seen promoting a religion by building mosques across the country and not propagating one religion over another.  In either case, it would be unconstitutional.  Allow religious leaders to perform their religious leaders to propagate their respective religions while political leaders tend to the affairs of State.

Friday, August 10, 2018

China's debt-trap diplomacy and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) under scrutiny in U.S. Senate

Chinese plant flag in Gunjur beach 
A powerful bipartisan group of United States senators has written a letter to the Secretaries of the Treasury and State accusing China of weaponizing capital by luring unsuspecting debt distressed African and Asian countries into contracting infrastructure loans that are, in the eyes of the US lawmakers, predatory.

The alarm bells sounded in the halls of the US Congress when loan bailout requests to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where the US is the single largest shareholder, started to mount. And the senators would like to know how the Treasury Secretary plans to address the dangers of the Chinese infrastructure financing issue with the IMF, among a host of other concerns that have national security implications. 

Sri Lanka became the first victim of China's predatory lending practices that led to unsustainable levels of debt for the country requiring a $1.5 billion bailout loan from the IMF.

The incoming Pakistan government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is reportedly poised to also request a bailout loan from the IMF because of mounting current account deficit and external debt obligations caused, primarily, by the China - Pakistan Economic Corridor.  It is the expressed view of the sixteen Republican and Democratic senators who signed a letter addressed to the Treasury and State Secretaries that the financial predicament of these countries is as a result of,  what they refer to as "China's debt-trap diplomacy" and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to developing countries in Asia and Africa.

As countries find themselves trapped in debt at unsustainable levels, and in their attempt to extricate themselves from the burden, the letter states, China always extract "onerous concessions, including equity in strategically important assets."

In country after country, from Djibouti with its increased dependence on China, strategically located on the Horn of Africa, has increased the likelihood of China controlling the country's only Container Terminal in addition to a Chinese military base already in operation, to Sri Lanka where the government's inability to repay over $1 billion of Chinese debt for the construction of the Hambantota Port, granted a Chinese state company a 99-year lease on the facility. 

The aggressive foreign policy posture of the Chinese, coupled with a development assistance program that ignores a country's debt exposure, makes African countries like the Gambia highly susceptible to China's debt-trap diplomacy. 

In the specific case of the Gambia Port Authority's (GPA) Port Expansion Project, given the pattern emerging elsewhere what would prevent the Chinese from demanding equity in the Gambia Ports Authority facilities similar to what they were able to extract from Sri Lanka should GPA finds itself unable to service the Chinese loan, reported to be in the region of $177 million - a country that is already staring in the face of a debt to GDP ratio of 130%.   Some food for thought.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Asombi Bojang's body expected in Banjul on Friday; Government delegation extends President Barrow's condolences to the Jammeh family

Vice President Darboe 
Vice President Darboe led a government delegation to the Brusubi residence of Ansumana Jammeh, brother of the former dictator Yaya Jammeh to express, on behalf of President Barrow and his entire cabinet, is condolences on the death of Asombi Bojang - mother of Yaya Jammeh - who passed away last Friday in the Equatorial Guinean capital of Malabo.

In a brief but solemn statement, the Vice President said that the death of a matriarch such as Asombi Bojang leaves a huge void in its wake.  The size of the delegation is a manifestation of the government's sincere commitment to uniting the entire country in times like these. 

It also serves as a reminder that the Gambia is one big family and when death visits a family, the community always pulls together despite our differences.

Vice President Darboe recalled that when his mother passed away in 2000, the former president sent a delegation led by Abdoulie Kujabi, former Director General of the NIA and uncle to Jammeh led a similar delegation to extend his condolences and those of his government despite the obvious political differences.

According to a prominent family source, the Jammeh, Bojang and Kujabi families appreciate the magnanimous gesture of the President Barrow, Vice President Darboe and the entire government, including but certainly not limited to members of the delegation that accompanied the VP comprising of the Ministers of Agriculture (Lamin N. Dibba), Fisheries (James Gomez), Local Government (Musa Drammeh), Information (Ebrima Sillah) Secretary to Cabinet , National Assembly Member Fatoumatta Jawara, Government Spokesperson (Ebrima Sankareh) Sefo Kombo North, Musa Susso and Kawsu Cham.

On related developments, a family spokesperson informed us that, barring unforeseen circumstances, the body of Asombi Bojang will arrive at Banjul International Airport on Friday from Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.  The same source also revealed that Yaya Jammeh will be conveying a message of appreciation to the Government and people of the Gambia for all the courtesies extended to the Jammeh, Bojang and Kujai families during these difficult times.


Saturday, July 28, 2018

The body of Jammeh's mother will be returned to The Gambia; UN, ECOWAS and two Heads of State mission enroute to Equatorial Guinea

Mrs. Asombi Bojang with her son, ex-dictator Jammeh
Mrs. Asombi Bojang, the mother of the ex-dictator of The Gambia died yesterday, July 27th in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea and the body is expected to be returned to The Gambia for burial.

"Asombi", as she was affectionately known by many, was born in Bugingna, Foni Kansala, West Coast Region. According to a prominent member of the family, she married Jungkung Jammeh of Kanilai and had one son; that son being Yaya Jamus Jungkung Jammeh who seized power in 1994, and the rest, as they say, is history.

A long term resident of Bakau, she was a petty trader at the local market.  She was known to be humble and very kind and generous, and in spite of being a woman of limited means then, she was a guardian to numerous kids from Foni to facilitate their attending schools in the Greater Banjul Area (GBA).

It was public knowledge that Dembo "By Force" Bojang, a prominent resident of Bakau who is currently serving as Religious Affairs Adviser to President Barrow "contributed immensely towards her welfare when she lived in Bakau" according to sources close to the Jammeh family. Even during her 18 months in exile, every effort by Mr. Bojang to get her to return home was met by an emphatic resistance from Yaya Jammeh.

In a text message from another family source familiar with my close association with the late Abdou Draman Touray said and I quote " Mr. Sanneh, can you imagine that the Touray brother ( Draman and Hassan) were providing some of her needs  and expensive medication from the US for the old mum.  In fact, Draman Touray offered to pay for her tickets from Malabo should she decide to come home."

Many Gambians, even in death, will continue to be highly critical of Asombi Bojang for not playing the influential role that is expected of a matriarch in helping stop the human rights abuses and high level corruption that was the hallmark of her son's 22-year dictatorship, and rightfully so.

However, Asombi was also known to be opposed to the undue influence Zainab Jammeh had on her son, and the fact that she (Zainab) helped implant a new class of Lebanese businessmen - in my book, they are members of international criminal cartel -  the likes of Mohamed Bazzi who are playing, to this day, a detrimental role in the life of our country - The Gambia.  Perhaps, we are expecting too much from an old lady, swept into unexpected prominence by the treasonous act of her son - an overwhelming role she was never prepared for or expected to play.     
Meanwhile, plans are afoot to transport Mrs. Asombi Bojang's body to the Gambia to be buried in her home village, according to a family source.  The Government of Adama Barrow is not expected to borrow a leaf from Jammeh's playboo by denying the body to be flown in and buried in The Gambia as the ex-dictator has done on several occasions when prominent opponents to his former regime died in exile.   

In a related development, a high level delegation comprising of the United Nations, ECOWAS and a couple of Heads of State will be travelling to Malabo on Tuesday to meet with President Nguema and Yaya Jammeh.  Although the mission was prompted by the death of Asombi Bojang, during such occasions the scope of the mission is usually broadened to discuss other important matters relating to the status of Jammeh and his entourage. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"All religions, including non-believers, are equal and safe in this Country": President Barrow assures Gambians

Barrow in Foni 
State House Press Release 

Bwiam, Foni Kansala, 24th July 2018 - President Adama Barrow has reaffirmed the commitment of his government to the promotion and advancement of religious tolerance and equality in the country.At a meeting in Bwiam, Foni Kansala, as part of the ongoing nationwide tour, the President said, from the onset, the government has always adhered to the practice of religious freedom and equality for all people of faith, including non-believers, as guaranteed by the constitution of the Gambia.

''We have different kinds of faith groups in this country, including atheist and followers of the African Traditional religion. We do not discriminate against any one religion because they are all part of my family, the Gambian family. All religions are equal in this country and I treat everyone equally. Even in my Cabinet, I have Christians that I have so much respect for''.

While saying that all religions and faith groups are safe to practice and have been catered for in the development strides of the government, President Barrow reemphasized that ''we are one people, and that tribes and ethnicities are not important''.

He added that he would remain committed to strengthening the secular republican status of the country, pointing out that was why within one week of assuming power, he reversed the declaration of Islamic statehood that was proclaimed over the republic by the former regime.  

President Adama Barrow made these statements in response to what he called ''detractors and hate mongers'' that are bent on planting the seeds of religious discord and conflict in the minds of unsuspecting Gambians by twisting his comments about the Barrow Youths for National Development.

Clarifying that funds from the Brussels conference will not be used by any non-government organization to promoting any one religion, he said the speculators and hate peddlers deliberately picked on the mosques construction issue to bring misunderstanding in the public. The President said he was shocked to learn in the media that he was engaged in promoting one religion against others or threatening Christian minorities.

Addressing the issue of the Barrow Youth Movement for National Development, he described them as a youth group that meaningfully wants to support his government’s development agenda. He was quite unequivocal in stating that he would embrace any other organization or individual that is serious about supporting progress and development of the country.

“I am open to anyone who wants to join me in national development. It’s in that spirit that we provided vehicles for all National Assembly Members, including the opposition, to honor and dignify the national office that they occupy. The vehicles would facilitate their movement and they don’t have to join passenger vehicles to get to work’’.    

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

ECOWAS Commission President and UN Special Representative for West Africa and Sahel concluded a High-Level visit to Gambia

The President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, concluded on 13 July a three-day visit to The Gambia.
The objective of this joint visit was to renew the engagement of the two organizations to support the authorities and people of The Gambia in their efforts towards sustaining peace.
During their visit, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou and Mohamed Ibn Chambas were received in audience by H.E. President Adama Barrow and by H.E. Vice President Ousainou Darboe. They also called on the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, the Minister of Trade, Regional Integration, Industry and Employment, and met with representatives of the diplomatic corps, international organizations, ECOMIG and civil society organizations.
The President of the ECOWAS Commission and the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General pledged to continue their support to the implementation of the National Development Plan and called on the people of The Gambia to fully participate in the security sector reform and transitional justice processes, and regional integration in West Africa.
On 12 July, H.E. President Adama Barrow inaugurated the ECOWAS Regional Competition Authority (ERCA) Headquarters in Bijilo.
Commission President Brou and Special Representative Ibn Chambas who have been following closely the political and socio-economic situation in The Gambia, underline the importance of safeguarding the progress that have been achieved so far, and encourage all Gambians to work hand in hand to consolidate peace and bring about prosperity to the country.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Right2Know (Gambia) demands that parliamentary inquiry into SEMLEX be open, extended and outcome debated in National Assembly

Right2Know (Gambia), a non-profit advocacy organization established a year ago to reduce the level of state secrecy in the way we are governed, increase access to information, and to protect freedom of expression, all in an effort to promote a clean, open and transparent government today filed a letter of complaint to the Chairperson (Hon. Momodou Sanneh, Deputy Speaker) of the Standing Committee on Defence and Security of The Gambia's National Assembly expressing grave concerns about the ways the National Assembly has elected to carry out the Inquiry into the SEMLEX contract.
Hon. Momodou L.K. Sanneh, Deputy Speaker 

Back in March, the Right2Know (Gambia) addressed a letter to the  leadership of the National Assembly to test the vibrancy of our new found democratic freedoms in the New Gambia by subjecting the Semlex contract to a public inquiry.  Recognizing the capacity issues that permeates the entire governance infrastructure, R2K offered support to assist, in any and every way possible, to ensure the call for a motion is adopted, debated and executed.

Although an Inquiry is being conducted, R2K is concerned that the appeal made last March is being adhered to y the National Assembly which is deeply worrying to the organization.  For instance, the fact that the mover of the motion, Hon. Madi Ceesay - Serrekunda East, is not involved in the Inquiry.  This is a highly unusual development, according to the R2K letter addressed to the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Defence and Security, copied to concerned diplomatic missions in the Gambia, the Pan African Parliament, ECOWAS Parliament and the Inter Parliament Union.

The July 11th, 2018 statement by Mrs. Amie Bojang-Sissoho, Director of Press and Public Relations, Office of The President regarding the SEMLEX contract was also characterized as both "baffling and alarming".  The Press Director reiterated a position government held in over a year that "on the printing of national identity cards, SEMLEX is the contractor and the details of the contract are being reviewed.  The President has been briefed that the review process of the Agreement with SEMLEX is at the final stages."

This statement appears to have been constructed to have the desired preemptive effect since the National Assembly Inquiry is yet to take off the ground.  In short, the Office of The President has issued the final verdict on the matter, regardless of the outcome of the parliamentary inquiry.  Executive Orders and directives from State House still appear to be norm in committing public resources, superseding all public procurement processes. 

The non-profit advocacy organization also sought from the Chairman of the Standing Committee to clarify the supposed 10-day time frame allotted to the Inquiry for such a muddled up and complex procurement process that engulfed the SEMLEX contract award.

This process involves biometrics contracting, individual identities, private information, and other individual and collective assets such as passports (given to Africard owned by Mohamed Bazzi, who is being investigated by the Janneh Commission, and has supposedly had his own assets frozen by the Government of The Gambia and is currently blacklisted by the U.S. Government.  In a nutshell, more time, and not less, is needed to invite witnesses as called for in the ToR proposed by R2K.

Finally, R2K stated emphatically that they will not "allow our passports, driver's license, car registrations, death certificates and voters cards (which was blatantly illegal as it breached the Elections Act), to be outsourced to a company that is being investigated by Belgian authorities for illegal and corrupt practises."  In doing so, the organization demanded that the Inquiry be public like the Janneh Commission, its Terms of Reference be made public, citizens and experts be invited to proffer submission about the case and that the findings be debated by the National Assembly.


Disclosure:  I'm a co-founder of the 7,000-member Right2Know - Gambia, a non-profit advocacy organization, rapidly growing into an army of young, energetic and conscientious activists to protect our newly found democratic freedoms as means of promoting a clean, open and transparent government in The Gambia.