Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Think about this for a minute

The University of The Gambia (UTG ) has been producing graduates in astonishing numbers in its brief history.  From 2005 - 2012, UTG graduated a total of 1,790 in various disciplines and professions including medical doctors, lawyers and diploma and HTC awardees in the Schools of Agriculture, Business and Public Administration and Education.    This figure excludes the year 2011 for which we have been unable, so far, to get figures. (Any help from our readers will be appreciated.)

In 2009, the university graduated 207.  The following year, it graduated a mind-numbing 486, more than doubling the size of the previous year's graduating class.  In 2012, 453 were graduated.  We assume, therefore, that in 2011 close to this number were graduated. 

By simply taking the annual average graduating class to be 255, UTG will produce 2,550 graduates by 2023 in various fields.  This is the most conservative of estimates, given that 2011 figures are excluded.  With an agriculture-based economy where 75% of the population eke a subsistence living, the government and private sectors must grow sufficiently to absorb these graduates yearly.  The tourism sector, the second biggest employment generator, like agriculture, is seasonal thus cannot guarantee full employment throughout the year, even for some of its professional staff. 

In spite of the Gambia economy's growing at 4-5% rate with low to modest rates of inflation by IMF figures, these numbers have, unfortunately, not translated into jobs.  Instead, there has been contraction in the private sector after a sudden surge in the commercial banking sector with new banks being opened, and stagnation in the government sector ( except in the security/uniformed forces ) over the past 5 years followed by, what appears to be, a hostile attitude by Jammeh against private operators causing some investors, including Gambian businessmen and women moving their businesses across the border to friendlier Senegal.   

If the government payroll is not expanding to absorb UTG graduates and the private sector is similarly under-performing in the area of job creation, then the 'social time bomb' that made the Jawara regime hesitant in creating a University may be closer to reality than anticipated.  The absorptive capacity of the economy is being tested less than a decade of UTG's existence.  It is, therefore, imperative that the problem be studied closely. 

These are just my preliminary observations pending the availability of further data in areas of training and specialization of these graduates, the levels and the cost of graduating a student per year.  Our analysis will focus on the quantitative aspects of this phenomenon, leaving the qualitative issues of UTG graduates to the market cum employers to decide.

What is evident, even at this preliminary stage of our enquiry, is the urgent need to re-calibrate the annual intake and the subject mix to better reflect the demands of an economy that has been underperforming for a decade, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future due to bad and inappropriate A(F)PRC policies.

 Post script:  As I was about to publish this blog, my attention was drawn to a BBC story that says that the University of Liberia will not be having an intake in the 2013/14 academic year; not due to strike action but because not a single candidate passed this year's university admission exam.  All 25,000 failed the exam.  It is not that I am putting ideas into the heads of UTG examining board members but this might be one way of slowing down the rate of production of graduates until the economy is in a better shape to absorb the new graduates. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Unsafe at any speed

They are referred to as 'floating coffins' for a reason. There is enough evidence, in the past year alone, to warrant grounding ALL the ferries that ply the Banjul - Barra route.  The latest incident which occurred over the weekend resulting in the suspension of all services on Saturday because of the "Kanilai" gearbox problem that developed which led to the ferry being stranded for over 12 hours at sea.

The safety issues are three fold: (i) structural and (ii) mechanical  integrity of these ferries have come under scrutiny on numerous occasions and (iii) the lack of basic but important amenities onboard like life jackets and toilet facilities for the safety and convenience of passengers.  

The hulls of these ferries are so corroded that the engine rooms tread water requiring water to be pumped out regularly.  Mechanical failures like steering issues, this time the gearbox was the problem, constantly plague these ferries. We must also remember that cows, sheep, goats and chickens also share these ferries with humans along the 7 nautical miles journey that now takes anywhere from 4 hours to 24 hours.  

If you add a dozen of vehicles of all shapes and sizes, including trucks heavily ladened with asphalt and other building materials, you begin to appreciate the death traps that these ferries have become, adding to the horrors passengers face daily.  

A once pleasurable 30-minute journey has now turned into a dreaded nightmarish inevitability that Gambians and non-Gambians alike have been condemned by a glaringly incompetent and corrupt government. 

Whenever the Gambia Ports Authority is confronted with these horror stories that passengers encounter, management quickly issues a press release through the Daily Observer designed to sooth the anxiety of a nation drowning in corruption. 

We do not blame the GPA as much as we blame Yaya Jammeh and his callous regime that seems to be governing by administrative fiats, press releases and photo ops instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work.  Since they have demonstrated their incapacity to govern, the only thing left is for them to throw in the towel and move over for serious folks to do what it takes to get The Gambia back on track. Just like the "Kanilai", this nation is drifting haplessly into the unknown.  It is time to reverse course. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Some basic facts about The Gambia's 2013 budget

1. 25% of the entire 2013 budget went to the Office of the President and the security forces

2. The government spends as much on the National Assembly as it spends on Trade, Industry and Employment 

3.Government spends three times as much on the Office of the President alone than in Agriculture.

4.Government spends more on Defense and Security than on Basic and secondary education

5. Government spends almost as much on the Interior Ministry as it does on Health and Social Welfare.

6. The Judiciary had  the dubious honor of being the least favored in the budgetary process, even lower than what Yaya Jammeh spent on the National Assembly.  

The agriculture sector which is by far the most important sector of Gambia's economy employs 75% of Gambians and biggest foreign exchange earner is not faring any better.  Jammeh spends more on himself as the occupant of State House than on the Ministry of Agriculture - nevermind all the talk about "grow what you eat, and eat what you grow."  He likes slogans, especially those that rhyme. 

As we have come to learn the hard way, what Jammeh says and what Jammeh does are two different things.  He claims his is a private sector-led economy when he spends as much on the useless National Assembly as he does on the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Employment charged with trade promotion, industrial development and youth employment.  So the claim that the Gambian economy is private sector led, and that the Gambian youth is top priority because they are the future of The Gambia is typical Jammeh paying lip service with empty rhetoric to one of the most important portfolios in government.

The judiciary is the most cost-effective of the lot, at least from the standpoint of the dictatorship.   Jammeh spends the least but gets the most out of the Courts by dictating to judges, most of whom are recruited outside the technical assistance route ( to escape scrutiny and strict supervision from cooperating agency or donor country ), and thus are placed under direct government contract.  They either do as told or they are fired. Tragically, as Gambians have come to expect from the Courts, injustice triumphs in most cases.  

As I have said in an earlier posting, the next supplementary budget exercise will be closely watched because of the budget shenanigans in previous years, especially in fiscal 2012. I hope the International Monetary Fund as well as the World Bank will be equally interested in scrutinizing any supplementary budget request from the new Finance Minister   This way, we will avoid another embarrassing exercise when three months before the end the 2012 fiscal year government submitted a D400 million supplementary budget request despite a record-breaking budget which contributed to the unsustainable domestic debt burden which, in turn, crowds out the private sector in its borrowing capacity, lower investments and higher interest rates.  Jammeh is his own worst enemy.  The IMF, World Bank and public scrutiny together, we hope, we will help Jammeh save Jammeh from himself in 2013.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Speaking from the heart

I am being personal because I feel obligated to speak for many Gambians still inside Gambia, and therefore cannot be vocal for fear of reprisals from an increasingly out-of-control government security forces.  I am also licensing myself to speak on behalf of those dedicated public servants no longer with us, and those who are with us and have contributed significantly to the economy that Jammeh and his rogue elements inherited in 1994.  The former civil servants have spent their entire careers building what they thought was going to be a resilient economy strong enough to withstand endogenous as well as exogenous shocks, including cyclical variations that every economy in world, big or small, is subjected to periodically only to watch it destroyed by one man. The new institutions built and the old ones that were reinforced and strengthened at a tremendous human cost have also all but destroyed.  All the personal sacrifices made by these civil servants are all going to naught as a result of this human accident named Yaya Jammeh.

The Economic Recovery Program of 1985 was not perfect as are economic policies of its kind but it got the job done.  Let me hasten to add that some of us involved in its implementation are still struggling to come to terms with the hash but necessary corrective measures - measures embarked upon with the subsequent backing of the Gambian people because Sir Dawda Jawara campaigned and won re-election on the ERP in 1987, explaining to voters the program and why it was necessary to scale back government subsidies on basic food stuffs particularly rice, petrol, fertilizer and other farm input the farming community enjoyed previously.

President Jawara was extremely reluctant to embrace the ERP which he thought was too far-reaching with negative impact on ordinary Gambians, especially the rural population.  His reluctance soon turned into a full blown apprehension prior to going to the country to sell it to the voters.  During cabinet sessions, he would usually turn to his Finance Minister of the day - Sheriff S. Sisay - and ask in Mandinka "are you sure, Sheriff, that this will work" to which the Minister responded consistently in the affirmative but with some degree of resignation - " we have no choice, Mr. President."  Although Sir Dawda eventually bought into the ERP, he couldn't help himself but to keep reminding an equally apprehensive voter that he was acting under the advise of his Finance Minister as if he was preparing the way in the event that the experiment in economic austerity veered south.  Then the Finance Minister would have had to either tender his resignation or be fired.

The ERP succeeded in arresting the decline in GDP growth, and some of the new structures built around the new economy started to respond as predicted.  Those civil servants who managed to survive the 20% retrenchment onslaught formed the nucleus of a 'leaner and meaner' core of what was regarding, then, as one of the best civil service in Africa. Botswanans, Sierra Leoneans,and even Ghanaians descended upon Banjul to learn a thing or two from Gambian civil servants and about their newly re-fitted civil service.  To demonstrate that we have come off age, the successor to the ERP, the Program for Sustainable Development (PSD) was designed and managed entirely by Gambian civil servants with little or no intellectual input from the Bank or the Fund, except in supplementary resources to see the PSD through.  We were always proud to remind everyone that, unlike the ERP, the PSD was home-grown.

The institution-building efforts were directed at strengthening the various organs of government to withstand, as I said earlier, structural and cyclical imbalances that are part and parcel of the business of managing an economy.  What these institutions were not designed to do, however, were to withstand a human wrecking ball like Yaya Jammeh who is determined to use his unchecked and unfettered personal power that he'd acquired unconstitutionally to wreck havoc on an entire nation.  No institution in Africa, however well designed, is strong enough to withstand such a callous, and some would argued, deliberate, onslaught. 

Yaya Jammeh is systematically dismantling decades worth of work by dedicated Gambian civil servant, most of whom stayed home rather than join some of us in the highly lucrative international civil service trade. These former civil servants are now watching helplessly as their most-prized institutions like the Central Bank of The Gambia are being destroyed, in this case, by omission.  Monetary policy, by law, is the purview of the CBG, yet it is Yaya who has side-lined the Central Bank during the current forex crisis brought about by his constant meddling.  Most, if not all of the forex bureaus in the Gambia have been declared "null and void" by administrative fiat from State House and not the Central Bank. What this means legally is anybody's guess. 

Gambia has faced more severe foreign exchange crises in the past.  In fact, foreign exchange reform was a central piece of the ERP and an essential part of reversing the main distortions in the system of payments and exchange.   By 1985, parallel market had effectively undercut the official exchange rate resulting in foreign arrears build-up that only a market-oriented solution was appropriate.  Since the introduction of the dalasi in 1971, the currency has moved from being pegged at D5 to the pound sterling, to being devalued by 25% before it was allowed to float in January 1986 - all within a relatively short span of time.  With the floating rate, the dalasi found its trading value in the international money markets but not before local prices started to increase dramatically. I could remember when the D10 barrier was reached sending shock waves across the economy.  

All of this was taking place in the midst of the worst decade of drought ever experienced since Independence with declines in agriculture and other productive sectors.   The managers of the economy did not panic but, instead, used the monetary policy instruments provided by the Central Bank Act ( which has to be amended to bring it line with the monetary reforms ) and through the leveraging of the international donor community, especially the International Monetary Fund, to manage the crisis.   Concurrently, government also embraced macro-economic policies that encouraged diversification of the economy while encouraging public and private investments in foreign exchange earners like agriculture and tourism.  This was the sign of a confident and competent leadership in direct contrast to the amateur hour coming out of the State House in recent weeks. 

As hard as it is to say, ERP II is staring straight in the face of any successor government - be it transitional or otherwise - which will be more painful than its predecessor because of the extensive damage done to the economy and our cherished institutions by the disastrous outcome of the A(F)PR experiment in governance - a damage that would have otherwise withstood the normal structural and cyclical disruptions had Jammeh not insisted of taking measures that defy both economic and monetary theory, if not simple logic.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

The world is watching the Gambian judiciary

We are serving notice to Justice Emmanuel Nkea, Simon Ateh Abi and all those employed in the Gambian judiciary that your every move is being profusely monitored to ensure that you dispense justice diligently, justly and expeditiously as you have promised your respective governments, your colleagues, the international legal community, and most importantly, those who come before you expecting justice.  

We have taken note of the fact that the charge against ex-Magistrate Manyima Bojang appears to have been reduced by the deputy Director of Special Litigation, Simon Ateh Abi, by substituting her criminal charge with accessory after the fact to a felony indicating a shoddy handling of her case from the word go. We expect nothing less than a speedy but fair trail.

We have also taken note of the fact that Justice Emmanuel Nkea had issued an ultimatum to the Justice department lawyers that unless they put their house in order and ready to proceed with the case of Njogu Bah and Co next Monday, the Court will proceed with the hearings without the Justice Department. We will monitor this case as well, and very closely too.  We expect the ultimatum of the Court will be carried out next Monday should the justice Department continue to delay the case by seeking further adjournment. 

We have seen that our friend ex-Chief Justice Wowo had been granted bail for offenses not related to the audio-tape bribery scandal.  His bail was set for $1,000,000.  We have seen higher bails amounts for trump-up charges.   But all the same, henceforth all bailable offences should be just that, bailable, including our friend Wowo - equality in the eyes of the law.

Finally, all foreign and local judges are under constant watch, and any unprofessional behavior will be taken up with your respective governments and appropriate legal and professional bodies.  As for local judges and prosecutors, is it to much to ask of the Gambian Bar Association to, at least, monitor the professional and moral behavior of its members?  We are saying to mercenary judges and others in the judiciary that we have had it up to here.  Enough is enough.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The silver lining in the Joseph Wowo bribery scandal

The Gambian judiciary under dictator Yaya Jammeh has finally attracted the long over-due international attention Gambians have been yearning.  Unfortunately, it came about all for the wrong reasons.  Although much has been written about the use of mercenary judges, most of whom happen to be Nigerians, by the Gambian dictator, it was not until the sitting Chief Justice of the country named Joseph Wowo was caught on tape soliciting a D500,000 bribe from a Gambia-based Dutch businessman, Andre Klaabergen, whose case was on appeal at the Appeal Court, that finally the Nigerian authorities and the world took notice, despite several petitions posted on the official website of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs drawing attention to the nefarious role of some Nigerian judges who acted more like judges-for-hire. The voices in the audio tape were purportedly those of ex-Chief Justice Joseph Wowo and ex-Justice Minister Lamin Jobarteh and the Gambian business partner of Mr. Klaabergen, the Dutch businessman.

The internationalization of the state of the judiciary in the Gambia came about because ex-Chief Justice Joseph Wowo is a Nigerian legal practitioner employed on contract by the Gambian dictator and who served in various capacities within the judiciary, and his successor as Chief Justice is Ghanaian in thew person of Justice Mabel Agyemang.  The voices in the audio tape purportedly those of ex-Chief Justice Joseph Wowo, the ex-Minister of Justice and the Gambian business partner of Mr. Klaabergen  was posted posted on YouTube.  It became an instant sensation and, as it turns out, an instant consternation and embarrassment also to the Nigerian Bar Association and the Nigerian government.  The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs also reacted by promising to look into the matter to ensure that Justice Wowo was not wrongfully accused.  The Nigerian Civil Society Network Against Corruption petitioned the National Judicial Council to properly investigate the matter and mete out disciplinary measures where necessary.  

The appointment of Justice Mabel Agyemang to the highest post in the judiciary did not bring joy to Ghanaians either because of the reputation of the Gambian dictator who was described in the Ghanaian press as 'crazy' who's obsessed with the desire to dictate the pace and outcomes of the judicial process.  The new Chief Justice was advised to be vigilant in maintaining her independence and reputation against a proven tyrant, followed by warnings to Jammeh by Ghanaian well-wishers to think twice before messing with the new Ghanaian Sheriff in town.  

Gambia had benefited over the years from bilateral cooperation with both Ghana, Nigeria and with the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation but all came to a grinding halt after the 1994 coup by a few renegade soldiers which included Yaya Jammeh.  In 2005, India offered to provide experienced judges who have retired from service on bi-lateral basis was turned down by Jammeh because they cannot be manipulated by him.   Judges under these programs were monitored and evaluated using internationally acceptable standards an by their own home governments. It is, therefore, easy to see why a renegade and/or rogue governments would rather hire their own than to participate in such programs which comes at little cost to government. 

It is against this background that an extraordinarily bizarre press release from the judiciary must be seen and judged.  The release in question was issued simply on behalf of the judiciary without indicating which Office in the judiciary issued it, and published in the August 14th issue of The Daily Observer, the official mouthpiece of the dictatorship.  In it,  the judiciary informed " the general public that all criminal cases involving persons detained without due process have been mentioned at the Special Criminal Court chaired by Honorable Justice Emmanuel Nkea."  Gambians were further assured that the "cases will be dealt with expeditiously and justly." Finally, the press release ended with the reassuring words to the general public that "[t]he Judiciary reassures of its constitutional commitment to ensure that justice is administered to all irrespective of status." 

The Honorable Justice who chairs the Special Criminal Court is one of those mercenary judges who happens to be a Cameroonian and not Nigerian.  It is, therefore, safe to say that he too is beginning to feel the heat generated by and emanating from the spotlights trained directly at him, in this instance, and the entire Gambian judiciary, resulting in a press release that all but admit the absence of due process in the courts, and that cases have been not been dealt with expeditiously and justly. The release also implied that in Yaya Jammeh's Gambia justice was and still is being administered in a partial manner with the status of those seeking justice factored in.  A striking admission to say the least.  Henceforth, and we move forward post-Justice Wowo, Nigeria and Ghana will be watching but so will be Gambians, ECOWAS and the entire international legal community. Finally, the Gambian people will be having their day in court against a tyranny aided and abetted by a crooked set of judges-for-hire.  At least, we hope so. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Here we go again

GRTS has just announced the latest diktat from the Office of the President pegging the rate of exchange of the dollar to D35 adding to an already confused atmosphere.  Jammeh did not only end there but added that Bureau de Change are no longer able to issue cash; you have to collect it from the banks further muddling a forex market that is already muddled enough, thanks to a level of incompetence never seen in Central Bank of The Gambia (CBG) history - not even at the infancy of the CBG under the leadership of the late Sheriff S. Sisay.

By barring Bureaus from issuing cash, they are dead ducks because their business is CASH. If these bureaus are forced to close, it is in direct contravention of current law because they are legal and form an integral part of the financial infrastructure. The announcement further seemed to be forcing commercial banks back into the forex business. See The Gambia Echo http://thegambiaechos.com/index.php/permalink/3990.html showing how banks are making huge profits in the forex trade even when do not have a single American cent in their vaults, and questioned why the CBG is not requiring banks to carry minimum level of foreign exchange as normal banking practice.  

For the new policy to work the CBG must require banks to carry minimum foreign exchange requirement just like they are required to carry minimums on capital to protect customers as I have been suggesting all along.  Whether they recognized the additional nonsense they've created is anybody's guess.  All we can do at this point is to sit and watch a train wreck that need not have happened. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Replicating the Gambia Press Union Model

It took 19 years of brutal dictatorship to reveal a weakness in Gambia's opposition to Yaya Jammeh i.e. the absence of strategy thinking in the fight against repression.  Most, not all, of the successes in the campaign with any degree of international legal force has been in the area of press freedom, and practically nothing else in the other areas of human and people's rights, prisoners' welfare including, but not limited to torture and executions, judicial reforms and the like.  

Perhaps if we examine the relative success in the area of press freedom led by the Gambia Press Union and its affiliated organizations, we could draw lessons; and from those lessons learned we may be able to mimic or replicate the successes in the other areas mentioned above that are not, by any means, exhaustive or even suggestive in the order of importance or priority.  They are illustrative and should be seen as such.  

The presence, 'on the ground' in Banjul, of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) and the effective way it manages its relationships with affiliates abroad, in my view,  is making all the difference.  These affiliates are the GPU members in exile, the international press freedom advocacy groups like the International Federation of Journalists, but especially the Media Foundation for West Africa and its highly dedicated and effective Executive Director, Prof. Kwame Karikari whose impressive record in this area is indisputable.  He had successfully fought the case of Ebrima 'Chief' Manneh in the ECOWAS Court, although the order of the Court to compensate the Manneh family has not been honored, as far as I am aware.  He had also championed the case of the 44 Ghanaians killed in The Gambia - killings subsequently attributed to 'rogue elements of the Gambia security forces" by a U.N fact finding team.  The Professor's dogged pursuit of the case with his own government in Accra forced the hands of the late president Mills which led to Jammeh's mea culpa by agreeing to a financial compensation to the families of the six Ghanaians whose bodies, the Jammeh regime claimed, were the only ones found within its territory.  As part of the agreement between Ghana and Gambia, the bodies were exhumed, handed over to loved ones for reburial in the victims' respective homes.  Even if the bodies were not of the actual victims as claimed by some members of the skeptical public, the handing over of the bodies to the families was admission of responsibility - a significant achievement in and of itself given that Yaya Jammeh rarely takes responsibility for anything; it is always someone else's fault. 

Lately, Gambian human rights activists in the U.K. have adopted a similar model by working closely with Amnesty International on human rights issues.  The same may be occurring in the U.S.  It makes perfect sense to adopt a model - the GPU-model - that seems to be working.  The GPU and its allies successfully fought the 1999 Media Commission Bill leading to the amendment of the most objectionable sections.  The personal involvement of the then American Ambassador played a key role.  The campaign against the new Media bill that targets the internet and online journalism has begun with resounding criticisms coming not only from the GPU but  from the Media Foundation for West Africa, Amnesty International, International Federation of Journalists, to name but a few. 

There is ample evidence to show that the GPU-model works.  Rather than engage in the reinvention of the wheel, the model should be replicated in other fields.  This means remodeling existing organisations engage in advocacy into subject-areas with subject-area specialists whose job it is to pursue specific cases in subject areas like the death penalty which was abolished in 1992/3 only to be re-instituted under the AFPRC regime.  The lack of a sustained campaign against the death penalty and the insistence that Jammeh produce the bodies of the executed is puzzling.   Yes, there was international outcry at first but it died down for lack of a strong and persistent advocate of the caliber of Professor Karikari.  The Senegalese government's silence and apparent lack of interest in the cases of the two Senegalese who were also executed a year ago remains a misery.  Insisting that all of the bodies of the executed be returned to their loved ones would have forced Jammeh's hands to, at least, what he's done with the bodies and why.  There's still time to agitate and advocate for the accounting of the bodies of those extra-judicially executed.   

To sum up, the need to be present locally and be locally active is important.  By locally, I mean wherever you happen to be domicile in - be it London, New York or Banjul.  Developing subject-area specialization, wherever possible, as demonstrated by GPU whose only preoccupation is the welfare of journalists, the guaranteed freedom of the press, of expression - the whole gamut.  Where circumstances exist that do not lend itself to specialization, targeting a few areas may be an option.  The idea is to devote sufficient time focus and resources on few areas rather spread oneself too thinly.  The GPU has shown that affiliations with outside groups is essential.  Managing those associations and affiliation is equally important.  The message must be coordinated well for maximum impact.  We can learn a great deal from the GPU, its affiliates and Professor Karikari of Media Foundation for West Africa.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Judicial interference is the problem

Yaya Jammeh claimed that he was totally unaware of the deplorable and inhumane conditions that exist in his notorious Mile II Prisons.  He expressed this whopper during the swearing-in ceremony of his newly minted, Ghanaian-born Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, his second in a month. Jammeh's claim must have come as a shocker even to his ardent supporters because, it is a known fact that he visits the prison's facilities himself at night and in disguise to see that his most prized-prisoners are given the torture treatment they deserve.  He is also known for his trademark frequent firings of judges who do not dispense justice favorable to Jammeh and in accordance with his wishes.  He has been known to interfere in the judicial process either directly or indirectly.

It is obvious that Yaya Jammeh did not read the seminal Report of Amnesty International entitled “Gambia: Fear rules” that cataloged the human rights abuses under Jammeh, and where an entire chapter was devoted to the right to a fair trial with an opening quote from an anonymous lawyer who said that "the law is ineffective in this country.  We are simply operating a bunch of kangaroo courts."  These kangaroo courts, unfortunately, are being operated by a majority of judges who have been inappropriately appointed by Yaya Jammeh.  According to the Amnesty report, there has been a history under the regime of Jammeh "of the removal of judges who hand down impartial and independent decisions."  The report further states that in 2008 alone, "within a period of three months, the President removed three High Court judges without consultations with the Judicial service Commission" as required under section 141(4)-(9) of the Constitution which lays out the removal process of judges, and offers some safeguard for judicial independence.

Jammeh's interference in the judiciary is a matter of public knowledge and record, including a well-documented Amnesty International report on the human rights condition in The Gambia.   Personal accounts of judges themselves who have been victims of Jammeh's summary and unconstitutional dismissals have added to a mountain of proof of judicial interference by Jammeh.  The resultant effect of presidential meddling has contributed, in significant measure, to the current backlog of cases and overcrowding at Mile II.  Judges are being dismissed, transferred and/or cowed into submission by a regime that sees the judicial system as legitimate tool of oppression, which has further worsened an already broken and discredited judicial system.  And Jammeh is almost entirely responsible for it. 

As a result of his constant meddling, competent and reputable judges, even under technical assistance, who would rather go elsewhere than serve in The Gambia to avoid the risk of tarnishing their reputation and ruining their careers in the process.  So, Gambia is left with rogue foreign judges, notably Nigerians, to run a rotten system - a development that suits Jammeh fine. He cannot now claim ignorance that he's presiding over a corrupt and inhumane judicial system that relies heavily on what are now referred to as "mercenary judges."  Nothing illustrates the state of Gambian judiciary better that the situation currently at hand - the  new Chief Justice was being sworn in to replace the Nigerian ex-Chief Justice Wowo, who himself was dismissed as an Appeal Court judge, arrested, charged with providing false information to a Public Officer, and appointed as Chief Justice only to be dismissed again for soliciting bribe, all in a span of six months,  As for the rest of us, Gambians, who have been watching this one-man wrecking crew named Jammeh destroy the judiciary along the rest of our institutions, the only consolation (for  lack of a better word) is that we are not alone any more.  Ghana is watching, and so is Nigeria.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The return of Wowo

The return of Justice Wowo (as some might say) to the scene of the crime, has been froth with intrigues characteristic of The Gambia under Yaya Jammeh.  Theories abound about why he would return even to be appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Skepticism led to speculation and wonderment because it was only six months ago that the Hon. Justice was dismissed, arrested, charged and in the custody of the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA).  He was subsequently released.  He returned not to Nigeria but to the United States.  His charge was giving false information to a Public Servant. 

His sudden and unannounced return to Banjul after his unceremonious and humiliating treatment in the hands of Yaya Jammeh fed the rumor and speculation mill.  It so happened that few days before his return, the Hon. Minister of Justice, Lamin Jobarteh and Pa Harry Jammeh, Solicitor General were dismissed and charged with conspiracy to defeat justice, abuse of office, official corruption, destroying evidence and neglect of official duty leading to speculation that Justice Wowo was asked by Jammeh to return and testify against his Justice Minister and Solicitor General.  The two had not been in good terms and may have had a hand in Wowo's initial troubles with Jammeh.  Whatever the case, Wowo was expected to be true to his reputation as a mercenary judge who will do the bidding for the repressive regime that he served well until he fell out of grace.

The announcement by the Office of the President that the Justice was appointed Chief Justice caught many by surprise.  The man who was thought to be the State's principal witness against Jorbateh and Pa Harry Jammeh has become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court thus sending chills down the collective spines of members of both the Bench and the Bar because he got along with neither.  No sooner that he took his Oath of office than a YouTube audio tape of purported voices of Wowo, the ex-Minister of Justice Jorbateh surfaced.  The meeting which took place at the Justice Minister's private residence was purported attended by Justice Wowo when both held their respective posts of Justice Minister and Justice of the Appeals Court. Their conversation was taped and posted in the internet site for the world to hear them demanding bribe in exchange for favorable judgment by Justice Wowo.  

The timing of the release of the tape brought more speculations, and its released caused the immediate termination of the short-lived services of a disgraced Chief Justice.  Yaya Jammeh immediately appointed the Ghanaian-born Justice Mabel Yamoa Agyemeng as the new Chief Justice which drew immediate warnings to Jammeh from the Ghanaian authorities and the general public not to mess with their compatriot.  The concern of the Editor-in-Chief of one of Ghana's leading newspaper is that "The Gambian's President is a crazy guy" with no "scruples" and who will try as much as possible to interfere with the administration of justice."  His parting advise to The Gambia's new Chief Justice Agyemeng is that she will be dealing with a disaster of a President whose human rights record is appalling, and therefore she must be tough. At least, the world has finally taken notice of Yaya Jammeh. 

The YouTube audio tape also drew the immediate attention of the Nigerian Bar Association and the Government of Nigeria.  The audio tape has achieved success where human rights activists have failed despite numerous attempts to draw the attention of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to their compatriots’ mercenary-like activities on the Gambian Bench.   Both the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigerian Bar Association have promised to conduct their own independent investigations into the affair, and to take disciplinary action against Justice Wowo should the charges leveled against him are substantiated. While we welcome this new development, we hope that the Nigerian government will take it a step further by looking into the broader issue of the use of independently-recruited Nigerians by Yaya Jammeh into the judiciary to do his bidding. We can now say with some degree of confidence that we, the dissident Gambian communities across the globe, are finally getting somewhere with both Nigeria and Ghana governments now taking notice of the disastrous human rights abuses perpetrated by Jammeh on Gambians for almost 20 years.

An Annotated History of Yundum Airfield/Airport

Jammeh has not only been trying to divert the attention of Gambians from the economic hardship of his own doing, and the increasing diplomatic isolation of his embattled regime, he has been engaged in dubious acts of misinforming Gambians by attempting to re-write the history of a country be obviously knows very little about.

Yundum airfield, as it was called then, was not built neither was in the control of Lufthansa of Germany. It was airfield built during World War II by the Allied Forces led by the British and Americans as a staging post for stop-overs and re-fueling of Allied planes. Further development of the airfield was made, including the famous 'hut-like' air traffic tower that was in use until the late 70s when it was replaced during the Louis Diaz airport development phase of the airport and subsequently re-named Banjul International Airport from Yundum Airport. A new replacement tower was built under the AFPRC era.

The Yundum facility made it into the history books when President Roosevelt landed there in 1943 en route to the Casablanca Conference making it the first time a sitting U.S. President visited the African continent. The first President Roosevelt visited East Africa on a long African safari that lasted several months as an avid hunter of big game but only after he left the White House.

The Advisers

The policy vacillations of the Jammeh regime over the forex fiasco are reminders of how the country's economy has been mismanaged over the years by Jammeh's heavy reliance of unofficial and untrained advisers. This class of advisers may be security personnel and 'ataya drinking buddies' of Jammeh who surround him during his daily 'ataya' sessions; sessions that have turned into a ritualistic congregation of 'hangers-on'.

These characters are neither trained in economics nor in the art of diplomacy, yet they wield enormous sway over a man who is the consummate consumer of raw, unprocessed and untested information. His inability to process information and distill it in the context of the decision making matrix is well known. The hangers-on know it too, and thus they take advantage of it by dispensing advise that benefit them, their relatives and/or business associates. So they gladly take full advantage of a man who wants to be loved and respected by suggesting policy measures that is far beyond their pay grade.

Who are these phantom advisers who are as much responsible for the current state of affairs as Jammeh himself. As it was the case in the early days of the AFPRC when the regime relied on outside advisers, smuggled into State House in the dead of night to advise the AFPRC Chairman. The occupant of the State House has not changed since 1994 but the advisers have, with the exception of a handful who have displayed great resilience and survival skills to outlast all of the original 'soldiers with a difference' but one. This category of advisers is composed of a mix of security personnel, prominent business personalities and private political operatives active in political mobilization and propaganda activities for the Dictator. There lies the danger.

The influence of these unofficial advisers who have little or no professional training is enormous; an enormity derived not from the value of the expert advice they readily dispense but from access to Jammeh. He travels with many of them everywhere because they also provide him his personal protection; a protection that is Jammeh's highest priority. The same group also 'atayas' with him. It is during these ataya sessions that advises are dispensed in rapid succession because it could mean forfeiting a promotion or a fist full of dollars from the Benefactor-in-Chief. not because of the quality of the advise, assuming that Jammeh can discern good advice, but by the number of suggestions carefully calibrated to align with the desires and business interests of Jammeh and a select few at the expense of everyone else.

Recently, a new class of advisers has emerged. They are the students selected by Jammeh to be trained in the University of The Gambia and in Taiwan. They tend to be inexperienced, wet behind the ears and who've been recently absorbed into the system. They are in the eyes of Jammeh the validators of his July 22 revolution. Despite their lack of experience ( and some will question the quality of their professional training ), they have been catapulted into the fore, causing concatenation to the rest of the business community because of these young and inexperienced advisers lack of knowledge and appreciation of the nature and structure of the Gambian economy. These are the ones currently running the economy. No wonder we are in the mess we find ourselves.

As pressure mounts on these young and inexperienced administrators and their boss, a new phenomenon has arisen in an attempt to defend the indefensible regime. These youngsters have taken to social media in an attempt to counter the barrage of criticism against a regime that lacks coherent and effective policy prescriptions when it is most needed - policy prescriptions which have failed to stop the economy from its downward spiral threatening the very survival of a regime the advisers support fervently.