Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More Gambians are poorer under Jammeh

In a developing country like The Gambia where agriculture employs 70% and more of the population, growth in this sector is a necessary prerequisite for uplifting the rural population from abject poverty. Agriculture is underperforming because of government neglect despite claims that agriculture is its top priority.  As agricultural production continues to decline and market access contracts, as has been the case in The Gambia since 1994, poverty in general and rural poverty in particular will continue to rise. 

International market access actually declined precipitously after the Denton Bridge facility that processed groundnut produced was seized by the Jammeh regime from Alimenta SA, and that combined with overall decline in agricultural production made matters worse for both the national treasury and the rural population. 

Based on figures provided by the Ministry of Finance and economic Affairs, the agriculture sector is projected to grow on average 0.5% annually to 2015 which can only be described as moderate to poor level of growth, especially for a population that is growing at an average of 2% a year.  Growth in the sector must be at least match the growth rate in the population for the level of poverty to remain unchanged. 

Agriculture has been in decline since 1994 because the Jammeh regime has not invested resources that reflect the high priority it claims it accords agriculture.  Investment in agricultural research has declined correspondingly resulting in failure to develop new and appropriate varieties of seeds (drought resistant varieties in particular) to increase production.  Extension services in support of farmers to promote good farming practises have been neglected and poorly staffed thus reducing the number of extension visits to farmers. 

Growing evidence have shown that investments in agriculture do not match the rhetoric of the Jammeh regime of "grow what you eat, and eat what you grow", and which is reflected in the budget figures.  For example, the budget of the Office of the President is three times the size of the entire budget outlay for the Ministry of Agriculture, a sector that employs 70% of Gambians and contribute over 20% to GDP.  To reduce poverty, especially rural poverty, these figures would have to be reversed, the chances of which are slim as long as Jammeh is at the helm.     

Monday, October 28, 2013

Why Tajudeen doesn't need Jammeh's "pardon"

Hussein Tajudeen, the Lebanese businessman and Managing Director of Tajo Company Limited, who was declared persona non grata June 4th this year by the Gambian dictator has been "pardoned" and "therefore free to return to The Gambia as from the 25th October 2013."  Until his expulsion, Mr. Tajudeen was the closest and most important business partner of the dictator and the biggest importer of basic foodstuffs, including rice which is the staple food of The Gambia.

The reasons given last June for his expulsion was vague but a French news agency report suggested that the businessman was accused of selling expired food.  In a rather lengthy release, by State House standards, laying out the reasons for the expulsion suggested unscrupulous business practices.  He was accused of "caring more about his profit margins and not the welfare and wellbeing of the consumer."

It is worth noting that the Lebanon-register business entity known as Tajco Company Limited is among the blacklisted companies that the U.S. Department of State had accused of "funding the terrorist-designated Movement Hezbollah."  Tajco was also accused of "having links to Lebanese banks accused of engaging in money laundering."

Equally of note is that Tajudeen was expelled exactly three weeks before President Obama's historic three-nation visits that included Senegal, a country that has felt the tremors of the al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) insurgency into Mali following the fall of Gaddafi.  The spread of terror activities by AQIM and allied groups in the sub-region had become a major concern of not only America but all regional players, including ECOWAS and France.  It was widely believed that, in order to be viewed more favorably by the US as cooperating with it's anti-terror campaign in the region, and perhaps at the urging of Macky Sall, he decided to expel his long-term friend in exchange for an invitation to Dakar to take part of the President Obama's visit.  If he had asked the Americans, he would have known that there was zero chance of him being seen, much less photographed shaking hands with the American President.

The failure to secure an invitation to Dakar deprived Jammeh what would have been his single biggest diplomatic coup since he managed to be photographed with Mr and Mrs. Obama at last year's United Nations General Assembly meeting at the UN headquarters in New York which he plastered in every available media space in The Gambia. The expulsion of Tajudeen which was designed to win American favor did not only fail but it caused even greater damage to Jammeh locally.   As the closest business ally of 15 years, Tajudeen was able to dominate the commercial and retail trade like no other businessman in the Gambia.  His expulsion left an immediate void in the import trade that is being felt throughout The Gambia as the biggest importer of rice and food items.  He was also the single biggest customer of some of the biggest commercial banks including the quasi-government Trust Bank Limited.

Tajudeen's expulsion in June this year sent shockwaves through the business community because of the size and scope of his business empire within and outside The Gambia.  He owns or controls businesses in The Gambia, Sierra Leone, the DRC and British Virgin Islands.  His Gambian business operations alone is estimated to be in the millions of dollars.  Until his expulsion, the Lebanese businessman was the leading importer of rice, flour and frozen foods, particularly frozen chicken which was banned just before his expulsion when he was accused of selling expired food items.

The deteriorating overall economic condition with shortages of basic commodities and high priced food items is making life more difficult for the ordinary Gambia further has forced Jammeh to reconsider his expulsion order with a "pardon" to his former friend and business partner.  The dictator's sudden reversal is not without its associated costs, one of which is Tajudeen's business empire must be returned to him, assuming that it had not already been pilfered by Jammeh and his contingent of rogue elements within the security forces.

Of equal importance is the condition(s) attached to the "pardon."  But given the weak position Jammeh finds himself - diplomatic isolation, withholding of EU development assistance, withdrawal from the Commonwealth, his humiliating treatment at the hands of a few dissidents in New York, and an increasing frustration of the US of the Jammeh regime - he will not be able to exert any pressure on Tajudeen to return to Banjul.  In short, it will be on the terms and conditions of Tajudeen and not Jammeh.  With local pressure building against Jammeh to ease the shortages of food items, he is prepared to do anything to coax Tajudeen back to resume his business activities, even at the risk of stirring the wrath of the United States.  As it stands now, Jammeh needs Tajudeed more than Tajudeen needs Jammeh.  We will see if the Lebanese businessman has any confidence left in him of Jammeh to return to Banjul to resume his business activities with the blacklisting of his Tajco empire still hanging around his neck.          

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Justice Emmanuel Nkea is the eye of the storm

Justice Emmanuel Nkea, a Cameroonian judge in the Special Criminal Court, is the new eye of the storm in the Gambian judiciary.  He replaced former Justice Wowo, the Nigerian Chief Justice who was fired a month after taking office.  Justice Wowo was the indisputable linchpin of the Yaya Jammeh rigged justice system prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court.  He made sure jammeh enemies were firmly locked up at Mile II prisons.  He was the 'go to' guy to a repressive regime that viewed the judiciary as an indispensable tool in maintaining the dictatorship in power.

Justice Nkea is as proactive on the bench as he's off it.  He is a political wheeler dealer who used to take instructions from Jammeh and his cronies on all the politically-driven cases.  Even after the Wowo dismissal which saw the appointment of Ghanaian-born Chief Justice Mabel Agyemang that drew international attention to rogues judges like Wowo and Nkea, the Special Criminal Court judge has tried to give the appearance of acting professionally by granting bail to those who've committed bailable offences, as opposed to in the past when they were all denied bail.  Most, including Nkea, try to be in their best behavior while the focus is on them.  However, there are instances when old habits die hard, as in the case of Amadou Sanneh and two others charged and held in custody.  Nkea must still ensure that Yaya Jammeh gets his way with the accused by sending them to prison regardless of the facts in the case.

Amadou Sanneh and two others were unashamedly paraded before national television to confess a crime that the government dubbed the 'visa scam' case, even when Amadou Sanneh displayed visible signs of torture who also appeared to be in a daze, probably the after effects of drugs or a result of the beating he's suffered at the hands of the notorious National Intelligence Agency.   Mr. Sanneh, who is the National Treasurer of the main opposition party, the United Democratic Party, and one of the heir apparent to the current leadership, is accused of writing an affidavit for supporters to seek asylum abroad.  The case is being pursued despite the fact that the confessions were extracted from the defendants through torture, and the public and false accusations by Yaya Jammeh that the UDP is a tribalist party bent on destabilizing The Gambia.

Amnesty International has come out in support of the three accused.  "In The Gambia," writes Lisa Sherman Nicholaus, an Amnesty International researcher, "criticizing the government often carries an enormous cost. Forcing political opponents to 'confess' to crimes on national television seems to be the latest callous strategy by authorities to prevent anyone from criticizing them."  Any evidence collected under torture must not be admitted in court which is the internationally accepted norm which happens to be also the position of Amnesty International.

The two defendants confessed, one to concocting the story that formed the basis of the affidavit and the other to notarizing the affidavit.  They are due for sentencing but not before Amadou Sanneh is due in court. Justice Nkea, meanwhile, denied him bail because of the games he's played in this case.  He made sure the two defendants admit to what they were being accused of after being tortured, but delayed sentencing so that he can justify denying the first defendant bail.  He may also refuse to plea bargain with the two even after they cooperated with the prosecution.  This legal maneuver is typical, and expected of a judge who has been accused of being in the pocket of the dictator.  After all, this is same judge who sentenced a Gambian activist to life imprisonment for distributing T-shirts with the inscription that denounced dictatorship in The Gambia, and who had freed two security officers charged with the torturing to death of a youth caught smoking marijuana.  Nkea would not have freed these murderers if they were not part of the security apparatus the state uses to suppress dissent.

This blog has dedicated itself to monitoring the judiciary, particularly the performance of those judges within the system that distinguishes themselves as 'mercenary judges', and to bring their behavior and judicial comportment to the attention of the appropriate authorities in their home countries and international organizations that monitor the legal profession.  Meanwhile, we take note that 5 judges from the sub-region are presently in Banjul to attend the Supreme Court sittings.  We hope that this will be extended to include lower court sittings, particularly the Special Criminal Court headed by Justice Emmanuel Nkea of Cameroon.          

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The I.E.C Chairman should exit gracefully

Alhaji Mustapha Carayol was on the ground floor when Yaya Jammeh and his army buddies seized power illegally in 1994.  He was appointed Member of the Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (P.I.E.C).  He transitioned from the P.I.E.C to the substantive Independent Electoral Commission (I.E.C).

In 2000, he was appointed Vice Chairman of the I.E.C, and he subsequently became Chairman in 2006 which should have been his late appointment to serve on the I.E.C.  However, in October 2011, the I.E.C Chairman revealed to the press that his mandate had been renewed for another 7-year term by Jammeh effective 15th October 2011 in contravention of the Constitution to the utter dismay of many.

Section 42 (4) of the 1996 Constitution states: " Subject to the provisions of this section, the members of the Commission shall be appointed for a period of seven years, and may be re-appointed for one further term provided that three of the four members (who shall be appointed by lot ) for lesser period than seven years in order to provide continuity within the Commission."  By any measure, and by any and all legal interpretation, Mr. Carayol has served over sixteen years as Member of the P.I.E.C and the I.E.C in contravention of the Constitution.  He has served almost as long as Yaya Jammeh has occupied the State House.

Mr. Mustapha Carayol is a 'Banjul Elder' who hails from Haddington Street.  He was a civil servant who served as dresser dispenser at the Royal Victoria Hospital.  He received further training in Ghana and retired honorably as Head of Anesthesiology.  He was already a retired civil servant when he was tapped to serve in the Provisional Independent Electoral Commission and finally to the Independent Electoral Commission.

The various political parties have made it clear that they will not participate in any future elections under the prevailing conditions.  Mr. Carayol is serving illegally and unconstitutionally, and as long as Jammeh maintains him in the position, the political parties will boycott any and all future elections.  Rather than being the focal point of an impending controversy, it is advisable that Mr. Carayol retire gracefully.

Mr. Carayol should not allow himself to be used as a pawn in the fight to free Gambia from Jammeh's dictatorship.  It is more than enough to have served this regime since 1994 to date.   He is old enough and experienced enough to know that it is time for him to exit gracefully and in a dignified fashion.   Too much damage has been done to The Gambia by the present regime - a damage that requires time and space for national reconciliation so that meaningful reconstruction of all facets of Gambian life can begin to take place. A graceful exit by Mr. Carayol will spare Gambians of one less painful preoccupation that has to be addressed.        

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The failed economic policies of the A(F)PRC regimes

This article was first published in June 2013 about the most recently concluded IMF Article IV Consultations.  The issues raised therein are very relevant today as they were few months ago.

The IMF Mission Chief to The Gambia has just concluded a two-week Article IV consultations, and as it is customary, Mr. Dunn spoke to the press about the general conclusions of his mission to Banjul. 

According to The Daily Observer, the official Government mouthpiece, The IMF Mission chief made the following remarks and observations:

1.  That despite the depreciation of the dalasi against major currencies,"economic outlook is generally good as long as authorities implement prudent policies."  In plain English, The Fund is saying that the economy is performing poorly and will continue to deteriorate down the scale if current monetary and fiscal policies are not reversed.  I will come back to these later.  The Fund has been making the same statement since the beginning of this century. If you do not believe me, take out all of the Fund's Mission reports from 2000 and check for yourself. 

2.  That GDP growth is expected to rise to, what I assume is about 8 - 9 percent during 2013-2014 and not 89 percent as reported by The Daily Observer.  This expected growth is contingent on and "driven by a continuation of the recovery in agriculture."  Crop production is still below normal, and in my view, will continue through the 2013 - 2014 season, and probably beyond, based on FAO assessment.  Under drought conditions, drought-resistant seeds are needed in sufficient quantities to maintain or surpass current production levels.  We now know, thanks to FAO, that these type seeds are not available to the farming community because of, what I judge to be, government negligence.  Rounding up the two permanent secretaries of the Agriculture Ministry together with the Director of Agriculture and the project coordinator of the West African Agricultural Productivity Program and sending them to jail is the last thing you want to do when the sector is in crisis.  I hope Mr. Dunn has pleaded with the regime to release these officials without delay.

3. That "strong performance' of Tourism has contributed to improvement in the real growth in GDP in 2012.  However, as it is reported in the UK Guardian newspaper, this improvement could be short-lived because Gambia is benefiting as the Arab Spring pushes tourists from former hotspots like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.  If calm returns to theses destinations, bookings will go down again unless the product is improved.

4. That the tight monetary policy adopted by the Central Bank last month has helped slowed down the depreciation of the currency, and thus the Fund would wish that these 'prudent policies' are maintained into the future.  Central to the success of these policies is government's promise 'to refrain from CBGs financing of the fiscal deficit. 

5.  That "reducing government domestic borrowing to 1.5% of GDP in 2013 as previously planned, will be critical to eventually ease the current pressure on inflation and interest rates."  Increased reliance on domestic borrowing to finance lash and irresponsible public spending by the Jammeh regime has been a persistent problem that has been primarily responsible for Gambia's current unsustainable debt burden.   Gambia's current debt stock stands at 30% of GDP.  Interest payments on domestic debt consuming an estimated 18% of  government revenues, far outweighing the interest obligations on external debt.

6.  That tax reforms with the view to broadening the tax base and simplifying the tax system will enhance growth.  The mission is also encouraging government to lower the tax rates for businesses over time.  A comprehensive tax reform is necessary but I doubt that this government is capable of effecting meaningful change when all it seems to be interested in broadening the tax base and nothing on the efficient use of tax revenues.  

7.   That planned investments in agriculture and transport sectors offer the promise of higher, and 'more inclusive' growth going  forward.  This implies that growth in these sectors has been 'exclusive' and thus corrective measures are needed to balance things out.   Yaya Jammeh happens to be heavily involved in both of these sectors, including his forcing the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) to be majority shareholder in the newly formed Gambia Transport Service Corporation (GTSC).

8.  That in future greater oversight of activities of SSHFC should be exercised by CBG as part of its supervisory function by posting its audit reports on a government website.  For a government whose battle cry has been been transparency, Jammeh should have any problem with this new requirement.   Pensioners deserve to know how and where their money is being invested.  

In the main, the Fund has, once again, concluded that Gambia's economy is still in the 'weak performer' category where it will stay for the foreseeable future unless government is determined to adopt "prudent fiscal and monetary policies."  There is no indication that this regime will change its approach to governance which is to limit free expression of views, even among public servants, necessary to arrive at mutually accepted set of prescription for an ailing economy.   The moment the mission leaves, these same officials will be cowed into reneging on every word they've utter and agreed upon during the two-week mission.  So we will be back in November or December this year to discuss the same issues again and to note that things have gotten worse instead of better because Jammeh and his government have continued on the same path of fiscal and monetary imprudence.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The tribalism charge is a red herring

This editorial was first published in some online papers in May 2013 under different titles.  It is being reissued under my blog following the continued stoking of the tribalism fire by Yaya Jammeh and his young and inexperienced Secretary General of the Civil Service and APRC, the party in power. 

Gambia has many problems. Thankfully, in the scheme of things, tribalism is not one of them. Gambia's mere size resulted in calling into question its viability as a sovereign state which almost cost it its political independence. Correspondingly, its economy was also small and lacked a productive base that posed serious challenge to economists as to it economic viability. By way of illustration, when Britain left in February 1965, Gambia's recurrent budget was less than two million pounds sterling with Britain contributing seven hundred and forty-five thousand pounds or 37% of the budget. 

British colonialism promoted tribalism and parochialism, pitting colonial territory versus protectorate, urban versus rural, the educated versus the uneducated, Muslims versus Christians, United Party versus PPP; a divisive strategy of colonialism that tested the social coercion of Britain's smallest colony on the Dark Continent. These were deliberate policies designed to maintain colonial control by pitting tribe against tribe and urban dwellers against rural folk. 

Gambia's size once considered a bane of its existence as a viable state among the Comity of Nations in the post independence modern era also turned out to be its blessing - a blessing in the sense that the demographic profile of this 'improbable nation', as Berkeley Rice prefers to characterize The Gambia, coupled with fluid and slow in-migration made it possible for interaction and intermarriage to take place. 

I would like to argue that the extent to which the fusion of the various population groupings into an amalgam of hybrids denied those divisive forces the potent use of the 'tribal card'. Are there folks who still cling to tribalism ? Certainly. But they are few and, therefore, inconsequential, politically speaking. We must therefore deny them the space to advance this pugnacious and vile form of politics. 

Today, the main practitioner of tribal politics is Yaya Jammeh. He's doing so out of ignorance - ignorance of history in general, and Gambian political history in particular. Like those politicians before him who tried the tribal card, he's failed in his efforts to galvanize the tribes to turn against each other. Even his own Jola tribe is not buying his insidious ploy. Tribal politics has never taken root in post-independent Gambia as manifested in the fact that there has always been a coalition or representative Government of various groupings and various interests and beliefs - business, religion and region - in the democratic traditions of the Gambia we come to know and love.

Failing in leadership, and as the net closes in on Jammeh, he will grow increasingly desperate, leading to the employment of desperate means to entice those disposed to driving a wedge between opposition parties. Unfortunately, we have seen the accusation of tribalism taken hold in the online media sparked by one incident. But fortunately, a majority of Gambians active in politics, be they politicians or political activists, are not buying the bill of goods that a measly few is trying to sell using the microphone. 

Gambia's number one problem is Yaya Jammeh. Gambia's other problems resulting from Jammeh's misrule is a repressive regime that will not hesitate to kill, maim, torture and exile fellow Gambians. Gambia's problem is incompetence of the executive. Gambia's problem is a breakdown of institutional framework necessary to run a modern state. Gambia's problem is rampant corruption and the mismanagement of the economy. Gambia's problem is poverty.

We know these to be the issues confronting our country. What is needed now are solutions. How can we re-build our broken institutions without which orderly and effective governance cannot take place. How do we repair our damaged and shrinking economy in the face of a growing population. How can we re-structure the armed and security forces so that they will be responsive to the security needs of a population and protect the territorial integrity of Gambia as opposed to serving as a repressive arm of a repressive regime. How can they start protecting the entire Gambian populace as opposed to the maintenance of the current configuration of the armed forced designed to protect one man. 

These are the issues that should occupy us as a people, and as members and supporters of the opposition instead of bloviating on internet radio and print over a manufactured problem designed to take focus away from substantive issues facing Gambia. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Restore the 5-day workweek

Gambia is unserious and it shows.  It is both embarrassing and inexplicable for an entire nation to close shop from Thursday to Sunday every week while the rest of the world toils to make life better for mankind. Not to work is unproductive, and an impediment to the development of both the human spirit and the human welfare.

Indeed, all major religions of the world see virtue in work.  There's a local proverb which roughly translate "work" is an integral part of your belief in, and worship of, Allah/God The Almighty. .

Data is not readily available to assess the damage done to the economy but logic dictates that when you take away an entire day from the work week, you should expect a corresponding decrease in the number of work-week hours.  Any reduction in the work hours would necessarily translate into less production which will probably impact economic output or GDP.

We must remember that an entire Saturday morning was taken away every month for neighborhood cleaning exercises locally known as "set-setal " when from dawn to noon every Gambian is confined in his or her compound to clean their living environment.  The monthly exercise has been on for over a decade with no visible evidence of improvement in the environmental sanitation of our neighborhoods.  In fact, it could be said that it has deteriorated in many localities.  During this period, all economic activity is expected to come to a grinding halt.  The economic cost of such an exercise is huge, especially to the petty traders and vegetable garden women to whom this government claim to looking after.  Saturday mornings happen to be one of the busiest and most lucrative days to sell their vegetables which they are forced to miss or run the risk of being taken to the nearest police station, as prescribed by law. 

Gambia is probably the only country in the world that works four days a week and stay idle the next three. The rationale advanced by the Gambian dictator was that Jews have their Sabbath, Christians have Sunday, therefore Muslims must have their Fridays too.  He probably saw this in a dream as he does with other major decisions that affect the daily lives of Gambians.  I think this to be the case because he woke up one day and made it law without consulting his "subjects" or a study of the economic impact of adding an extra day to the weekend of pleasure for Gambians. Jammeh is buried in, and mesmerized by, mysticism which influences his governance style if there was one because he moves from one bizarre policy to the next.   

Within the Jammeh sphere, it is standard to cite the fact that total hours have not been lost because the daily office hours have been extended correspondingly.  What they fail to realize is that the law of diminishing returns kicks in when you put in that many hours at a stretch in one day.  It also poses other problems which makes life more complicated for ordinary people as we have seen this past Month of Ramadan when family members have to rush home to prepare for iftar, and kids stranded well into the night hitching a ride home from schools. 

Work and office hours are usually aligned, as much as feasible, with the business hours of ones major business and trading partners, and influenced also by your neighbors.  History also has an influence on how work and work hours/days are organized.  (I am using work hours and work days interchangeably).  The Gambia's major partners and neighbors all have similar work and business hours to Gambia's until  the change several months ago.

The change had affected the way banks in The Gambia conduct business, especially in the current international business environment where transactions occur almost instantaneously.  Gambian private sector operators dislike the new work hours but are afraid to voice iy for fear of reprisals from the dictatorship.  School children hate it because it keeps them in the streets longer and later than desirable or safe.  An accurate estimate of the true cost to the economy is still not available but what is certain is that government workers also do not like the new arrangement.  As a result of all these reasons, it is therefore wish for the government to restore the 5-day week. 

This piece was triggered by the numerous Gambians and non-Gambians, including an American colleague, stranded in Banjul over the Tabaski holidays because they cannot purchase plane tickets to travel on emergency calls, including medical emergencies, because all the travel agencies have been closed for a week-long public holiday.  Serious countries are not being run this way.  Stop the unseriousness and the nonsense, and allow Gambians to engage in serious work of developing the country. The feeling across Gambia is that there's too much "Futampaf" or celebrations of the most trivial thing and very little work, brought about by a regime that values leisure time more and hard work less.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Gambia's changing governance equation

The Arab Spring was widely seen as providing the necessary springboard for democratic governance and a galvanizing factor for the rest of Africa to emulate. Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were seen as the templates for African democratic resurgence. Instead, the overthrow of dictatorships across northern Africa unleashed al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) which led to the temporary occupation of half of the territory of Mali until the French military recaptures lost territory but not before the local populations were traumatized, holy places vandalized and the historic city of Timbuktu ravaged.

The spillage of the terror activities could be felt in neighboring Senegal, and the fear is it has seeped into The Gambia where the dictatorship, accused of arms and drug trafficking, has dug its heels deeper following protests again an increasingly unpopular government.   After 19 years of autocratic rule that saw increasing use of violently repressive methods to stay in power, a new model seems to be emerging in the case of the Gambia where the pressure is being applied from outside the country, as opposed to from within.

This model is borne out of necessity because of the successful institutionalization of extra-judicial executions, torture, disappearances, imprisonments and forced exiles.  A traumatized population that has effectively been neutered, incapable of launching any form of protest in the absence of active political parties that are willing to take the lead.  This scenario is changing due, in part, to the dissidents in the diaspora using highly visible venues like the United Nations Headquarters and the Gambian Embassy Building in Washington DC to stage their protest against the government in Banjul.

Democratic change does not come through occasional protests.  Rather, it comes through sustained pressure for reform, not only in the human rights sphere, but must also be tied to the frustration of Gambians over high food and fuel prices, jobs, lack of electricity and other socioeconomic demands for maximum impact.   It is, therefore, imperative that the protests against the Jammeh regime in New York and Washington not only be sustained but be expanded to other cities within the United States and in London, Stockholm, Brussels and beyond with a strong economic message.

Dissident groups have found the single most powerful ally in the internet that has been used to such devastating effect that laws are being promulgated ever so frequently in a desperate attempt to keep the population as uninformed as possible. The Jammeh regime was unable to prevent the protests against him being photographed and videoed which were instantaneously posted on youtube for Gambians to watch as events unfold despite two recently passed internet laws designed to limit access.   Facebook and twitter provided added ammunition in the protesters armory.  It didn't take Jammeh long to realize that the tables have turned, and that the technological advantage enjoyed by the dissidents is being effectively utilized to their advantage.  An insular and highly secretive regime is now forced to respond to youtube videos seen around the world about issues that they once wouldn't discuss publicly, and most importantly could not report inaccurately without being challenged with video evidence.

The absence of an effective and dynamic civil society in The Gambia, unlike what obtains in neighboring Senegal, Benin, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria, has effectively stifled any attempt to push for reform.  Gambian civil societies, however dormant and ineffective they are present, are receiving moral and supplemental support from the likes of Amnesty International ( both their London and Dakar offices ) and Ghana's Prof. Kwame Karikari's Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).  The Democratic Union of Gambian Activists, Washington DC ( DUGA - DC ) and other civil groups strewn across America and led by Gambian dissidents have provided the impetus needed to spur other groups into action.

It is expected that political parties will seize the occasion not only to join in the protest against the dictator but to articulate a new vision for The Gambia which is an absolute necessity.   Gambian institutions that are indispensable in the running of a modern state have all been destroyed by the dictatorship.   The economy which used to be the pride of the region even when it was the smallest has been mismanaged, the state treasury looted and the judiciary corrupted.  A blueprint is needed as to how to rebuild these vital institutions.

There is no doubt that the political equation is changing for reasons beyond the political activism of the civil organizations outside the Gambia.  The donor community, specifically the European Union (EU) has contributed significantly to the rapid transformation of the relationship between the dictatorship and the EU which has started demanding that the government becomes more accountable to the citizenry and to those who help pay the bills.  The power of purse is being felt within government as aid is withheld in exchange for more transparency and accountability in the areas of economic management, human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  It is hoped that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and African Development Bank will emulate the European Union in this regard. 

Meanwhile, Gambian civil society organizations based outside The Gambia, in collaboration with their international partners, must continue to exert pressure on a regime that is increasingly isolated as a result of its poor democratic and human rights record. External agitations and pressures must necessarily be complemented by internal political activism, the leadership of which must be provided by political parties and members of civic society for the people to join in.  Otherwise, the transformation we are witnessing will taper off fairly soon providing space for the dictatorship to reassert its repressive power against the people.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

African Union fail to secure support to quit the ICC.

The Extra-ordinary Summit of the African Union has ended with the main reason for convening it in the first place was never on the agenda.  Since the indictment of both the President and Vice President of Kenya by the International Criminal Court (ICC), there has been calls from African leaders that the entire Membership of the AU should withdraw from the ICC.  There have been claims that the kenyan President was the one responsible for whipping up the frenzy among his colleagues as a way of registering dissatisfaction at the way and manner in which the ICC carries out its functions.  Specify charges of targeting Africa and African leaders, have been leveled since the time of Louis Moreno Ocampo, the Argentine lawyer who became the first Chief Prosecutor of the international court.  Another charge leveled against the court has been that since its inception in over a decade, the court has convicted only one person.

African leaders met for two days in an attempt to carry out their threat.  Although the issue of withdrawing their membership en masse was discussed, the item didn't gain much support and understandable so. Countries that either have cases pending before the court ( Liberia, DRC, Cote d'Ivory) or have been in the fore of justifying the existence of the Court ( South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria ) cannot be seen to be remotely supportive of the idea to carry out the threat of withdrawing membership.

There is the sense of irony that the African Union that was in the fore of getting an African, a lady at that, elected to the post of Chief Prosecutor, will now be leading the campaign to withdraw support.  It didn't take long after the Summit date was fixed for the AU to realize that the idea didn't enjoy the support of Africa's elder statesmen like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who penned a blistering newspaper article printed in many papers around the continent pointing fingers at Heads of State for instigating the campaign which would be tragic for Africa should they succeed.  he warned them not to let leaders get away with murder.  Kofi Annan also chimed in  by stating that should the threat be carried out it would be a 'badge of shame' for the leaders and the continent.  More than 125 civic organizations and NGO groups signed a petition to the African Union leadership. it worked.

Was it necessary to stir up things when the best the African Union could come up with after today's final session was to demand deferral of the case of the Kenyan President.  A resolution was also passed that says that no sitting African head of state should appear before an international court much to the relief of Yaya Jammeh and other African dictators like him.

Friday, October 11, 2013

ICC Chief Prosecutor thrown to the wolves by the African Union and Jammeh?

As the African Union meets in an Extraordinary Session to decide whether its Member States should withdraw their membership en masse from the International Criminal Court (ICC), I thought appropriate to repost an editorial piece I wrote in June and was published in the online Gambia Echo.

At the time I wrote the piece, the Chief Prosecutor challenged her critics to a 'legal debate'.  I have no record that such a debate has taken place.  I also said at the time that Samantha Power, who was nominated to the UN Ambassador post by President Obama to replace Susan Rice, may be supportive of the Chief Prosecutors in the face of an increasingly hostile AU.  Ms. Power is now fully in charge and I expect her to weigh in on the side of the ICC even though the US is not a member of the ICC.

Below is the editorial first published on 6ht June 2013

 In Summary:Equally worrying is Jammeh’s seemingly wishy-washy and wobbly stance against his own hand-selected candidate for the job. Theories abound about why Jammeh seemed to have been undermining the Gambian Chief Prosecutor so openly, I do not subscribe to the view by those who believe he’s convinced he’s most likely the next victim to be claimed by the ICC. I am of the view that despite the massive human rights abuses committed under the Gambian leader’s stewardship, and as heinous as they may be, The Gambia’s case does not seem to cross the legal threshold for crimes against humanity as established under the Rome Statute. Any legal recourse against Jammeh will, in my view, has to be taken within Gambia’s borders by special courts set up to judge those brought before them – these courts will necessarily be staffed by foreign judges, preferably with UN and/or Commonwealth support. --- Sidi M. Sanneh

Guest Editorial: ICC Chief Prosecutor thrown to the Wolves by AU and Jammeh?
I hope the ICC Chief Prosecutor, Mrs.  Fatou Bensouda, did not take her recent elevation to the post as a routine progression up the promotion ladder.  There is nothing normal about her climb up the international bureaucracy because it involves different players from across the globe with different ideas about what her job entails, and what it doesn't entail. They voted her in (or out) with different agendas in mind.
Her elevation to the position was primarily a political act fraught with pitfalls and intrigues.  She’s, of course, not new to the international organization scene and hopefully, she has sharpened her political and diplomatic skills in the process to survive the onslaught.  She will need all the skills she can garner to succeed, and she cannot succeed without political support from the African Union and, to some extent, Gambia’s leader, Yaya Jammeh.

The Chief Prosecutor’s recent election was assured because of the solid backing from Africa’s premier political organ, the African Union and from her home Government.  Without these two sponsors, the British and the Tanzanian governments would have mounted a formidable fight for their candidates who were equally qualified with solid international prosecutorial backgrounds of their own. The British candidate was, for all intents and purposes, out of the running by virtue of being a non-African, and the Tanzanian for being of the right Continent but in the wrong place as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Tanzania.  If he were the Deputy to Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former ICC Chief, he most certainly would have been elected with equal ease.

I believe Mrs. Bensouda to be eminently qualified academically with the requisite experience of several years as Deputy to Luis Ocampo. With the AU and many African States demanding that an African replaces the outgoing Chief prosecutor because the majority of those brought before the Court were Africans, Mrs. Bensouda was ideally placed to assume the post.  Her gender certainly was not an impediment, if not a catalyst.
As the consensus candidate, her candidature was embraced and vigorously promoted by the African Union, the Gambian leader and most, if not all, of the signatories to the Rome Statute.  However, sooner did the African Union succeeded in getting her elected to the post, than the fault lines began to emerge within the membership – a membership made up of democrats, democrats wannabes and true, tried and tested despots, with some— though few— of the most corrupt and human rights abusers among them. 
Although the latter category is by no means in the majority, they represent a handful of misfits with a disproportionate ability to attract media attention for their gruesome misdeeds and insatiable appetite for the good and flamboyant life-styles.  The “flamboyant life-style” bit does remind Gambians of the regime change justification advanced by the “soldiers-with-a-difference” as justification for grabbing power from a democratically elected government almost two decades ago. It so happens that the last soldier standing from the original group of misfits who seized power in The Gambia in 1994 was among the Heads of State and Government critical of the ICC Chief Prosecutor of “hunting down” Africans.
  The brouhaha in Addis Ababa on the 50th Anniversary of the OAU-AU was about the handling of the case of the current President of Kenya by the ICC who was indicted, together with his Vice President Ruto for their alleged roles in the 2008 tribal conflicts resulting in many deaths over election results.  By criticizing the head of the ICC in her handling of the Kenya case in accordance with the Rome Statute, the AU is undermining the work of the very candidate they fought so hard to get elected in the first place to the position. 
Equally worrying is Jammeh’s seemingly wishy-washy and wobbly stance against his own hand-selected candidate for the job. Theories abound about why Jammeh seemed to have been undermining the Gambian Chief Prosecutor so openly, I do not subscribe to the view by those who believe he’s convinced he’s most likely the next victim to be claimed by the ICC.  I am of the view that despite the massive human rights abuses committed under the Gambian leader’s stewardship, and as heinous as they may be, The Gambia’s case does not seem to cross the legal threshold for crimes against humanity as established under the Rome Statute. Any legal recourse against Jammeh will, in my view, has to be taken within Gambia’s borders by special courts set up to judge those brought before them – these courts will necessarily be staffed by foreign judges, preferably with UN and/or Commonwealth support.
Jammeh’s support of the AU position that the Kenya case should be referred to Kenya for Kenyatta and Ruto to be tried locally is an expedient move designed to appease his colleagues who are increasingly distancing themselves from him. Jammeh needs all the friends he can get regionally as he gets increasingly isolated internationally. Whether this strategy will work in his favor remains to be seen.  While Jammeh struggles to remain relevant and a relevant player on the continent, the Chief Prosecutor is busy trying to starve off the political onslaught unleashed by the African Union with the tacit support of Jammeh. 

Faced with a barrage of criticisms from her AU constituents of her handling of the Kenyatta case, Mrs. Bensouda is left with no option but to come out fighting to maintain the independence of the ICC from political pressure by inviting her critics to a “legal debate”, which is a mild criticism of the AU and other critics of engaging in politics instead of considering the legal merits of the Kenya case. She accuses her critics of defending “perpetrators of war crimes and crime against humanity”.  She claims to know “the voices” who are more interested in protecting the perpetrators rather than the victims of these heinous crimes.  Why should Kenyatta be treated any differently?

Lost in all of this is the fact that when Kofi Annan gave the names of those culpable in the 2008 death and carnage following the elections he gave them a choice of going to The Hague or being tried in Kenya.  They chose The Hague. When The Hague issued summonses, they quickly went into reverse. The two probably never thought it would come to this.  

I think the Chief Prosecutor is on a sound legal footing however unpopular the case may be among African Heads of State. However, I wish the same could be said regarding her political footing especially, when you are against the African Union which is a political organization full of intrigues, and not to speak of Jammeh, himself an unsteady and highly unpredictable character to be a true friend of anyone.  
However, all is not lost.  Assuming she’ll be confirmed by the Senate, President Obama's nominee to replace Susan Rice as his new U.N. Ambassador will be, Samantha Power, a human rights and genocide expert who could prove to be a valuable ally of the ICC Chief Prosecutor even though the United States is not signatory to the Rome Statute.  The ICC Chief will need all the political allies she can garner outside of the AU to survive the political onslaught coming her way as she moves forward with current and future cases involving Africans.  
Postscript: This article was written before the ICC Chief Prosecutor challenged her critics to a 'legal debate' and after the nomination of Samantha Power by President Obama to be the next U.S. UN Ambassador changing the dynamics, somewhat.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Non-ratification is penny foolish and pound foolish

Maritime safety and security has become an ever increasing concern for coastal countries, the Gulf of Guinea, and those in central and West Africa. The Gulf of Guinea which includes waters off Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, has seen an alarming increase in piracy with pirates targeting oil tankers, siphoning off oil cargo which is transferred unto other ships to sell on the lucrative black market.

Africa has thus become not only a hub for global crude oil theft but it also for money laundering, illegal arms and drug smuggling, human trafficking, human smuggling, environmental crime, dumping of toxic waste and maritime terrorism.  Whereas in the recent past the main problem of coastal concern was limited to illegal fishing, the problems facing these countries have gone beyond illegal poaching to include other deadly forms of exploitation of Africa's natural resources. Because of limited resources facing African countries to effectively combat these serious criminal activities at high seas, it is imperative to approach the problem globally with the collaboration of Regional and International Organizations as well as the United States and other European countries that have the required assets to deal with the problems relating to drug trafficking and international terrorism.

It was against this background that the Summit of Heads of State was convened in Yaounde, Cameroon in June 24-25 which was attended by 25 Heads of State, 13 Vice Presidents or Foerign Ministers of other African countries.  The Gambia was represented by Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy.  Regional and International Organizations were fully represented including ECOWAS, Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Commission of Gulf of Guinea (CGG), UN, International Maritime Organization and observers from Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

The Summit ratified the Memorandum of Understanding between ECOWAS, ECCAS and CGG and it also adopted the Code of Conduct on the prevention and Suppression of Acts of Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships and other illicit activities.  The Summit recognized that maritime insecurity poses a serious threat to the peace and security of the region that undermines economic development, and must, therefore, be addressed regionally and bilaterally in collaboration with the international community.

In stark economic terms, Benin, for example, operations at the Port of Cotonou contribute 70% of the country's GDP or $ 7.5 billion.  Port earnings have dropped drastically as piracy increases.  Nigeria, the top oil producer in the continent with an estimated output of 2 million barrels a day have lost about 7% of its oil production to piracy.  These illegal activities in turn result in increase in insurance premiums thus adding to the cost of doing business in Africa.  A piracy expert at the University of Yaounde estimates that the region loses $ 2 billion annually as a result of piracy.

The security and safety issues facing countries along the western coast of Africa are associated more with the South American drug cartel activities than piracy but that is not to say that the latter is not a concern to states like The Gambia, Senegal and Guinea.   It has been established that Guinea-Bissau has been used as a transit point making it the first narco-state in the sub-region.  The Gambia, on the other hand is fast becoming an active transit point for drugs destined for Europe.

The recent arrest of Guinea-Bissau's former head of the navy by the American drug agency in international waters off the coast of Cape Verde for trafficking in drugs, and the seizure of two tonnes of cocaine in The Gambia with a street value of $1 billion served as reminders that the drug cartel has indeed made significant headway in this part of West Africa to warrant close bi-lateral cooperation between the United States and The Gambia.  When the drugs were seized, the Gambian authorities arrested the culprits before soliciting the assistance of the British Serious Organized Crime Agency, the equivalence of the American FBI, to conduct the forensics, the capacity of which is absent in The Gambia.  The existence of a Bilateral Agreement between UK and The Gambia facilitated the exercise to be conducted within territorial Gambia.

The Gambia's refusal to ratify, not only the bilateral agreement with the United States - which is both standard and routine among development partners - but also the Yaounde Accord, including the Code of Conduct, makes it the only country in the west and central African states not to ratify the Agreement.  I believe, even Guinea-Bissau has ratified it,   Then, apart from the diplomatic rift non-ratification may cause among neighbors in the region, it will leave a vulnerability gap that can prove to be expensive for the economies of The Gambia and other states.  This is all happening at a time when al-Qaeda-sponsored terror groups are obviously ramping up their terror activities across Africa, including the ECOWAS region.  For instance, Sierra Leone has just announced it's bolstering security because of threats from al-Shabab for Sierra Leone's support of African Union peacekeeping operations in Somalia.

As Head of State after Head of State noted at the Yaounde Summit, providing the necessary framework that guarantees safety and security in the region is expensive but to do nothing would be catastrophic.  They have, therefore, elected to engage all regional bodies, the international community including the bilateral partners. For The Gambia to abruptly refuse to ratify the bilateral Agreement with the U.S and also the Code of Conduct agreed upon in Yaounde, even after Gambia's Vice President signed off on it, is foolish and unwise. It signals to the South American drug cartel that Banjul is still open for business, and an invitation to pirates to ply their trade through the small corridor provided by the intransigent and embattled Yaya Jammeh.  The anti-neo-colonialist war that he's declared against the United Kingdom and America only serves as a temporary shelter for the frustrations of a dictator who is fighting the battle of his political life, not with Britain and America, but with a handful of Gambian dissidents with cardboard signs protesting the lack of democracy, freedom and the rule of law in The Gambia, not in the streets of Banjul but in front of Central Park's Ritz-Carlton and in Washington DC courtrooms.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gambia: A rudderless ship

Gambians woke up to the news that Yaya Jammeh meant business when he, and he alone, decided that Gambia was withdrawing its membership from the Commonwealth because he considers it as a neo-colonialist organizations. Gambians were also greeted with the announcement from State House that "the pegging of dollar exchange rate to the dalasi has been repealed" by him since his word is law, and thus doesn't need the National Assembly.

On the question of his withdrawal from the Commonwealth, The Gambian dictator reassures the world and anyone in it who doubts his resolve that the decision is final and not subject to negotiations.  He warns his former Commonwealth colleagues that he will not be entertaining any 'special envoys' to him, as the Nigerian President has just done, for the purposes of having him reverse his decision.  To save taxpayers money, Jammeh is advising them to stay home rather engage in futile exercise because nothing can make him change his mind about the neo-colonialist Commonwealth.

The decision to leave the Commonwealth, according to Jammeh's statement, "was based on the principle that we do not want to be a part of any colonial or neo-colonial institution."  Forget about Jammeh changing his mind because the "Commonwealth remains at best a neo-colonialist and at worst an animal farm..."  In case doubt still exist about Jammeh's determination to quit the organization, he informs his bi-lateral partners, whom he decides to keep, that he's "reached a point of no return," a claim that enjoys universal consensus that the whole episode is preposterous.  When Jammeh seized power illegally in July 1994, his first foray into international politics was to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh in 1997, his first and only visit to Britain in his 19-year dictatorship.  At the time, as he was trying to gain international acceptability and legitimacy as he had just completed the electoral phase to civilian, democratic and constitutional rule in The Gambia.

At Edinburgh, Jammeh assured his colleagues that he will further demonstrate his commitment to the Harare principles which emphasised the diversity of the Commonwealth and its shared inheritance in " language, culture and the rule of law', in addition to the commitment to "democracy, fundamental human rights and sustainable development."   He has been struggling to keep to his promise on all of these fundamental principles since 1997.  In fact, his record has steadily grown worse since Edinburgh which may have motivated him, in part, to preemptively jump ship before he is faced with the specter of suspension.  Perhaps, as some have suggested, the Bretton Woods institutions will be next neo-colonialist organizations to withdraw from since they are all headed and/or controlled by powerful Western countries, including the United States and France.

Jammeh's decision to peg the exchange rates was never a National Assembly decision and thus to say he was "repealing" rather than "rescinding" his own decision is a way of reminding Gambians, as if they need to be reminded, that his word is law.  When Jammeh seized power, he found an economy that was on the upswing after a series of painful structural adjustments including the adoption of a floating exchange rate mechanism.

In a series of recent moves, Jammeh unilaterally pegged the forex rates thereby usurping the powers vested in the Central Bank.  He did not stop at that but proceeded to close all bureaux de change and rounded up licensed dealers causing panic in the market.  The disruption led to more market uncertainties which resulted in the withdrawal of some key players as well as small operators.  In fact, some have since left for neighboring countries where the business environment is more friendly. Therefore his assurance that he is committed to the flexible exchange rate is inconsequential because the damage has already been done.  It will take years to recover, and only under a new government.  The business community has no confidence in the ability of Yaya Jammeh to refrain from interfering in the market because he is an active player in it by virtue of the fact that he is one of the biggest businessmen in the country. Therefore, as long as he is in power and engaged in running his business empire while performing part-time duties as president, confidence in the economy will remain low.


Economic challenges add to Jammeh's woes

The political fortunes of Yaya Jammeh started to head south just as the economy begins to show enormous strain across sectors with unemployment still showing little or no sign of improving anytime soon.

The tourism sector is not expected to perform better this season than last year despite projections indicating otherwise.  The Commonwealth debacle will undoubtedly impact the sector but the prevalence of checkpoints of armed uniformed security personnel making tourist areas look more like occupied areas than vacationing spots is causing tourist to look for alternative destinations.  The reputation of Jammeh as a human rights abuser has finally penetrated a once impregnable naivety of the typical tourist who visit Gambia, and declining figures in repeat visitors is testimony to increase awareness of the deplorable condition that ordinary Gambians live under the dictatorship.  Tour operators in some European markets are telling tourism authorities that unless the tourism areas are demilitarized, the Gambia should expect a continued decline in tourist visit.  It is common for rogue soldiers to harass both locals and tourist, especially in the beach areas.

Agriculture is under-performing due to government neglect despite the public posturing by a regime that has has it's slogan "grow what you eat, and eat what you grow", and a leader of government that prides himself of owning dozens of farms from one end of the country to the other that are farmed by ordinary citizens instead of working their own lands.  The sector that contributes 30% of GDP and employs over 70% of the rural population has experienced a continued decline in production since Jammeh seized power illegally.  Under Jammeh, investment in agriculture declined with extension services neglected, and investment in agricultural research all but abandoned.

On the monetary front, the dictatorship seized authority from the Central Bank of The Gambia (CBG) and started managing monetary affairs from State House threatening the very monetary infrastructure that had been painstaking built nearly thirty years ago, starting with the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) in 1986. The flexible exchange rate system formed the centerpiece of the foreign exchange reforms. But for it to succeed, it had to be accompanied by comprehensive and consistent set of policy changes.  Specifically, the budget deficit would have to be under control, and the rate of growth of money and credit has to decline.

Of course, these set of policy changes had to be accompanied by other equally drastic measures designed to Gambia's economic house in order.  These policy changes came at a high human cost and sacrifice.  Jammeh seized power in 1994 and all these sacrifices became threatened by an incompetent and arrogant regime. Presently, the flexible exchange rate system has been tampered with by Jammeh's frequent interference in the foreign exchange market resulting in artificial shortages due primarily to market uncertainty.  Despite warnings to refrain from interfering in the market, Jammeh and his State House staff continue to issue administrative fiats that fix rates in contravention of existing laws.

The banking sector is currently experiencing cash shortage as a result of the disequilibrium caused by a regime that has its hands in monetary policy as well.  The extraordinarily large number of banks serving a relatively small economy only adds to the problems facing the banking industry.  The foreign exchange squeeze has caused shortages on imported goods, including rice which is the staple food.  These shortages threaten to be a permanent fixture unless the regime reverses course and stop interfering in the market, and allow the Central Bank to assume its proper and legal role.

Exogenous factors always play a critical role in economies, especially in small ones like Gambia's, but most of the current economic problems are self-inflicted.  The dictatorship's persistent interference in all aspect of economic management, coupled with inadequately trained economic managers appointed on the basis of political affiliation than on competence which has made the successful management of the economy a near impossibility. Rules and regulations are disrespected and proven policies discarded because of the high level of corruption that has been institutionalized since the 1994 coup d'etat.        

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Do not fall into Yaya Jammeh's trap

In my recent blog post on the recent statement of Jammeh accusing the UDP and the leadership of being a tribal party that supports and promotes tribal politics, I found two problems wrong with his claims which are not borne by facts.  First, he's from the smallest tribe in The Gambia, and second the Opposition Party Leader's tribe form the single biggest voting block for the APRC. http://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2013/10/jammeh-accuses-udp-of-tribalism-and_4.html  I proceeded to say that "Gambians and opposition parties are too smart to take the bait", referring to the tribal reference by Jammeh which is provocative to say the least.  It is also a desperate attempt to reverse an unfavorable trend.  He has watched his political fortunes take a turn for the worse following his humiliating treatment he received at the hands of Gambian dissidents in New York and his failure to generate the type of international reaction he was hoping for following his irrational and unprovoked decision to abruptly withdraw Gambia's membership in the Commonwealth.

However, to ascribe Jammeh's political troubles to these recent developments alone is an error that might lead to future strategic blunders down the road for the opposition. It is true that the recent protests against the Gambian dictator in New York and his sudden withdrawal of Gambia's membership in the Commonwealth acted as impetus to were we are currently, Jammeh's problems started well before 2013. The economy is the bane of the Jammeh regime.  It is the economy that impacts the everyday lives of ordinary Gambians.  The population feels the pain the moment the economy fails to perform.

Rural Gambia can relate to the absence of agricultural support services such as extension services, lack of adequate and/or good quality fertilizer, and the total absence of a reliable outlet for their agricultural products.  Farmers have suffered under Jammeh.  They have seen their production decline because of poor policies from Banjul.  The marketing of agricultural produce has all but collapsed after the seizure of the Denton Bridge facilities belonging to Alimenta.  The government of Jammeh still owes money to farmers for their produce government 'bought on credit' from previous years.

The urban dwellers are not faring any better.  They have seen, in the last several years, a precipitous drop in the quality of life, their wages eroding because of inflation for those lucky enough to be employed while unemployment continues to wreak havoc to the rest of society, including APRC supporters.  Inflation is taking its toll, partially fuelled by the recent fray into the foreign exchange market by Jammeh.  For example, a price of ram for the up-coming Feast of Tabaski ranges from $ 7,000 to D 15,000. In short, the economy is the single biggest enemy of Jammeh.  Tribalism is the least of Gambia's problems.  It has not been a problem in the past, and a majority of Gambians are determined not to make it a problem in the future unless Gambians fall into Jammeh's trap.

How can tribalism be a problem when the majority tribe in the Gambia, based on official election results, voted for the presidential candidate from one of the the smallest, if not the smallest tribe, instead of voting for one of their own unless Jammeh knows in his heart of hearts that the election numbers are rigged, and that the biggest tribe actually voted for the UDP and not the APRC.  In the absence of hard evidence, we can only go by the official election results.  The inflammatory words that he employed have been used before. He has said previously that he will see to it that "a mandingo will never rule the Gambia again."  But these words were greeted with laughters even from mandingo members of his APRC party.  If a majority members of the tribe is not taking Jammeh seriously, why are others providing the backdrop and context for irrational behavior by discussing the topic, as if there is credence and validity to his false claim.

Jammeh could not have been elected without the mandingo vote which, one would have thought, is what Gambians should expect voters to behave i.e to vote for the candidate or party they believe reflects their values, hopes and aspirations and not because of tribe and or other parochial factors.  If the majority of mandingos support Yaya Jammeh for these reasons other than regional, tribal and other superficial reasons, it should be considered a plus for democracy.  What this pattern of voting tells me, with everything else being equal, is that people voted for Jammeh because they believed he will deliver on his many promises.  Now that he has failed to deliver, Gambians are ready to try another candidate.

Tribalism is the least of Gambia's problems.  Inflammatory statements from supporters of the opposition, be they in The Gambia but in the comfort of their adopted homes, will not advance the cause. The focus of the opposition should be on overhauling the electoral system to ensure a level playing field, work towards remedy the deplorable human rights environment and provide a better policy options in numerous areas, including but not limited to economic policy.  Prioritizing these elements of policy should be among the preoccupation of the opposition and not tribalism which I consider to be a red herring.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

The political cost of arresting Ousainou Darboe

It is now evident that the luster has worn off the Professor's carefully cultivated image, especially among his supporters in The Gambia, and to some degree, to his supporters in the diaspora.  There is discernable disquiet even among those kids who in 1994 ran behind the Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4 singing "we don't need no old Pa" while the 29-year old Chairman of the revolution projected his head through the sunroof in broad smiles.  Those very same kids are now young men and women roaming the streets of Banjul and the tourists areas, some driven into prostitution and drugs for lack of employment opportunities. They are tired of the promises of a regime that seem to be interested only in their votes.  Now, more and more of these former supporters are expressing their disappointment at Jammeh and are quietly advocating change.  They want to see the back of Jammeh and the APRC.

These young men and women formed the base support of Jammeh's Revolution because (i) they were told that the regime they replaced was corrupt and incompetent and (ii) Jammeh will transform Gambia into a fairer and more prosperous country. Those who were at the bottom end of the economic spectrum were promised by Jammeh that they will emerge at the top of the heap, and those living on Pipeline and Fajara will have a taste of the nivaquine, as promised by Jammeh's uncle, the late Ambassador John P. Bojang.  It took these kids a generation to discover the bitter truth that these rogue soldiers neither had the intent nor the wherewithal to deliver on their promises which seemed to grow with time.  We have discovered oil.  We will soon have a railway system connecting Banjul to Basse.  We have mineral deposits which will soon be exploited.  Vision 20/20 will transform Gambia into a middle income country in a decade. Of course, none of these promises were transformed into reality but that didn't prevent the regime from adding to the promises. Instead they continue to compound their problems by adding to the list of promises while at the same time siphoning off the country's treasury at an alarming rate in full view of a poorer population - making the Gambia and Gambians poorer than they found us when Jammeh seized power in 1994.

It took the supporters of the Revolution that never was, and was never intended to be, a generation to realize that they were being lied to.  These renegade soldiers were just that, renegade soldiers out to fill their pockets and put anyone in jail who dares challenge their authority or question their riches.  Then came New York, and everything crumbled.  Jammeh's purported invincibility fail to extract him from Ritz-Carlton Hotel - his temporary prison for 48 hours - even though there were many exit doors and other escape hatches.  His supernatural powers failed him which made it possible for the wearing off of whatever luster was left.  He returned to Banjul only to be further humiliated by the lukewarm airport reception he received. His Commonwealth stunt didn't go well either.  So he decided to try one more stunt - accuse an entire tribe as power hungry and vowed that they will never elect a leader of their choice, especially if that leader happens belongs to a given tribe.

The arrest of the Opposition UDP treasurer was the opening salvo.  Now, Jammeh appears to be gunning for Ousainou Darboe, the party leader, which will be one of Jammeh's gravest misstep to date for the following reasons: Gambians have had enough of the abuses they endured for 20 years, and they will see the arrest of the UDP leader to be a political act of intimidation.  Jammeh had insulted an entire group of people who are probably more Gambian than Yaya Jammeh.  To put their party leader in jail is pushing the envelope beyond what Gambians will accept, and this coming at the lowest ebb of Jammeh's popularity is inviting trouble.  People will be out in the streets.  Enough is enough.


Jammeh accuses UDP of tribalism and a front for American and UK interests

The protests by Gambian dissidents in New York against Yaya Jammeh and his United Nations 68th General Assembly delegation continues to reverberate.  First, he announced that The Gambia has decided to withdraw the country's membership from the Commonwealth, and now he despatched his Secretary General and Minister of Presidential Affairs to read a statement on national television accusing the United Democratic Party (UDP), the country's the single biggest opposition party, of being a front for U.S. oil interests.

 Yaya Jammeh's incoherent and rambling statement is full of unsubstantiated claims. For example, the statement claims that the online papers dedicated to opposition politics, and operated by exiled Gambians in the U.K. and U.S. are financed by their respective governments.  The statement further claimed that negotiations between government and foreign oil companies broke down after the government refused to agree to terms unfavorable to the Gambia resulting in the formation of the UDP with the help of the UK and US governments as a retaliatory measure.

According to the government statement, the UDP is to represent foreign oil interests should it gain political power.  What could be seen as a desperate move to stoke the fires of tribalism, the statement labeled the UDP as a Mandingo group that's out to seize power and to re-impose its political dominance.  Jammeh assures Gambians that the Mandingo tribe will never rule the Gambia again.  The problem with Jammeh's statement is that (a) he's from the smallest tribe in the Gambia and (b) the Mandingos form the single biggest voting block for his party.  Gambians and opposition parties are too smart to take the bait.

These provocative and highly incendiary statements, as silly as they may appear, are designed to instill fear in the population following Jammeh's humiliating treatment in the hands of a handful but determined group of Gambian dissidents that forced him to be a captive in his hotel suite for 48 hours, missing his official meetings in the process. It is also a calculated move by Jammeh to tie what they refer to as the "asylum scam" involving the UDP Treasurer accused of providing attestation to UDP supporters seeking asylum abroad to the entire UDP structure.  This is an attempt to discredit and possibly to decimate the UDP as a viable opposition.  All indications are that the accused was tortured to extract confessions before he was paraded before a national television audience.

Jammeh returned home last week to a political environment drastically different from the one he left just a few days before.   He cut his trip short only to be met at the airport by a small group of supporters which, according to sources, devastated the man who used to being greeted by large crowds while basking in pomp and pageantry of the ceremonial armed forces band interspersed with traditional dancers. All of this were missing for the first time in 19 years when he landed at Yundum from his flight from New York.  This was a reversal in political fortune that Jammeh is still unable to process much less accept.

Yaya Jammeh's rapidly dwindling political support has visibly transformed the once confident and pompous dictator into a confused and highly insecure individual.  It has finally dawned on him that power is slipping with few people, including members of the security forces ready and willing to lay their lives for a selfish and divisive figure like Jammeh .  This realization will lead him to more irrational behavior which will mark the end of his rule.  It is now only a matter of time.