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.